Derek B. Miller’s Norwegian by Night (Mariner Books, 304 pp., $14.95, paper; $9.99, Kindle) is a novel that features Sheldon Horowitz, an 82-year-old Jewish Korean War veteran. His Jewish identity is important to the book and to the plot. Horowitz uses his ancient military skills to pursue a vicious killer after the guy murders a small boy’s mother by strangling her.
The novel takes place in Oslo and its environs. Best-selling American novelist Miller lives in Norway with his family, so the picture he draws of Oslo is totally believable. Horowitz’s wife has died, and his children wrongly think he is slipping mentally, which is why he was brought to live with them in Oslo.
His main demon is that his son, Saul, died in the Vietnam War, and Horowitz blames himself as he encouraged his son to join the military. He was a much-decorated sniper, a hero of the Korean War.
The son spent an R&R with his wife where they conceived Horowitz’s granddaughter Rhea. The next day he went back to Vietnam, “where two months after he landed, a Vietcong booby trap blew off his legs while he was looking for a downed pilot on a routine search-and-rescue. Saul bled to death on the boat before reaching the hospital.”
This beautiful book uses some magical realism to bring alive the wars of father and his son, but does not go overboard with it. Even though Horowitz’s relatives suspect he is slipping mentally, the author makes it clear that he is not. He does battle with Serbian bad guys and is able to hold his own. He is physically weak, although mentally still strong. The little boy, Paul, whom he protects from further evil, is well characterized.
Sheldon Horowitz’s secret is that he told his family he was an Army clerk who sat out the Korean War at a desk. So when he confesses he was a sniper, they take that that as further evidence of senility.
Although this is a literary novel, Miller still manages to mention Jane Fonda and war demonstrators spitting on Vietnam vets and calling them baby killers. He refers to a hippie planting “a wet one on Jane Fonda’s misguided ass.” I hadn’t heard that one before.
This book is one of the best novels I’ve read during the many years I’ve been reviewing Vietnam War fiction for The VVA Veteran. It may be the best one. It’s certainly the only Norwegian Vietnam War novel I’ve read, and was originally published in Norwegian. Imagine that.
I highly recommend Norwegian by Night. Read it. You won’t be disappointed.