With his life long love, his wife Mabel, recently deceased and his son, Saul, long gone Horowitz is persuaded by his granddaughter, Rhea, and her husband, Lars, to move from New York City to Oslo, Norway.
Having visited both New York City and Oslo I know Horowitz experienced a major culture shock. From vibrant, often abrasive, always loud New York City he moves to a tranquil, very orderly, invariably polite Oslo.
Horowitz spends much of his time living in the world within his mind. That world is filled with the people of his life who have died. Sometimes they join him in his memories of past events. At other times they are with him in the present. His family believes he is in the early stages of dementia.
While Horowitz may struggle with aspects of reality in the 21st Century he convincingly explains he understands the modern world but he is haunted by his past so strongly it is part of his present.
In the voices he hears I was reminded of the Ian Rutledge series by Charles Todd in which Rutledge carries on silent dialogue with Hamish, the corporal who died while under his command in WW I. It is no accident that both Horowitz and Rutledge are former combat soldiers. Their experiences of battle will never leave their minds.
Three decades after Saul’s death guilt weighs heavily upon Horowitz:
“And then Saul – my Saul – decided to go to Vietnam because his father had gone to Korea, and his father went to Korea because he didn’t go to Germany. And Saul died there. It was me. I encouraged him. I think I took the life of my boy in the name of a moral cause. But in the end I was nothing like Abraham. Nothing like Saul. And God didn’t stay my hand.”
Horowitz repaired watches after returning from war. His description of working with a balance spring, the heart of a watch, left a catch in my throat:
“I bought the watch from a magazine. Nothing you’d have ever heard of. Fancy people don’t own them. Working-class people do. Soldiers. And they get what they pay for. I like them. So I bought a new one recently, and I’m taking the balance spring from Saul’s old watch and placing the old heart in the new one. This way, when I go about my day and check the time, when I make some decision or other, we’re connected. It makes me feel a little closer to him.”
When the old soldier, Horowitz was a Marine in Korea, sees a woman and child in danger he does not dither. He takes action to try to protect them. When left with the responsibility of the young boy of 6 with whom he does not share a language he embarks upon a valiant quest to seek sanctuary. Miller makes credible their incredible pairing.
The book is a modern epic that happens to be a mystery. Great themes of bravery, honour and loyalty share space with moments of absurdity. Horowitz displays improvisational skills on his journey that left me full of admiration.
I thought of Keith Stewart in Trustee from the Toolroom by Nevil Shute. Stewart is a middle aged engineer who designs, makes and writes about models of machinery. The modest Stewart equally embarks on a great mission on behalf of a child.
The evil men of Norwegian by Night have been forged by the violence of the Balkans where historic conflicts afflict everyone. They find themselves unable to relate to the peaceful considerate Norwegians.
Horowitz is a character I wish I could have met in real life. His wit and broad knowledge would make every conversation engaging.
While many have highly rated this book it took the Christmas book recommendation of José Ignacio Escribano of the blog, The Game’s Afoot to get me to read the book. I now understand the praise it has gained around the world.
I will long remember Sheldon Horowitz. (Feb. 26/14)