The young adult novel Miriam
by widely translated Norwegian author Aimee Sommerfelt follows main character Hanne and her family after they move into a new home in Oslo in 1941, just before the Nazi occupation. Obsessed with the objects left behind by the previous occupants of the home, Hanne ultimately is forced to come face-to-face with racism, hatred, and bigotry when she meets Miriam, a young Jewish girl who is hiding with her family, waiting for the Nazis to strike.
The novel opens in 1941, during wartime. Hanne and her family have just moved into a large new home in Oslo, which she loves. She enjoys exploring the house and is particularly fascinated by the belongings that were left behind when her family moved in. These items, many of which are sentimental, make Hanne wonder about the young girl who used to live in the house, and what caused her and her family to leave so suddenly.
Because of the war, Hanne's curiosity is not encouraged by her family members, particularly her father. According to her father, the less one knows during wartime, the better. Nevertheless, Hanne cannot stop thinking about the little girl who used to sleep in her attic bedroom. She left behind drawings, books, photographs, furniture, and other small objects; through them, Hanne begins to have an idea of who the girl is and what her life was like in this house. The girl's life seems idyllic – but if so, why would she leave behind all of her things?
One day, Hanne comes home from school to find a slender, dark-haired girl standing outside her new home. The girl is looking up at the window of the attic bedroom – the one where Hanne now sleeps. Hanne knows, then, that the girl must be the one who used to live in the house. Hanne cannot help her curiosity. She approaches the girl, learning that her name is Miriam and that she did, indeed, live in the big house with her family. Miriam's father is a scientist at a large research laboratory in Oslo. She and Hanne soon become friends.
Hanne discovers soon after befriending Miriam that her family is Jewish. This poses a lot of problems for the girls; everyone, including non-Jews, is fearful of the Gestapo that has just entered Norway; Hanne's parents do not approve of her making friends with Jewish people. Stereotypes and bigotry about Jewish families run rampant in Norway, as the Gestapo steps in and begins propaganda campaigns against the Jews in Oslo. Hanne is fearful for her friend and her family; she knows they aren't safe. Miriam is equally frightened, struggling to understand the hatred and the acts of violence against her community that are becoming increasingly common as more Germans flood into Norway. She and her family have to remain in hiding or risk being killed; she misses the life she had before in Hanne's house.
The book follows six months of the girls' friendship, as the Gestapo commits horrendous acts of hatred and violence, and Miriam and her family fear for their lives. Hanne becomes involved in their fear, frightened of advocating for her friend while maintaining her own safety. Hanne and Miriam stay in contact as often as possible, struggling against prejudices and violence, until Miriam's family finally flees the country and goes to Sweden. Through this many months of friendship, Hanne is forced to face the reality of what prejudice can do to the life of a child, forcing her to reevaluate her own values and her view of the world.
Aimee Sommerfelt was a Norwegian author of children's and young adult books, many of which put children in difficult situations, forcing them to face big issues like social justice and the atrocities of war. She is best known for her book The Road to Agra
, which was published in 1959 and translated into English in 1961. Sommerfelt won two awards for The Road to Agra
: a Jane Addams Children's Book Award and a Josette Frank Award. Her other books include Miriam
, The White Bungalow
, a sequel to The Road to Agra
, My Name is Pablo
, and No Easy Way.