March 04, 2004

War and Innocence: A Young Girl's Life in Occupied Norway (1940-1945), by Hanna Aasvik Helmersen

Memoirs and diaries are an interesting genre to read but especially so when written by non-professional writers who are merely telling a story. Polishing thoughts can be a good thing but it can also knock some of the edges off that give power and sharpness to the true story.

This book was written by a woman who lived thru the Nazi occupation of Norway, grew up and wrote this book as a response to her grandchildren's request for stories about her childhood. She tells of having to abruptly flee inland away from the bombing of the fjord they lived near and in the process leaving her toys and pet dog behind. For a time her older sister is working in a hospital directly in line of the bombs treating German and Norwegian injured, unable to communicate with the family and in serious danger. She, her mother and siblings travel to refugee sites inland without her father who works in the harbor, living in cramped quarters with strangers and struggling to find food. The stories go on of atrocities committed in concentration camps in Norway, of kids teasing the German soldiers and of adults trying to keep a sense of pride in a situation purposely designed to demoralize.

It's a story of hardship and uncertainty and, above all, trauma. It's not polished writing. There are no elegant phrases or images. It's rough and untidy and at times hard to read. But it gave me a clear picture of what her childhood was like and what her family had to do to survive. And if it seemed chaotic at times, that only reflected the uncertainties a little girl had to live with every day. It's something that should be written down and should be remembered so that I and my kids and the rest of the folks who read this book understand what it is that war does to the people living around the battlefields. I'd recommend it for that alone.

Posted by Deb English at March 4, 2004 08:57 PM