Occupied tells a long-held wartime secret

Occupied“Sit with me…”

Rosalie Grosch
Arden Hills, Minn.

“Age and perspective greatly influence how people remember things, and everyone’s parents tell embellished stories,” writes author Kurt Blorstad in the opening pages of his recent novel, Occupied. Because the author wants to learn about the places in Norway he learned about from his father’s stories, he and his father, Trygve, travel to Norway for Trygve’s 70th birthday. The return to Norway is emotional, and Trygve says to his son, “Sit with me and I will tell you what I have only ever shared with my mom.” And so the story begins, written as a journal beginning in May 1936.

Trygve and his two brothers were born in America. When Trygve was 7, the family returned to Norway to visit relatives. Trygve’s father did not stay in Norway as long as the rest of the family, as he needed to return to America to raise money for his family’s return passage and to find a place for them to live.

Stories of daily life, especially as recorded in a journal, are simple, using an economy of words. We are invited into the homes where we smell the baking of bread and read about the sharing of meals. We see the boys as they help Bestemor and eventually find jobs that pay a little money.

The seasons come alive. Spring, the time for planting and growing; summer days of fishing with Uncle Tarald; autumn harvest, and being hired for small jobs with local merchants; the beautiful holiday of Christmas—this is daily life well described. The promise of returning to America carries with it a little sadness at the thought of leaving the Norwegian life the family has learned to love.

By 1940, Norwegian fishermen notice German boats in the area. Planes with Nazi swastikas were seen flying overhead and bombs were dropped. “We had known about the war in Europe, but Norway had declared itself neutral,” the journal states. On April 12, 1940, four German soldiers push their way past the family and march into their home, searching everywhere and leaving the house in shambles. When the soldiers find nothing of value, they tell the family to go into town to have identification papers made. Bestemor tells the boys to never tell anyone they were born in America.

As the story evolves, we see the older boys watching for danger as the men from the area try to stay safe during German occupation. The boys are troubled when they witness underfed and overworked German prisoners forced to build camps, roads, and airstrips. The Germans take food from local gardens and move into homes owned by Norwegians. The Norwegian resistance force takes risks to keep people safe.

Trygve is given an old spyglass and told where to go to spy on the Germans. He is told to keep it hidden and tell no one what he is doing. Although he does not know what happens with the information he is able to pass on, he wants to think he has a small role in the plan to protect the country.

In 1945, when the announcement is made that the war is over, the family learns that many Norwegians have lost their lives. Trygve realizes that what he did could have brought great risk to his family and for many years he was reluctant to tell his story. Now he has a sense of relief that someone else knows what had been done during the war.

“Sit with me and I will tell you!” We, the readers, have sat with author Blorstad and his father. We have heard the story. A secret kept is a burden carried. In opening this journal, Blorstad has lifted the burden for his father.

Rosalie Grangaard Grosch was born into a Norwegian-American family in Decorah, Iowa. A graduate of Luther College, she has taught music, drama, and English in America, Ethiopia, and Papua New Guinea. She is a contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul and has written numerous articles for publication. Rosalie lives in Arden Hills, Minn.

This article originally appeared in the July 12, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

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