16 August 2016

We Die Alone by David Howarth, UK, 1955

This amazing true story tells how, in March 1943, Jan Baalsrud, a Norwegian expatriate resistance fighter, sails from the Shetland Islands to the northern coast of Norway with three other Norwegians and the crew of the small fishing boat. The idea is to help train Norwegians within the resistance movement; however, after making landfall above the Arctic circle, plans go horribly wrong, and Jan is forced to flee across the inhospitable winter wasteland of northern Norway. With Nazi soldiers pursuing him and not knowing whom he is able to trust, Jan has no choice but to push on.

Wounded, without proper clothing and with very little food, he survives almost six weeks in conditions that would have seen the death of most people after only a few days. Freezing temperatures, blizzards, avalanches, snow blindness, frostbite, gangrene were only some of the hurdles that Baalsrud encounters as he desperately tries to take himself across occupied Norway into neutral Sweden.

That he succeeds is dependent to a great extent on his own strength of character but it is also thanks to the many people who help him. These people offer their help even though they are fully aware that discovery will most surely result in a death sentence for both themselves and their families. We Die Alone is a wonderful example of courage against formidable odds but also a celebration of ordinary people's charity and self sacrifice.

Although this is not a novel of great literary merit, We Die Alone is definitely worth reading for the suspense and the descriptions of bravery and resilience that go far beyond what we believe could be possible.

 Photo of Jan Baalsrud from

01 August 2016

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet by Colleen McCullough, Australia, 2008

I am not a fan of anyone taking characters from another author's book – in this case one of the classics – and writing a so-called sequel to that book. I can imagine that Jane Austen turned in her grave when this book hit the shelves: the writing is mediocre, the characterization is extremely poor and the plot is both superficial and unbelievable, to say the least. However, for anyone with hours to whittle away and a penchant for third-class romantic novels that follow the Mills and Boon requisite for a happy ending, this book may possibly tick all the boxes.

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet picks up twenty years after the conclusion of Pride and Prejudice, focusing on the middle daughter, Mary, who has undergone some kind of transformation and, after being the plain one in the family, is now considered beautiful, possibly even more beautiful than Elizabeth. Mrs Bennet dies on page two, leaving Mary (her carer) the option of moving in with her sister Elizabeth, and becoming a live-in spinster aunt, or pursuing the possibility of independence (a no-no for young ladies of the early nineteenth century). Of course, in keeping with the title of the book, Mary chooses the second of these two options. As an unaccompanied lady, she endures a hair-raising trip across England and ends up being imprisoned by a religious maniac.
Photo of Colleen McCullough from
While we are following the trials and tribulations of Mary, we are also reintroduced to the other characters of Pride and Prejudice – all of them completely at odds with or, at the very least, caricatures of their original incarnations. Fitzwilliam Darcy is obnoxious, Lydia is a drunk, Elizabeth is frigid, Jane seems to be completely without backbone… add to this a number of senseless murders, a surprise sibling, thousands of pounds worth of hidden gold and fifty uncivilized orphans, and the scene is set for one of the worst novels I have read this year.

I am not recommending this book, but I do suggest you read (or reread) Pride and Prejudice and enjoy a well written and well crafted novel.