The Sixteen Trees of the Somme
In a remote mountain farmstead in Norway, Edvard tries to come to terms with his past. He lost his parents when he was three years old and never learned anything about them, after which he was raised by his grandfather, who just passed away.
Now, Edvard is handed a letter and with it a coffin, which in itself is a masterful piece of art. The letter explains he is to decide whether the coffin should be used. Edvard suspects the coffin was sent by his great-uncle Einar and sees it as a message – since his grandfather refused Einar permission to see Edvard on his tenth birthday, as the two brothers were estranged. (A priest adds another piece to the mystery, he knows of an argument between his great-uncle and his mother. He traced that argument to a mysterious inheritance.)
When Edvard starts unearthing the secrets of the past, the search takes him to Shetland Islands where he tries to find out answers to what happened in 1971. The lead takes him to a hairdresser who cut his great-uncle’s hair for the first time in 1943. He is told, despite his great-uncle’s upbeat personality, they revealed very little about themselves, because everyone was careful with words during the war. Then, she heard of some dealings between timber merchant and a cabinetmaker, followed by disagreement.
Encompassing both wars of the 20th century, the story is further complicated by what connects both men: timber. There are walnut trees, of great sentimental value to one, which stand in an area of fire and destruction. Another is asked to rescue them.
The sleuthing is masterfully executed, and the complexity of the plot is deepened by fully dimensional characters.
The sense of place is beautifully explored through the Shetland Islands. An island in itself is a work of nature, at times, with its strong winds and furious waves that carry natural resources of driftwood to its shores, and what you can create with it, is finely woven into the story. And the remoteness of the island, where life is simple and time has stopped, not giving way to new inventions, rather exposing the raw beauty of the island. And along the way, the history of the island.
The story is multilayered, also involving events of one of the deadliest battles in human history, presented authentically with depth and respect, skillfully blending both human nature and nature in itself.