International author, Derek B. Miller, describes the process of writing Norwegian by Night - a book that is a taut family drama, a, emotional story of loss and a thrilling crime read.
Norwegian by Night is the story of an old man coming to terms with the the loss of his son, almost forty years after the event, as he tries to save the life of a seven year old boy. Sheldon Horowitz — a 82 year old former Marine who served in Korea during the Inchon invasion — is sheltering the child after witnessing a murder in Oslo, Norway. He's gone there to live with his Jewish-American grand daughter, Rhea, and her Norwegian husband, Lars.
There were three themes on my mind when I started this story. First, my grandparents — Esther and Lester Shapiro, and Paul Miller — had all passed away in the previous few years. I needed to come to terms with the end of this generation, including their very deep and particular sense of patriotism. I sometimes worry this generation is too subject to caricature, just as I worry that the contemporary discussions around patriotism are as well.
Second, I was thinking a lot about parenthood, specifically what it means to be a father to a son. I thought of the final scene of the book in the moments before my eldest, Julian, was born in April, 2008. I wrote the book over the next eight or nine months, driven by the story ending that his birth inspired. It was an intense period, of course, and I'd wake extremely early on weekends and work through the mornings while Julian still needed my wife more than he needed me.
My Norwegian wife, Camilla, and I — and now Julian — were living in Geneva, Switzerland at the time. We made the decision to relocate to Norway. It was a chance to experience something new, be closer to my wife's family, and, usher in a change that I really needed. I wondered, all the same, what it would mean to raise a Jewish, American, and Norwegian son among people for whom the Jewish experience is almost entirely alien and absent from their history — unlike most other places in Europe. Then entire Jewish population of Norway is only one thousand in a country of five million. So this was the third theme on my mind.
The big question was whether there might be a universe where all these matters could naturally coalesce. The creative turn came when I realized that some element of comedy was needed to grapple with the seriousness of the other themes. Sheldon was a minor character from an earlier story I wrote. He never quite went away, though, and if you read this, you'll probably see why. His take on the world helped me see the central tension running through it all.
Norway, to my mind, was a excellent setting. It felt fresh and breezy and open and unexplored. By relocating Sheldon to a place where his very life was unimaginable he was able to emerge in stark relief against the world around him. Given who Sheldon is, I think he wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
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