Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus

Civil disobedience is a conscious effort to disobey laws that one disagrees with in society. The protagonist, Espen, lives in Norway when the Germans occupy his country and force the Norwegian King and government officials to flee. The Norwegians formed a Resistance group meant to undermine and protest the Nazi's, while other Norwegians decided to join the German Reich. Espen, along with many others in his town of Lilleby, choose civil disobedience in the form of nonviolent actions such as feeding prisoners of war, smuggling newspapers, acting as couriers, wearing paper clips or red hats to signify unity, or refusing to sit next to a German on public transportation. This form of resistance was a way to feel in control of what was clearly an uncontrollable situation, to instill national pride and counteract Nazi propaganda. Espen never hesitates to join the resistance although he does romanticize it at first. He pretends he is a hero or some important spy. As he gets more and more dangerous missions, he learns real fear and as a child, he still makes many mistakes endangering the life of himself and his family.

Margi Preus captures the culture and customs of Norway from the myths, food, and cross-country skiing to the language. The children's story of a troll splinter in the eye as a way to explain why some Norwegians chose to side with the Germans even though it was wrong reminded me of "The Snow Queen" fairy tale and the boy that sided with the evil Snow Queen because he got an evil glass splinter in his eye. When Preus describes cross-country skiing and scraping off wax, it brought back many memories of cross-country skiing in Minnesota. The day would warm up and the skis' wax would have to be scraped off and changed in order to get it to glide. Except Espen is not on a recreational ski trek, he is being hunted by the Gestapo and fleeing for his life; thus, adding tension during an exciting climax.

The plot has Espen playing soccer and bonding more closely with his teammates when the Gestapo decide to take over the team. In protest, the players quit. Espen's soccer captain is quite involved in the Resistance which is how Espen becomes involved in it. There are not too many twists and turns. In fact, it is easy to predict what the villain will do. What I liked best was the details on daily living and the friendships forged between characters. Preus creates some imagery with darkness and light from the blinding snow on a sunny day to the blinding blizzard in the dark of night. Both times involve major moral decisions by characters. The imagery is also tied into the theme when Espen's father says that people become "snow-blind to ...basic human decency, but behind the temporary blindness, ...they knew ...the right thing to do." Espen has learned from his parents that to turn away from human kindness is never right even if it means risking one's life.

The story is written in third person from Espen, Ingrid, and Askel's point of view. Some parts are slow, particularly Ingrid and her journal writing. I see how it was supposed to advance the story in an exciting climax, but it was slow getting there. Humor is balanced with dark elements. When Tante Marie tells Espen to get something in her drawer she wants to give him, he jokes: does she want to give him her false teeth or the compass? Askel, the Norwegian boy that joins the Germans, is a one-dimensional villain and flat; he is your typical Gestapo bully that uses the Nazi ideals as a platform to rationalize his need to use violence on other people. He puts down others to build himself up. His mother is his foil, but I would have preferred a look into why Askel was so full of hate. The suggestion is because his father died fighting in the war, but it isn't explored in depth. He's also too casual about his first kill. The other Norwegian boy that joined the Germans, Kjell, has more depth as he struggles with honoring his past friendship with Espen and adopting the violent methods of the Gestapo. The author tries to balance German soldiers that turned a blind eye, to those that were violent. The end has an interesting author's note, photos, timeline, and activities for code breaking and making invisible ink. A nice enjoyable story that will be hard for me to remember in the future.

3 Smileys

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