By J.L. Oakley
The Jossing Affair reminds me of Dr. Zhivago: it’s a story that helps us understand a world-changing, vicious conflict through a close focus on a few people caught in it. At its heart, it’s actually a realistic love story.
Janet Oakley is an author I admire. She has a clear, simple style that puts the reader right into the story and brings the Norwegian landscape and seas to life.
Like me, she writes historical fiction set in places and eras that most people would consider obscure. When most of us think of the Second World War, I don’t think the Norwegian occupation and resistance comes top-of-mind. We know something about it, like the word “quisling,” meaning a treacherous person who cooperates with the enemy, from the name of Norway’s collaborator Minister President Vikrun Quisling. But I think few in the U.S. or Canada are really familiar with the history, the resistance inside the country or the acts of the Norwegians who escaped the country to continue the fight from the U.K. and elsewhere.
Here’s the situation: in 1944, Norway has been suffering Nazi Germany’s brutal occupation for four years. Tore Haugland is a teacher who escaped to Scotland, then along with other Norwegians, trained in espionage under the British before coming back to Norway’s west coast. There, he assumes an identity as Jens Hansen, a deaf-mute fisherman. His false disability leads most people in the village of Fjellstad to assume he’s also slow-witted.
But Haugland/Jensen has another role: he sets up a secret radio transmitter to communicate with the Allies, and helps coordinate the “Shetland Bus”—secret transportation across the North Sea, smuggling out escapers and bringing in resistance fighters, weapons and supplies.
It’s the most dangerous kind of work, because jossing, or “patriot” Haugland is up against smart quislings, including Norway’s second-worst war criminal, Henry Oliver Rinnan, head of a Norwegian Gestapo unit.
As Haugland goes about spying, he meets Anna Fromme, known as “the German woman” or simply “the Woman” in the village. People assume she’s a quisling, because she is German, and shun her.
But Anna is the widow of another jossing, Einar Fromme, who was arrested, tortured and executed by Rinnan. Of course, Anna did not know anything about her husband’s resistance activities. Even though she moves to the tiny village of Fjellstad after his death, suspicion that she had something to do with it follows her.
Haugland knows who she is, and feels a deep attraction. But he feels he cannot act on this attraction because that would expose both of them to great danger.
A highly skilled author
The tension in this book starts high, and steadily gets higher. That’s something that requires skill on the part of an author. Oakley keeps raising the stakes as the resistance’s missions become more dangerous, the Gestapo gets closer, the Germans retreat in Russia, Poland and France, and Haugland and Anna fall deeper in love.
By the second half of the book, it’s clear the Germans are losing the war. But there’s not a lot of Allied action in Norway in 1944—in fact, Norway was the last country to be liberated from the Germans, days after V-E Day. And despite the fact they know there is no way they can win—or maybe because of it—the Germans and the quislings get more and more brutal.
I love the way that Oakley wove real historical elements into this story. Rinnan was a real person, and Oakley describes his physical appearance perfectly. Other historical characters appearing in the book include Rinnan’s right-hand man, Karl Dolmen, and Conrad Bonnevie-Svendsen, a priest, minister for the deaf and resistance leader.
Doing this is not easy—I know. I marvel at the historical research that must have gone into this book. When I met the author last year, she told me about her trip to Norway specifically to do research for this book.
Congratulations, Janet Oakley, on the accomplishment of The Jossing Affair. It’s historically accurate (as far as I can tell), interesting and exciting; a rich story with strong, fascinating and utterly believable characters.