Thomas E. Kennedy is an America academic who has lived and worked in Copenhagen, Denmark, for the past twenty years. In this book, the second in what Kennedy calls his “Copenhagen Quartet,” his love for Denmark, the country the Danes themselves call that ridiculous little country (det latterlige lille land) is evident. Kennedy clearly knows Denmark and the Danes, but even more important, he has compassion and courage and great insight into the human heart.
In this novel, the main characters are Bernardo and Michela. Bernardo is an Argentine whose wife and child have disappeared and who has himself survived horrible torture—all because he taught a few forbidden poems to schoolchildren. He is in Denmark because of the Danish Institute Against Torture, which tries to help torture victims deal with the psychological and physical aftereffects of their torture. His therapist is Thorkild, a Danish psychologist who has gotten so involved in his work that he has little time left for his wife and family. Michela is a not quite young Danish beauty, a kind woman who smiles at Bernardo in a café one day. Michela herself has problems, the main ones being that her irascible father is dying, her mother has senile dementia, and the men in Michela’s life always seem to end up beating her.
After the smile, slowly Bernardo and Michela come to know one another. Because of the torture he has survived, Bernardo, who makes his living translating Danish business documents into Spanish, has difficulty “being a man to a woman,” as his torturer had prophesied. But Michela is kind, Michela is patient, and despite Voss, Michela’s lover before she met Bernardo, the two eventually come together. It is a moving and incredibly well written story of the power of love and patience to heal old wounds.