Sunday, August 27, 2017

Book Review: 'The Saboteur' by Andrew Gross

Andrew Gross's "The Saboteur" is a work of historical fiction based on events that occurred during the Second World War. As early as 1939, German scientists were engaged in atomic research and several years later, Niels Bohr, the Danish physicist and Nobel laureate, warned the British that "the Nazis were on the verge of obtaining a devastating weapon." A committee in England known as the SOE, or Special Operations Executive, dispatched teams of highly trained and courageous men to Vemork, Norway, where scientists were using the Norsk Hydro plant to manufacture deuterium oxide--or heavy water--an essential step in the process of creating fissionable material.

Gross keeps us engaged with this action-packed account of how in 1943, a brave band of "Northmen," as the Norwegians called themselves, had to parachute into forbidding terrain and endure frigid temperatures, punishing winds, and terrifying snowstorms. Their ultimate objective was to enter the hydroelectric plant with enough stealth to set explosive charges. There are many characters in this story, but the central figure is the daring Kurt Nordstrum, who is strongly motivated to risk his life in order to defeat the German war machine.

"The Saboteur" draws us in with its vivid depiction of the obstacles that confronted Nordstrum, his close friend, Jens Strollman, and their comrades, all of whom volunteered to undertake a possible suicide mission. Gross describes Norway's unpredictable wintry weather so well that just reading about the horrendous conditions the soldiers encountered makes us shiver. This book has its share of clich├ęs, stilted dialogue, and poorly phrased metaphors ("his blood burned with envy"); the British leaders are "stiff-upper-lip" types who order their subordinates to do the impossible, and the Nazis and Norwegian collaborators are universally slimy, cruel, and self-serving.

On the plus side, there are exciting escapes, scenes of incredible heroism, a bit of romance (fortunately, not overdone), and a gripping finale. What makes this novel succeed, in spite of its flaws, is the atmosphere of authenticity that Gross creates, and the ways in which he humanizes his heroes. We empathize, not just with Nordstrum and his intrepid fellow soldiers, but also with those ordinary individuals who, in spite of their fears, supported the Allied effort to defeat Hitler.

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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