The Jøssing Affair
Christine Foster Meloni
We can often learn more from a well-researched and -written historical novel than from a scholarly book by an eminent historian. This is certainly the case with J. L. Oakley’s novel The Jøssing Affair about the Nazi occupation of Norway during World War II.
Oakley has developed a memorable set of characters, based on her thorough study of documents and extensive interviews with relevant individuals. She has created characters who give their all for Norway against the occupying Germans, characters who go over to the German side and are as cruel as if not crueler than the Nazis, and characters who try to appear neutral so as not to put themselves or their families in harm’s way.
She also includes two historic figures: the ruthless Norwegian Gestapo agent Henry Oliver Rinnan and the dedicated Conrad Bonnevie-Svendsen, the Minister to the Deaf, who played a key role in the Resistance.
The protagonist is an unlikely hero. Jens Hansen is a deaf and mute person and the leader of a vast resistance network in Norway with strong ties to the British military. We soon learn, however, that Jens is not deaf, and his name is not Jens Hansen but Tore Haugland. He was trained by the British Intelligence in England and speaks fluent English. Acting as a deaf person gives him a powerful cover—though not an easy one. One slip could prove immediately fatal.
Haugland poses as a poor fisherman who works on the boat of Kjell Arneson in the town of Fjellstad. As fishermen, they are able to move around relatively easily, although there is always the danger of a raid by Germans seeking people or goods that they should not have on board. In fact, they frequently use the boat to sneak people and goods (including weapons) out of town. This is extremely dangerous business and, therefore, the tension rarely lets up.
We get to know the people in town involved in the Resistance. We also begin to suspect others who may be working for the Germans. But it is often hard to distinguish between the jøssings* (the patriots) and the quislings (the traitors).
One of the most intriguing characters is Anna, a German woman whose Norwegian husband was a member of the Resistance. After someone betrays him, he is brutally tortured and executed by the Germans. Who was the traitor? Was it his wife? Against his better judgment, Haugland falls in love with her. How does this situation affect his state of mind and his work?
The story goes beyond Fjellstad as Haugland and others frequently travel to Trondheim to meet with other members of the Resistance. They are also often called upon to hide fellow jøssings in Norway or to smuggle those in extreme danger across the border into Sweden.
The German occupation of Norway drags on for five long years. The members of the Resistance anxiously follow the progress of the Allies as they fight to defeat the Nazis. In the meantime, Norwegians continue to suffer and die. We readers also become anxious, hoping against hope that the characters we have grown to admire will survive until the war finally comes to an end.
Oakley sheds light on the role of Norway in World War II. It is an important history lesson that deserves to be better known.
*Jøssingfjord was the site of a well-known incident in WWII. On Feb. 16-17, 1940, the crew of the British destroyer HMS Cossack successfully freed British prisoners on board the German tanker Altmark in neutral Norwegian waters. After this incident, the term jøssing came to mean a Norwegian patriot, the opposite of a quisling (or traitor).
See also www.norwegianamerican.com/books/an-interview-with-j-l-oakley.
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.