Book Review: We Die Alone

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There is a wonderful 1985 film by Lasse Hollström called My Life as a Dog, about a little boy whose life is turned upside down by one tragedy after another. He survives by constantly comparing his circumstances to others, including the dog sent into space by the Russians, and the refrain he keeps repeating throughout the movie is, “It’s important to compare.” In the spirit of “It’s important to compare,” I recommend We Die Alone, by David Howarth (Lyons Press).

We tend to think of World War Two as taking place on the battlefields of Europe and the islands of the Pacific, but in reality it was far more global than that, justifying its name. One of the lesser known areas where the Nazis worked their tender mercies was Norway, where they launched a Blitzkrieg in the spring of 1940, with an eye to controlling strategic northern Atlantic ports.

In March of 1943, a team of twelve Norwegian commandos set sail from northern England and landed in Nazi-occupied arctic Norway. Their mission was to organize, aid, and supply the Norwegian resistance, but due to a freak coincidence they were betrayed. All but one of them were killed immediately. We Die Alone is the true story of the lone survivor’s epic struggle to survive and escape in the face of insurmountable odds. Wounded, frostbitten, blinded, and crippled, Jan Baalsrud simply refused to die and, aided by courageous villagers who risked their lives to help him, finally managed to survive and to escape.

I don’t want to give the unbelievable details away, but after reading We Die Alone, when my hands start to go numb with cold while cleaning horse manure in the snow, or when I feel like whining about this ache or that pain, I think of Jan Baalsrud and remind myself, “It’s important to compare.”

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