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The Lifeline, by Deborah Swift

Amie Bawa

A novel set in Nazi-occupied Norway during World War Two.

Following her two previous wartime saga’s, Past Encounters and The Occupation, historical novelist Deborah Swift has created another striking and impressive World War II account in her latest novel The Lifeline. Swift navigates a story of threatened romance, political upheaval, and the tyranny of war.

Told from an intriguing, and often lesser-known perspective, Swift sets the story in Nazi-occupied Norway, 1942. Opening against a backdrop of crisp, snowy Norwegian mountains, The Lifeline introduces a young couple, Jørgen Nystrøm and Astrid Dahl – two ordinary citizens who have inevitably been caught up in the chaos of war and endeavour to protect their country from the brutal control of the Nazis.

Swift adopts a dual narrative, following Nystrøm’s and Astrid’s individual journeys. Nystrøm is a wireless operator working for the Milorg, Norway’s Resistance, however when his cover is blown, he escapes to the Shetlands and aids the secret operation there. Joined by an unexpected Norwegian, Karl Brevik, Swift causes both Nystrøm and the reader to question who can truly be trusted?

Meanwhile, Astrid, a reserved and shy character, is a passionate schoolteacher dedicated to her career. Loyal to Norway, her home, Astrid becomes the face of the rebellion when she rejects teaching the new fascist curriculum instructed by the Germans. After leading a country-wide teacher strike, Astrid, alike to Nystrøm, becomes a target and must escape. Swift depicts Nystrøm and Astrid’s worlds of politics and everyday life respectively, successfully evoking the sheer danger each equally possess.

Throughout the novel, the overbearing and ruthless presence of the Nazi regime is strongly felt. Swift incorporates scenes of invasive spying, intense questioning from police, and coldblooded murder. The inhumane nature of the Nazis is further demonstrated through Isaak and Sara, a father and daughter, who are representative of the anti-Semitism Jews experienced. Through this family, Swift channels a Jewish perspective and their treacherous journey to refuge.

Not only are Swift’s characters well-developed and possess significant depth that allow the reader to grow strong attachments to, but Swift also draws from historically accurate events. The Lifeline features a descriptive and captivating retelling of both The Shetland Bus and the Norwegian Teacher’s Strike, adopting a tangible and realistic stance which in turn allows the action to truly come to life.

The Lifeline’s plot is immersive, action-packed and painfully suspenseful, and as a result Swift masterfully creates a vivid world. It is certainly a remarkable piece of historical fiction that proves to be both a compelling read and also an educational one about an important, and overlooked, part of history.