First published in Norway in 2015, published in England and the USA in 2019.
Ester manages to escape to Sweden. In Stockholm, Ester meets another resistance soldier, Gerhard, and she learns that he had to escape and leave his newborn daughter behind because her mother (and Ester’s best friend), Åse, was brutally killed. Ester and Gerhard start a relationship. But Gerhard dies in a fire.
Then – 25 years later, in Oslo in 1967 – Gerhard shows up again, very much alive. He wants to reconnect with his daughter. But where has he been all these years? And what is the real reason for his return? Ester has to solve these mysteries, look into her past, and focus on the murder of her good friend, Åse.
On the Assistant
First published in Norway in 2020, published in England and the USA in 2021
I think one of the reasons I wanted to concentrate on the thirties in this novel is that the thirties has common traits with the times of today. The world is political unstable now and we witness the rise of populism and fascistic movements in many countries. Especially in the United States we have witnessed how the growth of conspiracy-theories and the working class’s demand for a strong man bears an echo from the years between the great wars. The attack on the Congress the 6th of January has similarities with the Reichstag-fire in 1933. Fortunately, Trump was not as strong as – or as politically clever as Hitler to take the full advantage of the riots. Despite that – one disturbing factor in the aftermath of the Congress attack is how the Republican party is obeying the same strong man and throw democratic values over board just to please some invisible majority among the voters.
These days we see rise of protectionism and growing racism in the US and in Europe – like in the thirties. The process of Brexit and closed borders all over the world is one thing. The Black lives matter movement demonstrates clearly that racism still is an important social factor, like the discrimination of jews was the thirties. And we also see terror-attacks for political purposes. We see how the weapon industry forms strong political lobbies, and the fight for political influence make countries like Russia, China and the USA to pull strings in conflicts in countries far away, e.g using the latest in weapons, like in Jemen and Syria. Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy did the same in the Spanish Civil war in the thirties. Elements like this is part of the inspiration for The Assistant.
In preparation of the novel I researched the german politician Ernst Wollweber. He had background as a sailor. He was a communist and participated in the political fight between communists and nazis that dominated german politics in the late twenties and early thirties. He was elected to the Reichstag in 1932. But when the Nazis set fire to the Reichstag i 1933 and Hitler started to arrest political enemies, he fled Germany, first to Copenhagen and then to Leningrad. Eventually he came to Norway as a refugee. He was married to a Norwegian woman and they settled in Oslo. This happened in the mid thirties when the Spanish civil war was going on. Wollweber travelled around Europe and organised sailors and stevedores in harbours in several countries. His organisation performed attacks on german and italian ships, because Germany and Italy supported Franco’s fascistic uprise in Spain. The idea was that anything that could hurt the two fascistic regimes and their acts of war in Spain – would serve the Spanish Republic. One consequence of his effort in this matter was that from 1936 on, Wollweber was German Gestapo’s most wanted man. In 1940 when Germany invaded Norway, Wollweber fled to Sweden where he was arrested. German authorities wanted him in custody in Berlin but the Swedish authorities did not obey. Wollweber was imprisoned in Sweden until 1944, when the Swedes finally gave in to Soviet pressure and allowed Wollweber to leave for the USSR. On the other hand, the leader of the Norwegian department of his organisation – Martin Hjelmen (one character that has a small part in the book) – was also arrested in Sweden during WWII. Hjelmen was transported to Germany where he was imprisoned and finally executed by Guillotines in 1944. Wollweber on the other hand had a long political career in Eastern Germany. after WWII.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Wollweber organisation in Norwegian history is that when Germany occupied Norway in april 1940, these guys were armed, fully organized and prepared to act. The first year they did no resistance. The explanation for this is most likely the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement from 1939. The members of the Wollweber group were communists and had internal discussions on what to do. But their loyalty to the political International made them sit on the fence waiting. On the other hand, when Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa and attacked Soviet in 1941, these guys started active sabotage in Norway and was soon an effective guerilla force, much feared by the German occupants. The leader, Asbjørn Sunde, had a price on his head as long as the occupation lasted but he was never caught.