When grave family misfortune leaves thirteen-year-old Terry Sayre without parents or relatives to care for him in the summer of 1939, his only option to elude foster care by strangers is to accept asylum abroad with his mother’s Danish kin, people he met only briefly as a child. Despondent but not given to self-pity, Terry begins life anew sheltered in his formidable grandparents’ home in a coastal town an hour’s drive from Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital. But within months of his arrival, the Second World War breaks out. Serving as the emotional prism through which that monumental struggle is refracted, Terry’s older self recounts his precarious coming of age as an alien marooned in a disconcerting new land throughout its long national nightmare an ordeal none of his peers was enduring back home safe in America.
Spared the savage treatment Nazi Germany dealt other countries it conquered, Denmark was allowed to remain nominally self-governing. Good fortune, though, did not allow the proud, peaceloving little kingdom to escape the toll the war took on its people’s collective soul. Fearful of openly resisting or secretly harassing the German occupation at risk of lethal reprisals, Denmark made a complicitous pact with its tormentors to feed and equip their armed forces. As a result, the Danes suffered from self-hatred at home and contempt abroad as a land of shameless collaborators bartering their country’s honor to survive the war unbloodied.
Hamlet’s Children by Richard Kluger is the story of a young American’s wrenching assimilation with his Danish relatives and their friends and of how he is pinioned in the same cruel vise with his adopted countrymen as they cunningly attempt to subvert the Germans’ iron grip on their kingdom. Paramount on this agenda of defiance is the Danes’ persistent effort to keep their Jewish neighbors out of the Nazis’ murderous hands. Vibrant with memorable characters and fraught with tension, this artfully crafted narrative, both heartbreaking and uplifting, is a testament to the human spirit in its bleakest hours.
©2017 Richard Kluger