Hidden Fires shines brightly

Norwegian American Kirk Kjeldsen’s non-fiction turned novel is a fitting memorial to heroes whose lights shine in dark times

Photo courtesy of Kirk Kjeldsen
Kjeldsen’s great-grandfather Anfinn, shown on the far right, was the inspiration for this WWII novel.

Christine Foster Meloni
Washington, D.C.

Kirk Kjeldsen’s inspiration for this novel was his great-grandfather’s brother, Anfinn Michael Oliver Kjeldsen, a member of the Norwegian resistance during the WWII German occupation who assisted stranded members of the U.S. Air Force get to safety into Sweden. He was originally going to write a non-fiction book about his ancestor but was not able to find enough information for this purpose.

He decided, therefore, to write a book of fiction. The protagonist is Kari Dahlstrøm, a 15-year-old girl who lives with her widowed father Erling on a farm in Norway’s Stjørdalen Valley. One day she spots in the distance a fighter plane with U.S. Army Air Force markings as it plummets to the ground. She rushes into her house to urge her father to try to find out if the pilot has managed to bail out and survive. He emphatically tells his daughter to forget it because it is none of their business. They soon go to bed for the night but Kari cannot sleep. She feels she must assist the American pilot if he is still alive.

Kari sets out on her own and soon discovers pilot Lance Mahurin alive, hanging from a tree unable to free himself from his entangled parachute. She succeeds in cutting him down and, after telling him that she is a member of the Norwegian Resistance (she is not!), promises to take him safely to Sweden.

They must face, of course, many almost insurmountable obstacles. First of all, since it is winter, they must try to keep themselves warm in the very cold weather. They must also find ways to feed themselves. Their most difficult challenge of all is avoiding the German occupiers as well as the Norwegians who are willing to ingratiate themselves with the enemy by turning in members of the Resistance.

Not long after Kari and Lance set out on their very perilous journey, the pursuit begins. When Kari’s father discovers her missing, he guesses what she is up to and immediately starts out to find her, very worried about what might happen to her if she is caught by the Germans.

When Wehrmacht Oberleutnant Conrad Moltke, the local German commander, learns of the crash of the American plane, he immediately sets out with his men to find it. He is soon informed that the pilot survived and is most likely attempting to reach Sweden. He eventually picks up Kari and Lance’s trail.

portrait of Anfinn Michael Oliver Kjeldsen

Photo courtesy of Kirk Kjeldsen
Anfinn Michael Oliver Kjeldsen.

The novel is full of suspense and drama. But, while she is scared, Kari is happy to be with the handsome American pilot and begins to dream of a life with him in America. She almost finds herself wishing that their flight will continue indefinitely so she can be with him. She is quite sure that he will disappear from her life once they reach their destination.

The author succeeds in casting light on a very dark period of Norway’s history. He shows the suffering of the Norwegians who live in constant fear and are forced to go without many basic necessities. People fear not only the Germans but also their neighbors because they just might be German informers.

The book is a fitting memorial to Kjeldsen’s courageous ancestor and to all of the brave Norwegians who participated in some way for their country’s freedom. In 2001 Kjeldsen’s ancestor received a special citation from the Eighth Air Force Historical Society. The certificate reads, in part: “At great risk of life, and to the lives of those whom they held dear, this helper voluntarily assisted the airmen of the downed aircraft to evade or escape the enemy and facilitated the return of these American airmen to their unit.”

Kirk Kjeldsen is Assistant Professor in the cinema program at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts in Richmond, Va. The title of this novel comes from a poem by Tarjei Vesaas that begins “The surface is calm—in the land of fires.” He has adapted some of Tarjei Vesaas’s poems into the feature film Gavagai. Tomorrow City (2013) is his first novel and is set in Shanghai.

This article originally appeared in the March 10, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Christine Foster Meloni

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.