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Book Review: “We Die Alone” by David Howarth

by on June 4, 2012

Originally, I was going to write a whole article about why I wasn’t reviewing Fifty Shades of Grey but that seems counterproductive. If you follow me on Twitter, then you already know why, and I don’t want to rehash the past, but I hated Twilight and I hate Fifty Shades and that’s that.

So instead of sexual deviance and poorly written masturbatory fantasies, I’m going in as different a direction as I can imagine. We Die Alone: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance by David Howarth is what I recommend unto you, my favorite book nerds.

The book description — “One of the most exciting escape narratives to emerge from the challenges and miseries of World War II chronicles Jan Baalsrud’s escape from Nazi-occupied arctic Norway”  — just doesn’t do it justice. We Die Alone is an older book (1957!) and maybe one you’ve read before, but I like to remind people of things, so take another look at it.

You may be thinking what I was thinking, Arctic Norway? Yeah. The Nazi presence isn’t felt quite as extremely as it is in mainland Europe, or even non-Arctic Norway, but it’s certainly there. A group of ex-pat Norwegians try to land on the coast with a sort of guerrilla warfare plot but, tragically, it doesn’t work. With an almost Hollywood-esque chain of events, it’s frustrating to read about how it comes to an end, but it’s also an impossible situation to imagine. (You’ll see what I mean.) Eventually, Baalsrud is the only survivor of the ill fated mission and his story of escape from under the Nazi eyeball is just… spectacular. From the absolutely amazing people who help the injured soldier along the escape route to the incredible amounts of endurance and tenacity Baalsrud shows, this whole story reads like fiction. The best part is that it’s not and the worst part is that it’s not.

Now, there’s one problem that a lot of grammar Nazis (and I’m one of them–no pun intended…ish–) might have trouble overlooking, and it’s the sometimes awkward grammatical sentences and the occasional typos throughout. I have no idea if this is actually a translation problem, but pretending that it is made me feel better about the whole thing. You can do that too! It’s easy! The story is engaging, compelling and just… a fucking triumph of human nature.

It’s the people other than the protagonist who are the most incredible part of this story. Risking their lives, some act with cowardice and almost incomprehensibly terribly affect everything, but most move with absolute bravery and determination and — spoiler alert(?) — it makes for a happy ending. (Well, sort of.)

Humans are amazing, guys. Seriously. I know there are a lot of WWII stories out there, some probably better and just as harrowing and they’re absolutely worth reading too, but this one sticks to me. Maybe not to you, I don’t want to be presumptuous, but give it a shot.

For more book related goodness, check out my podcast! It’s called No Math Allowed and it’s about books! Sorta. It’s not that we HATE math, we just had to draw a nerd conversational line somewhere and cutting out the mathematical portions up front keeps the podcast at an hour. So! You can follow me on Twitter, or email me at [email protected] about your own book if you’re the writerly sort or one you think sounds interesting, and then go have a FANTABULOUS day! Happy reading!