Newest Review: ... unseen dangers underfoot and the constant threat of being caught by the Germans, it is amazing that Jan Baalsrud survived is ordea... more
A Story of Strength
We Die Alone - David Howarth
Member Name: fizzywizzy
We Die Alone - David Howarth
Advantages: An exciting, gripping true tale
Disadvantages: Narration is too impersonal
Battling against hunger, frostbite, unseen dangers underfoot and the constant threat of being caught by the Germans, it is amazing that Jan Baalsrud survived is ordeal. He suffered snow blindness, lay buried under several feet of snow after an avalanche during which episode he lost the skis which had so far helped his escape, and bravely operated on himself to save himself when gangrene threatened his life and even at his lowest, he did not give up the will to live.
It's no secret that Jan survived his ordeal; it is made clear from the very beginning of the account that this is the outcome. That's not to say that the book is not suspenseful; there are so many twists and turns along the way that it's sometimes difficult to believe it's true at all. A foreword from Andy McNabb seems entirely appropriate but might serve to put off some readers who don't normally go for this genre. "We Die Alone" focuses on the human side of the story much more than the military and while I'm fairly certain readers of McNab et al will enjoy this exciting account, it's predominantly a thought-provoking look at the human spirit and how the brave people of these remote communities shared what little they had and endangered their own lives to help this man who had hardly touched their own quiet lives.
Written in 1955, the narration has a somewhat quaint feel to it and one can't help feeling that had it been written more recently, it might have had a more sensationalist tendency. Jan Baalsrud is unable to remember much of his ordeal. He spent many days and nights barely conscious in shocking conditions. Therefore the story was put together in a patchwork using accounts from those who helped Jan escape, many of who never met each other. Some facts weren't known until after the war, some things were learned just months after when the snow thawed and clues were found as to the route Jan took. The effect of this, and the fact that it is a third person narration, makes the narration a little stilted and impersonal but it would have been wrong to present it in the first person if Jan recalls so little.
"We Die Alone" is a thrilling and compelling read yet it crosses the genres effortlessly making it a read with wide appeal. Relatively short, the pace is brisk but the level of detail is high and there were no loose threads. Having recently visited the Museum of the Norwegian Resistance in Oslo, I found this a gripping read and would go as far as hailing it as one of the most memorable books I have ever had the pleasure to read.
This review first appeared at www.curiousbookfans.co.uk
Thanks to Canongate Books for providing a free review copy of the book
Summary: The true tale of a Norwegian hero
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