THE SOCIAL COMPLEXITIES OF WAR

 

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The novel is a living thing, an organism, if you will, mirroring the people and the societies it emerges from. Most reckon its original emergence with Daniel Defoe’s works, Moll Flanders and Robinson Crusoe in the early 1700s. What has made it increasingly popular is its take on the lives of common folk, their concerns and daily lives. As the novel has grown, it has drawn to it the deeper psychology of its characters as well as the subterranean reaches of these characters’ social orders, their geographies, their languages, their commonalities as well as their conflicts.

Kirk Kjeldsen’s latest novel, Land of Hidden Fires, touches many of these literary points in depicting the people and geography of Norway at the outer reaches of World War II. His story begins with a girl, Kari DahlstrØm, who grows curious about an American fighter aircraft that has flown over the family farm. She searches it out supposing the plane has crashed (it has), and nearby she encounters its pilot, Lance Mahurin. Kari has a yen for adventure and greener pastures and seizes on the pilot’s predicament to lead him to safety in nearby Sweden.

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Along the way, Kjeldsen gives us a spectacularly written narrative of the Norway winter, reminiscent of a Jack London story or two. Their escape isn’t simple, however; they are being pursued by a cranky German officer, Conrad Moltke, and his patrol, within the harsh environs of the beautiful Norwegian countryside. Danger nips at both party’s heels, not only as a consequence of war, but because they have placed themselves in a forbidding clime, which becomes a metaphor for the war itself.

Kjeldsen’s ambitions here seem formidable. His story and characters display traits that are near-archetypical of humanity – the urge to survive by both cleverness and pure determination; yet Kari’s and Lance’s goal opposes that of Moltke and his patrol. To ice this idea, there is the chaos of language to contend with: German, Norwegian, and English. Kjeldsen gives us a taste of these in passing, but even these scant mentions add to the increasingly combustible story Kjeldsen fabricates about the social complexities of war.

The author holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from USC, and it’s clear that he’s learned how to organize war’s fog into a workable piece of fiction. It’s a rare writer who can emerge from the shadows of academia with a fully mature prosaic voice, and it’s also clear that Kjeldsen is on the way to developing such a voice, one that just may eventually echo within the same halls as Graham Greene, John LeCarré, and Robert Ludlum.

My rating 17 of 20 stars

 

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