Sheldon Horowitz, an 82 year-old Jewish-American, has been transplanted to Oslo to live with his granddaughter, Rhea and her husband Lars, and he is not particularly happy. The couple is trying to have a baby and it’s not been easy. Then there are the foreign neighbors (probably Southern European) who are argumentative to the point of abusive. A small boy lives with them.
One day the neighbor’s fighting is just a bit too much, Sheldon peeks and sees the boy alone so he goes to save him but ends up witnessing the murder of the mother. Together they hide. Sheldon will not allow the boy to get caught up in the “system” – rather he will save him somehow and they run away.
But Sheldon is old, he can’t run very well, can’t fight or shoot; he can hardly stay awake. The truth is Sheldon lives in his memories quite a lot – memories of the Korean War, WW2 and Vietnam – they all affected him deeply in one way or another. Then there are the memories of his Jewish experience – and of his son, Saul. All of these memories bring forth ghosts.
The story is told through several points of view, Sheldon’s, Lars’, Rhea’s, even the police characters have an ongoing point of view because it turns out the man assumed to be the woman’s killer and the boy’s father, may be part of an underground Serbian criminal gang – so there’s a police procedural going on.
But for all those heavy themes thrown on top of a good crime story, this is not heavy reading. The narrative prose is simple with appropriate metaphors making it warm in some way, occasionally laugh out loud funny, even if there is an undertone of thriller. And Mangan, the narrator, has a great voice for all this.
All these threads makes the book really difficult to categorize. Is it contemporary fiction dealing with Alzheimer’s, war, love, memory, ethnicity, religion, and other common themes? Or is it a crime novel complete with a cop-shop narrative and gangland thugs? I’m going with the latter because that’s the frame story, the “current time” story – not a memory.