Keep Saying Their Names

Written by Matt Bagguley (trans.) Simon Stranger
Review by Anna Bennett

H for Hirsch, H for hope, H for Henry Oliver Rinnan. Simon Stranger’s award-winning historical novel weaves an achingly poignant tale of a man, his family, and the Norwegian occupation of 1940-45. Kneeling next to the Stolperstein bearing the name of Hirsch Komissar, Stranger explains to his son, Komissar’s great-great-grandson, that there are two recognized deaths in Jewish tradition: when the body itself dies, and the last time their name is read, thought, or said. Keep Saying Their Names takes readers on a haunting walk through the alphabet, moving between what is known and what cannot be; from the childhood and career development of Norwegian double-agent Rinnan to Komissar’s experiences at Falstad, and then to the aftermath of the occupation and the lives of Hirsch’s children and grandchildren.

Stranger’s approach gently guides readers through a range of emotions, from grief to rage, disappointment, honest acceptance, and deep reflection. Each thread of the story moves at a different pace and is entwined with the others in a non-traditional layout. I had no difficulty following the format or becoming emotionally invested, and in fact I found the format was conducive to the transitions and my understanding. Having something so sheerly normal as the alphabet in context of the terms and stories listed provided an intricate contrast that lends strength to the impact of Stranger’s family story.

This novel, translated well from its original Norwegian, is highly recommended to those who are interested in learning more about the Norwegian occupation and life in Scandinavia before, during, and after World War II.