Wednesday, March 23, 2011

From the Archives #9: On the Edge of the Fjord by Alta Halverson Seymour

Hitler invaded Norway in April 1940 for two reasons. The first reason was because he needed the port of Narvik in Norway for transporting much needed iron ore from Sweden to help him wage a successful war. The second reason had nothing to do with war. Hitler believed that the Nordic people were, particularly the Norwegians, a perfect example of the Aryan race and he hoped that the Norwegians and Germans would intermarry. But the Norwegians did not exactly welcome the Germans with open arms, though some did and became traitors to their country, or quislings**, collaborating with the enemy.

This is not the cover to my
book, I found it online.
On the Edge of the Fjord, written in 1944, begins shortly after Norway is invaded. Petra Engeland, 14, is home alone when a group of Nazis come knocking at the door. Petra’s mother is helping a sick neighbor when this happens, and her 15 year old brother is away at school.

The Nazi leader, Captain Ebert, demands to speak with her father. Captain Engeland, who is on a fishing expedition, is the owner of one large boat and a small fleet of excellent fishing boats. The Nazis wish to commandeer these boats for their own purpose, along with Petra’s father. In addition to this demand, Ebert and three of his officers billet themselves in the Engelbert home.

Petra decides that she must warn her father not to come home to Valcos. Early in the morning, she sets out with her little boat and fishing gear and sails down the fjord to the quay where her father’s business office is. Surprised at finding him there, she tells him what has happened in the village and warns him not to come home.

A week later, Martin comes home for a visit, and when Petra tells him what is happening, they decide to try to get some of their father’s boats out of Norway to England, where many escaped Norwegians are now training to fight the Nazis in their country. Martin stealthily spreads the word among the men and boys in the village, carefully avoiding Nazis and quislings. That night, two boatloads silently sail away down the fjord, but not before deciding how to get messages through. Sigurd Holm suggests using the signal fire they had always used to invite Petra and Martin up to their mountain house during the summer. His sisters, Margot, Inga and Karen Holm, are up there for the summer tending to the family’s goats and cows.

Eventually that fire signal comes and Petra hikes up the dangerous mountain trail to see what message had been received. On her way, Petra sees three German men, including Kurt Nagler, an old family friend who, though German, had lived in Norway his whole life. She knows enough German to understand that they are talking about something hidden in caves in the mountain. The Holm sisters verify that they heard these men speaking about this when Petra finally reaches them.

That night, a plane lands in the Holm’s cow pasture. It is Sigurd with a British flyer called Ruggles. They also know the Nazis are up to something, but don’t know exactly what. They decide to come back in a week after Martin has had time to investigate. After they leave, one of the men Petra has seen comes to ask about the plane. Though they dumbly answer his questions, they realize they will be watched from now on, with no way to warn Sigurd and Ruggles not to come back.

Next morning, Petra sets off for Halven where Martin’s school is. On her way, she discovers that the Nazis are collecting guns from the Norwegians and hiding them in the caves. After finally reaching Martin and explaining things to him, he says he can make a map of the cave locations and will bring it home in a week. Meanwhile, he will investigate the large supposed fish packing plant the Nazis have built near his school, a plant where many Norwegian men are forced to work and forbidden to leave.

Having thought his old friend Hans had become a quisling, Martin is surprised when Hans offers to help get him into the complex. Though leery about Han’s loyalties, Martin cautiously takes him up on his offer and discovers that Captain Ebert is in charge of things and that there is a large amount of dynamite stored in the plant. But Martin still can’t figure out what it is all for.

Meanwhile, Petra manages to sneak into the room Kurt Nagler is renting in Valcos. There, she finds two maps, which she copies. Martin recognizes one map as the caves where they have figured out the Nazis are storing guns and ammunition.

The next week, Sigurd and Ruggles return. Ruggles recognizes one of the maps as an assembly plant for planes. This is good, since the Nazis fly off with their plane.

A plan is hatched. Martin’s headmaster, Herr Roland, arranges to have the older boys in school stay at his mountain house for a week. During that time, they sneak out at night and remove all the guns and ammo from the caves and hide them in an old secret cave that also has an underground tunnel linking it to Herr Roland’s mountain home. On another night, a group goes down to the plant in Halven, where they blow up the place, and unfortunately the school near it, but not before Sigurd and Ruggles manage to fly away on of the planes there.

Now, of course, they must all answer to Captain Ebert and the Nazis about all these events, since they are all the prime suspects.

This novel is a real nail biter. It is not just the fact that Norway has been invaded and is now living under Nazi control, which was always a volatile situation. The descriptions of journeys over the rough trails of the Norwegian mountains or Petra alone in her little boat sailing down the rocky waters in the fjord are chilling. I have never visited Norway, though I have always wanted to, so I am not sure I have a proper appreciation of the dangers Petra faced doing this. But, as you can see in this picture courtesy of the Visit Norway site, they are beautiful but daunting:


I liked the characters in this book. They get very scared, but passionate and so they do what they must. It is understandable that they would do what they could against the Nazis, especially since they were invaded despite Norway’s official position of neutrality. The Nazis, on the other hand, are portrayed as cruel, condescending (continuously referring to the people as “dumb Norwegians”) and greedy, despite being told by Hitler not to treat the people too harshly. They were, after all, the perfect Aryans he wanted to infuse German blood with.

Norway did indeed have a strong underground resistance movement. Many who escaped to England wanted to train as commandos in the Linge Company, the Norwegian Special Forces unit. This was the goal of the boatloads of men who left Norway in this story.

Alta Halverson Seymour wrote a number of stories, yet I am sorry to say I could find nothing about her personal life, other than that she was born in 1893.

On the Edge of the Fjord is recommended for readers age 11 and up.
This book was purchased for my personal library.

**The word quisling became synonymous with traitor during World War II, thanks to Vidkun Abraham Lauritz Jonss√łn Quisling. He was a Norwegian politican who served in the German collaborationist government as the Minister President. After the war, he was tried and executed for treason.

This is book 5 of my Forgotten Treasures Challenge hosted by Retroreduxs Reviews

4 comments:

  1. Hi! I found you through BookBlogs and I am now a follower! Will you follow me at http://www.magicalurbanfantasyreads.com/

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  2. Oh, I want this one! Have you ever read When Jays Fly to Barbmo, by Margaret Balderson? Excellent YA WW II Norway!

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  3. Nice blog, Mindy.

    Charlotte, I haven't yet read When Jays Fly to Barbmo, but it is on my list. Amazes me how many WWII stories there are out there.

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  4. Do try to make time for it sooner rather than later--it is well worth it!

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