Having mentioned in the previous column the approaching summer with its enervating temperatures, I thought that it would be appropriate to consider a book in which the action takes place in the winter. Winter in the far north of Norway, no less, a place where the temperature extremes are similar to Tucson's during the summer, but in the opposite direction.
We Die Alone, by David Howarth, is an amazing adventure that took place during the Second World War, and involved one Jan Baalsrud, the sole survivor of a band of twelve Norwegian patriots (the German army invaded Norway in 1940 and occupied that country for most of the remainder of the war). Pursued by enemy soldiers after his boat was sunk in the Toftefjord in 1943, he set off to reach the Swedish frontier and safety (Sweden was neutral during the war). His ensuing struggle to stay out of German hands, and, ultimately, to survive, is just as gripping today as when it was first published in 1955.
“His choice of direction then, if it was not at random, was probably governed by the light. In the thickest of cloud and snow one sometimes has an impression of greater darkness where a steep rock face is close above. The sides of Lyngdalen may have thrown extra darkness, and so may have the sharp bend downstream in the narrow valley. But upstream Jaeggevarre stands farther back, and in that direction there is less to obscure the light. Jan may have concluded that this was south, or that it was really the lower reaches of the valley. At all events, he began to climb that way....
Suddenly with lightning speed the snow slope split from end to end and the snow below his feet gave way. He fell on his side and snatched at the surface, but everything was moving, and the snow fell upon him and rolled him over and over. He felt himself going down and down, faster and faster, fighting with roaring masses of snow which were burying him alive. It wrenched and pounded his helpless body, and choked and battered him till he was unconscious. He fell limply in the heart of the avalanche and it cast out his body on the valley floor below. Down there he lay still, long after its thunder had echoed away to silence.”
Jan Baalsrud's incredible true adventure stands alone in the annals of the Second World War as a record of unbelievable hardship, heart-stopping drama (in the finest sense of that word), and super-human courage. It's a tale that has stood the test of time, and will continue to do so. Be sure to read all about it.
Copyright © 2003, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.