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Norwegian by Night by Derek Miller — Discussion Guide

Introduction

A captivating debut novel, Norwegian by Night is by turns a pulse-pounding thriller and a luminous meditation on fate. Grudgingly leaving New York to move in with his granddaughter and her new husband in Norway, widower Sheldon Horowitz grapples with memories of loss, from the unspeakable scenes he witnessed as a Marine sniper in the Korean War to the death of his son in Vietnam. Now, facing his final years in a land where he is one of barely a thousand Jews, he struggles to understand his place in the world.

 

One morning, Sheldon unwittingly opens the door on a final mission that will test his wits, his aging body, and his sense of self. Intervening in a dispute between a young mother and a violent stranger, Sheldon finds himself on the run with the woman’s little boy. Separated by language but united by mutual need, the old man and the child take on the Norwegian wilderness, outwitting a Balkan warlord and two brilliant police investigators at every turn.

 

The following discussion topics are designed to enhance your reading group’s experience of Norwegian by Night. We hope this guide will enrich your conversations about Derek B. Miller’s inspiring novel of redemption.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. At the end of chapter 17, Sheldon tells young Rhea that “being conceived in indifference but raised in love is better than the inverse.” Discuss the family ties that are woven throughout Norwegian by Night. How do they compare to the bonds experienced in your own family?

 

2. The novel is shaped by generations of warfare, from Hitler’s invasions to America’s campaigns in Korea and Vietnam to the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Ultimately, what do these storylines tell us about the nature of war? What determines whether its victims will seek peace or vengeance?

 

3. Do Sheldon and Rhea experience Judaism in the same way? How does Sheldon’s Jewish identity affect his sense of legacy as he copes with the aging process?

 

4. Discuss Norway as if it were a character in the novel. How does the landscape—both beautiful and treacherous—reflect the storytelling? Is Norway a naïve utopia that will eventually succumb to the Envers of the world, or is it a shrewd stronghold that lives up to its Viking history?

 

5. What is the essential root of Enver’s power? Is his quest for his son driven entirely by his ego? What keeps Burim from breaking free, despite Adrijana’s pleas?

 

6. How did you interpret Sheldon’s conversations with Bill? How do his memories of Bill and Mario surpass the bonds he has with his family? Are you ever aided by “ghosts” who deliver encouragement and good advice during trying circumstances?

 

7. Discuss the issue of gun control as it plays out in the novel, from Enver’s attempts to acquire weapons to the hunters who give aid to Sheldon and the boy. How does Sheldon’s former life as a sniper shape the way he sees the world? In the closing scenes, what does Lars demonstrate about the key to self-defense?

 

8. At the end of chapter 16, as Saul searches for meaning in the aftermath of his tour of duty, what accounts for the differences between the way he and Sheldon see the role of an American soldier? Why does Saul reenlist?

 

9. How does Lars’s view of the world compare with Rhea’s? What makes them an unlikely yet compatible couple?

 

10. What gives Sheldon the ingenuity and stamina to outwit the police and Enver? In his attempts to protect the boy, what unfinished business from his own life is he pursuing?

 

11. What do Sigrid and Petter discover about their homeland while the case unfolds? What are their best assets as investigators?

 

12. Discuss the novel’s title and the way it captures the expatriate experience. What do the novel’s immigrants hope to gain from a life in Norway? How does the boy’s disguise—a costume of stereotypes—capture the expat experience?

 

13. How were you affected by reading some of the scenes from Sheldon’s seemingly lucid point of view, followed by evidence of his dementia? How does this help us experience the gray areas of memory and reality?

 

14. Without words, Sheldon’s photographs speak volumes. What do you think they say? In the end, what does it take for him to make peace with his past?

 

15. As you watched the boy throughout the novel, what did you discover about the way humanity’s struggles look through the eyes of a child?

 

About the Author

Derek B. Miller is the director of the Policy Lab and a senior fellow at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research. Born and raised in Boston, he has lived abroad for over fifteen years, in Norway, Switzerland, Israel, England, and Hungary.

 

Downloadable guide here.