An interview with J. L. Oakley
Meet the author
Christine Foster Meloni
Christine Foster Meloni: What sparked your interest in the Nazi occupation of Norway?
J. L. Oakley: My interest in Norway actually goes back to a dream I had 26 years ago. One night I dreamed about a lifeless man half buried in the snow. There were also German soldiers in my dream. When I awoke, I jotted down the details and then decided to write a story set in Norway during World War II.
My knowledge of Norway in WWII was very superficial. I had read John Steinbeck’s novel, The Moon is Down, about the Norwegian Resistance, and seen Heroes of Telemark, the film about the heavy water commando raid starring Kirk Douglas. But that was about it.
I began to read everything I could about Norway: history, poetry, culture. Blood on the Midnight Sun, a series of stories about Norway during the Occupation by Hans Christian Adamson, introduced me to the two historic figures I use in my novel, Conrad Bonnevie-Svendsen and Henry Oliver Rinnan, Norway’s No. 2 war criminal. I also learned in this book about the activities of the Shetland Bus, the covert operation in which fishing boats sailed between Norway and Shetland carrying weapons and supplies to Norwegian partisans and rescuing people in danger.
I did research in the Scandinavian section of Western Washington University. My incredibly lucky find was the classified reports on Norway written by British Naval Intelligence that gave me spy maps and all sorts of information on secret operations. These reports were just sitting there at the local university library!
I felt that I couldn’t fully understand what the Occupation was like without interviewing people who had experienced it. Through contacts in the Norwegian Male Chorus here in Bellingham and Everett [Wash.], I initially interviewed five couples. Over the years people have come to me with their stories and memories.
I am very grateful to the historians I met at the Resistance Museum (also known as the Norwegian Home Front Museum) located at the Akershus Fortress in Oslo, and the Norwegian National Museum of Justice in Trondheim.
CFM: What gave you the idea of creating a deaf (or supposedly deaf) main character? Is Haugland based on a real person or is he your own creation?
JLO: Haugland is my creation, but I had read stories of the Resistance in different countries where agents pretended to have a disability. With his perceived deafness, Haugland could sit around and hear things, but it could be very dangerous if he messed up. He could also move around more easily. People with disabilities could obtain special medical passes. I read about a young man in Oslo who was actually deaf and he did errands for the Resistance. Since he was largely ignored because of his medical pass, he could go places without much difficulty.
CFM: Do you plan to write any additional novels about Norway?
JLO: I am currently writing a sequel to The Jøssing Affair.
Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, D.C. She values her Norwegian heritage.
This article originally appeared in the November 2, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.