Novel falls short of celebrating Denmarks resistance

“The Discontinuity of Small Things” by Kevin Haworth purports to tell part of the story of Denmark during World War II. Unfortunately, the novel does not give enough credit to the courage of the Danish people.

This is a shame, for the story of the Danish resistance to the Nazis is both stunning and heroic. The Danes saved almost their entire Jewish community.

Elliot Arnold, who researched the history of Denmark for his novel “A Night of Watching,” has noted that the Danes saved “8,007, including 686 half-Jews … smuggled to Sweden during the first two weeks of October 1943.” Also, “Because of insistent Danish pressure on the Nazi authorities, 400 Jews survived Theresienstadt and returned to their homeland after the war with those who had taken refuge in Sweden. Thus, virtually the entire community of Danish Jews was saved.”

A reader who knows this history might expect from Haworth’s novel more indication of the heroic Danish resistance, as the novel ends where the rescue of Denmark’s Jews begins. That reader will be disappointed. Haworth’s novel eschews real heroism and instead focuses upon the accidental, the twists of fate than can lead to either salvation or death. This is a mistake.

History teaches us that the Danish effort against the Nazis was highly organized, and included the Danish Christian Church whose bishop spoke forcefully from the pulpit for the Jews and against anti-Semitism, and the King of Denmark, who appeared on the streets of Copenhagen wearing the yellow Star of David in solidarity with Jewish fellow citizens.

Haworth also slights Jewish idealism. His Zionists are seen as pathetic, given little depth and never come alive as more than symbols of futility.

And while sexual references advance his ideas on the role of fate and chance, they take away from any idea of human nobility.

Thus, a young doctor and resistance leader is guilty of sexually defiling a corpse. And the 19-year-old Jewish heroine becomes involved in sexual experiences that are not explained by her past or her present. Sexuality is used not to define character but to evade character, as if to be human is to be devoid of choices.

If judged only as a literary performance, it is easy to give Haworth praise. His descriptions of Denmark and ability to control a cast of characters is notable. Yet novels based on real history have an obligation to tell that history. The events of Denmark in 1943 were far from random, and the bravery of its citizens and their courage in saving the Jews of Denmark and Nazi-occupied Europe who had taken refuge in Denmark deserves to be told.

This novel is not a confrontation with real history. It is an evasion. It is not really about 1943 Denmark. It is about something far less profound and far less noble.

“The Discontinuity of Small Things” by Kevin Haworth (240 pages, Quality Works in Print, $23.95).