Vanished in Berlin

Vanished in Berlin ISBN: 9781507669709, Libertine Press (2015) by Gry Finsnes.

Plot: Norway has been invaded by Nazi Germany. Young Norwegian Ellen Langno whose studies in Vienna have brought her almost to concert ready status is enamored of young composer/violinist German citizen Fredrick Koll who had come to Norway to be with her. He has disappeared. Even though the countries are at war, Ellen obtains permission to return to Vienna to finish her studies with her Jewish teacher and simultaneously to attempt to ascertain what has happened to Frederick. She becomes reacquainted with Paul, a part-time member of the old group of art students that ‘hung out together’. He was a businessman but with a quite commendable sketching ability and now was a Nazi officer who offers to help her. Eventually, he finds a list detailing that her love had been drafted into the Navy and was a member of the crew of a submarine that had been sunk. Numerous complications ensue because she now must make numerous decisions. She believes that she may be pregnant with Fredrick’s child; she must see his mother in Berlin, and Paul proposes marriage. Before and during these various happenings, the story resorts to numerous flashbacks of the time before her return to Vienna when Fredrick had followed her back to Norway. Included are the many required moves and subterfuge strategies employed to avoid the invasion forces so as not to be forced into the army to fight the Norwegians and simultaneously problems with her family and friends who were distrustful of him because of his nationality. Eventually, the story proceeds to a point where she asks Paul for time to recover from her loss and the story moves on in a rapidly developing manner to a conclusion that provides an ideal base for the second book in the series.

Discussion: The author states “I have done my best to keep to the facts of the Second World War …” and “The plot is entirely fictive, but all of the historical dates and background of the war are correct as far as I know. Many of the events which the main characters go through actually happened during the siege and occupation of Norway.” She also points “…to a few of the more unusual facts and explain.” Included in the list was the interesting: “The Germans gave crystal meth to fighting soldiers.” This is the third of this author’s books read by this reviewer and from this perspective it perhaps may best be described by paraphrasing part of my remarks about the earlier read of the author’s Stones Don’t Speak. Ellen is an attractive, self-centered woman accustomed to attention (here as a performer) being thrust into a totally unfamiliar and distasteful situation to which she has little desire or inclination to attempt to adjust until the situation leaves little alternative, and then her reaction may not always be the wisest. Nor is that of her lover who is sadly lost in the situation. The conclusion or summary, however, is identical.

Summary: The story provides an appealing tale centered on a particularly disturbing time and place in history and in a location seldom visited by authors.

4* Engaging, somewhat suspenseful tale of a time/place seldom recalled.

Stones Don’t Speak

Stones Don’t Speak ISBN: 9781542621458, Ravenswood Press, an e-book about German occupied Norway during WW II by Gry Finsnes.

Plot: The reader is introduced to Ellen Langno, a young Norwegian concert pianist who has completed her studies in Vienna and just returned to Oslo where she is giving her debut concert. The time is October 1941and the concert is in the prestigious University Aula largely as result of help in booking from Hauptmann Roth, an officer of some power among the invading German military who has befriended her. It is highly successful but the obvious ‘help’ from a member of the hated Nazi invaders makes local residents suspicious with respect to her loyalties. She next is invited by Roth to perform for Terboven, the most recent Quisling-like ‘ruler’ at his new residence, that of the displaced Norwegian Crown Prince. In spite of wanting to refuse, she accepts and is subjected to unacceptable activities by some of the German officers literally being saved from rape by Eva, another young woman attending the concert. The two decide to join with other friends who are in the resistance movement. Roth becomes more attentive attempting to gain her aid in furthering his position in the military and as activities progress Ellen, her mother and father, move from Oslo to a small northern town purportedly to take care of her ailing aunt. From this interesting beginning, the reader embarks upon a trip through the recent past and evolving present life, of Ellen, her family, acquaintances and friends as she, and they, become involved in mounting resistance to the hated invaders. Also involved is her former fiancé, Fredrick, a violinist she had met during her studies in Vienna and actually was a large part of the reason for her return to conclude her studies after German occupation in 1940. He was an avowed pacifist who had been hiding so as not to become part of the German army. However, when she returned, she discovered he had disappeared and she was told that he had been killed. Thus, his totally unexpected reappearance as Freddie, a German soldier assigned to the same small town in the northern part of the country, was shocking to say the least. Further, his change not only in apparent beliefs but in status as a member of the hated enemy adds another dimension to the story as incident after incident occurs. There follows a fairly constant level of underlying suspense with respect to ‘what would happen to whom and when’ that continues to the end of the present volume.

Discussion: This is the second book in a trilogy with obvious entrée to the third but is a book that can stand alone. Ellen, the protagonist reminds one of the leading character in the author’s Goodbye Bombay – a well-educated, attractive, self-centered woman accustomed to attention (here as a performer) being thrust into a totally unfamiliar and distasteful situation to which she has little desire or inclination to attempt to address until the situation leaves little alternative. And, her attitude does in part offer explanation for some of Ellen’s attitude toward Freddie. In general, the story is well written but rather ‘glides over’ the deprivations suffered by the Norwegians during the German occupation, and descriptions of Gestapo activity mostly are dealt with in a rather cavalier manner. Perhaps, their activity was less extensively brutal and fear-producing in Norway than that reported as extant in all other occupied countries. Regardless, the book does provide in some ways an amusing, depiction of an overwhelming naiveté in the characters’ performance of espionage and resistance activities. Their actions would seem to have been effective only as a result of good fortune combined with sloppy efforts for discovery by individuals of somewhat lesser intelligence indulging in ineffectual attempts at doing their job as a result of overconfidence.

Conclusion: For this reviewer, this book is not as enjoyable a read as the author’s Goodbye Bombay. However, personal remembrances obviously are part of every reader’s thought processes. This volume certainly provides an appealing tale centered on a particularly disturbing time and place in history and in a location seldom visited by authors.

4* Engaging, somewhat suspenseful look at a seldom literarily visited time/place.