Roy Jacobsen: Grenser (Borders)

Yes, this novel is about borders, particularly national ones but also borders between people. Apart from a very large section involving the Battle of Stalingrad, much of this novel is set around the Luxembourg-Belgum-German border. We start with the Ardennes Offensive (aka the Battle of the Bulge) when a soldier serving in the US army (though he may be Canadian) is rescued by a local woman. They hide out but he goes to look for his regiment and never returns, leaving her pregnant. Robert, the son, and Maria , the mother, are close to various people whose stories we hear, including, in particular, Léon, who ends up fighting (unwillingly) for the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge and Markus, who ends up fighting for the Germans at the Battle of Stalingrad and seemingly has a key influence on the course of the battle. He is blinded but when he recovers, tells no-one, not even his wife, except for Robert.

In both battles, borders are crossed though the key border we are concerned with is on the River Our between Germany and Luxembourg and this small and insignificant crossing will play a certain role well before the war, during the war and after the war. We follow several other stories, the issue of people fighting for the wrong side, the military mistakes made by generals and by Hitler and even the story of a knife thrower and William of Orange. Jacobsen tells a wonderful set of stories but it all comes down to borders – between people and between countries.

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