Keep Saying Their Names: A novel (Hardcover)
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Simon Stranger does a beautiful job blending fiction and fact in this prize-winning story that started out as an investigation into his wife Rikke's great-grandfather, a Jewish shop owner named Hirsch Komissar, who was executed during World War II in Trondheim, Norway. As he researches the lives of his wife's ancestors, Stranger is drawn to the story of Henry Oliver Rinnan, a young Norwegian who became a notorious collaborator with the Germans who occupied Norway during the war. Rinnan and his gang set up a jail and interrogation center in a suburban Trondheim house. After the war, the house was empty until Rikke's mother and grandparents moved in, lucky to have found a house so inexpensive. This is an intense read as Stranger goes back and forth among the characters' stories. He imagines Hirsch's ordeal as a prisoner; he explores Rinnan's experiences as a disaffected youth looking for respect; he recounts the unhappiness of Rikke's grandparents living in the Rinnan house in the decade after the war. And he tells of his interviews with survivors and his research into the national archives. The writing is both blunt and lyrical and the format grabs one's attention. Recommended.— Alice
An extraordinary work of fiction, inspired by historical events--an exquisitely crafted double portrait of a Nazi war criminal and a family savaged by World War II, conjoined by an actual house of horrors they both called home
On a street in modern-day Norway, a writer kneels with his son and tells him that according to Jewish tradition, a person dies twice: first when their heart stops beating, and then again the last time their name is read or thought or said. Before them is a stone engraved with the name Hirsch Komissar, the boy's great-great-grandfather who was murdered by Nazis.
The man who sent Komissar to his death was one of Norway's vilest traitors, Henry Oliver Rinnan, a Nazi double agent who set up headquarters in an unspectacular suburban house and transformed the cellar into a torture chamber for resisters, a place to be avoided and feared.
That is until Komissar's own son, Gerson, and his young wife, Ellen, take up residence in the house after the war. While their daughters spend a happy childhood playing in the same rooms where some of the most heinous acts of the occupation occurred, the weight of history threatens to pull the couple apart.
In Keep Saying Their Names, Simon Stranger uses this unusual twist of fate to probe five generations of intimate and global history, seamlessly melding fact and fiction, creating a brilliant lexicon of light and dark. The resulting novel reveals how evil is born in some and courage in others--and seeks to keep alive the names of those lost.
About the Author
Born in 1976, SIMON STRANGER is the author of four previous novels and several books for children. His work has been translated into twelve languages, but Keep Saying Their Names is his first to be published in English. It was awarded the highly prestigious Norwegian Booksellers' Prize in 2018. He lives in Norway. Translated from Norwegian by Matt Bagguley.
“An utterly moving story, reminding us how in the end all we have are the names of those who came before us and the memories attached to those names. Rippling across generations, Keep Saying Their Names is as haunting for its characters as it will be for its readers.” —Oscar Cásares, author of Where We Come From
“Keep Saying Their Names is a deep, yet gentle, exploration of how we become who we are, and how our individual decisions can impact the lives of others. Through the vivid scenes he creates, Stranger allows us to get closer to understanding how war creeps into every fabric of our lives, how it can possess places, buildings, objects, people. Ultimately, Stranger’s masterful book is a pledge for taking individual responsibility: by remembering those who are no longer here, by keeping their stories alive, and by recognizing that we are made of our past. Reading this book is a deeply emotional experience, especially during a time of reemerging anti-Semitism. Its humaneness leaves you hopeful.” —Nora Krug, author of Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home
“Keep Saying Their Names is a cut diamond of a book. Both brutal and tender, it drills toward its dark truths with hypnotic force while glimmering with the bright hope that we all might be redeemed.” —Joshua Furst, author of Revolutionaries
“Haunting . . . Stranger succeeds in shining a light of hope by keeping the memory of the dead alive. This tale of triumph and compassion is a testament to courage in the face of the darkest evil.” —Publishers Weekly