Book review: “Køpersund, 1942”
In Køpersund, 1942, author David Andrew Westwood introduces Margrete Ehrdahl, a 20-year-old Norwegian beauty whose modeling career and home life are “eliminated overnight” when a bomb explodes on a ferry near Narvik harbor in 1940.
Margrete and her family are swept into the burning water and her face is disfigured. In a convalescent hospital in Britain, with her lips “melted together,” Margrete hates what she sees.
A born problem solver, Margrete is at her worst when she cannot be at her best. Her struggle to “find a way to fight back” compels her to meet her obstacles with a blunt introspection devoid of sentimentality.
Margrete’s emotional transitions explode in response to traumatic circumstances. Caught by surprise on a London street during the Blitz, she is blasted onto her back but miraculously survives. Shell-shocked, she staggers up because “a baby cried somewhere. She went to find it.”
Fighting back becomes Margrete’s new normal. When she is accepted into commando training school in Scotland, she challenges the reluctant commanding officer to “give me the training you give the men, and we’ll find out if I can take it.” Soon, she is rappelling a 200-foot cliff of sheer granite and using blunt honesty to batter her fear. She muses that she could describe this cliff as “possessing a ‘stark beauty.’ But the concept of beauty, taken for granted for all of her earlier life and now irrevocably lost, was now excised from her vocabulary.”
Humor is another weapon Margrete wields in her transformation. A male soldier notes her absence in the mess hall and asks, “Where’s the troll?” Margrete knows the men call her “troll” because of her disfigured face. She wants to hide in the barracks. Instead, she storms in and shouts: “Here she is. Got in any fresh children for dinner?”
Author Westwood keeps Margrete center frame in the complicated rescue sequences that follow. Leading the rescue at Grini detention camp in Bærum, Norway, Margrete outsmarts German guards to free British scientist Creswell Bryce, called the British equivalent of Werhner von Braun, who has a secret weapon that might stop the Nazis.
Margrete’s partners in the Norwegian Resistance make their own journeys of transformation, some driven to seek revenge.
Ferske, grim-faced at sixteen, calculates how many Nazis he can kill with an “innocent” command. In 1945, with the Norwegians in control of Køpersund, he orders the German prisoners to run past the red flags marking live land mines. That way he will be sure, he says, that all the mines are destroyed.
When a prisoner protests that this is against the Geneva Convention, Ferske kills him. The surviving prisoners race into the field. They keep running, even when the body parts of a soldier who stepped on a live mine rain down on their heads.
Ferske, once a laconic young man, represents a consistent theme in Køpersund, 1942. Appearances don’t tell the whole story.
For a man literally blinded by the war, Bryce has a clear vision of his future with Margrete. But she can’t see it, believing their differences are insurmountable.
Bryce’s logic has a mystical loop. He says, “I look normal, but I’m not; you don’t look normal, but you are. Perfect match.”
What is the future for Margrete and Bryce? Look to the epilogue, “September 1989. London, England,” for the answer. Did Margrete’s mission to fight back bring her victory or love or more than either?
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 17, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.