Book review: “The Red Meadows”

red meadows

Rosalie Grosch
Arden Hills, Minn.

Neil Sogge’s passion for Scandinavian languages and their translations inspired him to translate the writing of Ole Juul, a Danish freedom fighter during WW II. Juul helped many Jews flee to safety in Sweden.

Neil Sogge found a Norwegian translation of the book, The Red Meadows, in a dusty corner of a thrift store. He taught himself Norwegian so that he could use the Danish and the Norwegian to translate the WW II story that he found so compelling.

Danish Saboteur, Michael Lans, captured and in prison in Denmark, finds himself living in two worlds, the reality of the torture and degradation of the prison and the haunting wonderful memories of his times with Ruth, the love of his life.

Time allows Lans the freedom to let his imagination translate the conflicting experiences of love and war in his mind as he thinks about the realities of his life. One example of this is his developing relationship with the German guard, Steinz, a man who befriends Lans over and over. Lans comes to believe that not all Nazis follow the evil ways of Hitler, and sometimes questions his own motives for bombing the Nazi aircraft factory. He becomes suspicious of some of his fellow saboteurs. Did one of them reveal the intention to destroy the aircraft factory? The relationship with the German guard, Steinz, becomes one of trust and compassion for each other.

During what Lans believes might be his last hours, a Priest comes to the prison cell to visit. It is interesting to this reader that Steinz, the German guard, brings comfort to Lans, while the Priest, the spokesperson for God, becomes a threat with his cold-hearted devotion to the Fuhrer. When the two of them speak of love, Lans asks the Priest, “So you don’t allow any room for love?” The Priest’s answer is far from love of God: “Love is submissive devotion, love is self-sacrifice to the Fuhrer, self-forgetfulness, and unquestioning obedience.”

Lans reflects on the deep conversations he had with Ruth about God and the perfection of love revealed in creation. He understands that destroying the creation would not destroy the love that was intended by the creator. Lans told Ruth that one doesn’t find himself until finding love, and that only in true love can one find happiness. Losing her would be losing himself.

When the Priest wants to offer a blessing, Lans refuses, as he feels his patience has been ripped away as well as his hope. The Priest, to him, is a mockery, one who knows nothing of love, and he sends the priest from his cell with condemning words.

Reading this marvelous translation, one sees that the two worlds collide: the world of hope and memory, and the reality of the Germans under Hitler claiming all for themselves at any price. Ruth represents the hope of the younger people, hope that evil will come to an end and there will be a return to what the Danish people knew before the ravages of war, while the elderly feel a resignation and acceptance that what they had loved and held dear was being ripped from them.

Freedom, the ongoing cry throughout this novel, seems elusive to Lans. Steinz keeps reminding Lans that there is still hope while Steinz, himself, is losing it. Freedom finds itself in a startling way.

The novel does an excellent job showing WWII through the eyes of a Dane who finds himself one of the many players in this tragic period in history.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 6, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.