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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Boys From St. Petri (The)
by Bjarne Reuter
Age Range: 12+
Set in Denmark in 1942, Lars and Gunnar Balstrup are the sons of the local minister of St Petri’s Church. They form the core of a small group of Danish teenage boys, who meet secretly in the loft of the church planning mischievous pranks of resistance against the occupying German troops such as puncturing their tyres, stealing license plates, caps and street signs. The stakes rise dramatically however, when the street-wise Otto, possessor of a stolen German Luger, is recruited into their secret organisation. The level of sabotage escalates when they steal explosives from an airfield and plot to destroy a German arms train. Gunnar's lifelong friend, Soren abandons the group when he feels he can no longer support this new course of dangerous action. In the climax to the book the world has irrevocably changed for the boys, but despite this they are elated by the success of their last defiant act.
As well as the main adventure there are subplots on teenage love and a rowing competition. The plight of the Danish Jews is highlighted by the presence of Filip Rosen, the Jewish church organist at St. Petri's who is an adopted member of the Balstrup family and then there is the teacher who turns out to be a collaborator and the sinister Gestapo man Svend Hansen, nicknamed ‘Suckerfish’ who is always on the prowl.
Although the characters are fictionalised, The Boys From St. Petri is based on a true story. Bjarne Reuter successfully contrasts the peaceful Danish countryside against the tension of wartime occupation and the encounters with the German soldiers are vividly portrayed. Anthea Bell's expert translation has created simple but powerful prose. What will hold the reader's attention is the action, as the novel builds to its tense climax.