Bjorn’s Gift delivers
Arden Hills, Minn.
Sandy Brehl, author of Bjorn’s Gift, has continued in the world of her 2014 Midwest Book Award for Children’s Fiction-winning Odin’s Promise. We return to Mari’s story, further exploring the events centering around WWII when the Germans occupied Norway.
Classified as Juvenile Fiction/Historical/WWII for Middle Grade readers, the novel captures readers of all ages. During WWII life was not easy for Norwegians in Mari’s small village, Ytre Arna. Young readers who know nothing about military occupation will surely feel an emotional connection with Mari, a girl of their own age, and ask the question, “Could I be as strong as Mari?”
During the war, the Norwegian people were forced to choose: would they remain loyal to Norway and the Norwegian Resistance or would they join with the Norway-Nazi party? Mari wonders what favors and secrets the party members provided in exchange for an entire house, land on the coast, food, and a truck with the precious fuel to power it.
Mari’s older brother, Bjorn, had been a strong example for the younger ones. His loyalty to his homeland took him away from those he loved, but they all knew that Bjorn was doing what he knew was right. His sister and younger friends, Astrid, Per, and Mari, respected him and hoped to be as brave as he was. He had encouraged Per to keep a ledger of things happening in the village so that he would know more about the situation when he returned from hiding in the mountains with the Resistance. As a wood carver, Bjorn had left each of them a carving of a bear, the symbol of his name. These were a comfort to them as they tried to be as brave as Bjorn.
School was not the same for Mari and her friends. Many of the teachers had been replaced with German ones. Schedules and rules had been changed. Signs in the village were now in German. Propaganda posters were plastered everywhere. People spoke only in whispers or behind closed doors about things that concerned them.
Mari continues to mourn the tragic killing of her beloved and brave dog, Odin, carrying a carving Bjorn made of him for comfort and confidence. Though no dog could replace him, Thor, a spunky six-month-old puppy, has many of the same qualities as Odin. Per and Mari know that Thor must be trained to obey or he’d end up like Odin. When the Germans want to collect dogs for service in the military units, especially dogs as strong and trainable as Thor, Mari and her friends create a means to protect him.
Mari’s one-time friend, Life, is eager to join the Nazi group, Unghird, when he turns 14. Mari loses trust in Life, whose pride in being part of the Nazi group and enthusiasm for the new government are distasteful to her. The many Norwegians who gave in to the demands of the Germans in order to be provided with better things troubled Mari.
Mari’s father had to empty all the rooms in the big house so that the Germans could occupy them. Mari and her family were forced to move into the small cottage with Bestemor and do all the cooking, cleaning, and washing of clothes for the Germans. Treasures were hidden away in secret places so that the Germans, seeking out spy cells in the village, would not discover them.
Mari learns that life’s choices are difficult. She records her thoughts in her own ledger, carefully hidden from the Germans, hoping to share it with Bjorn one day. Wondering if they would ever know the joy of freedom again, Mari realizes that she can only live her life if she chose to hope.
Although the characters and events in this novel are fictional, many of the situations, dates, and anecdotes woven into the story are real. The novel gives us insight into the struggles, hardships, and dangers Norway endured during the German occupation.
Those of us who thoroughly enjoyed the first of Brehl’s novels wait eagerly for the third novel in this trilogy.
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 18, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.