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A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert

BOTTOM LINE: Chilly but poignant, somber but hopeful


Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: 1 August 2017
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“Early on a grey November morning in 1941, only weeks after the German invasion, a small Ukrainian town is overrun by the SS. This new novel from the award-winning author of the Booker Prize short-listed The Dark Room tells of the three days that follow and the lives that are overturned in the process.

Penned in with his fellow Jews, under threat of deportation, Ephraim anxiously awaits word of his two sons, missing since daybreak.

Come in search of her lover, to fetch him home again, away from the invaders, Yasia must confront new and harsh truths about those closest to her.

Here to avoid a war he considers criminal, German engineer Otto Pohl is faced with an even greater crime unfolding behind the lines, and no one but himself to turn to.

And in the midst of it all is Yankel, a boy determined to survive this. But to do so, he must throw in his lot with strangers.

As their stories mesh, each of Rachel Seiffert’s characters comes to know the compromises demanded by survival, the oppressive power of fear, and the possibility of courage in the face of terror.

Rich with a rare compassion and emotional depth, A Boy in Winter is a story of hope when all is lost and of mercy when the times have none.”

My Thoughts: A Boy in Winter is one of those novels you read with your heart in your throat the entire time. It is not because you know what is going to happen but rather because you know whatever is going to happen is not going to be good. History has taught us that anything about Nazis invading a town is not going to end well, and with that in mind, we approach the novel with trepidation.

What Ms. Seiffert does though is make us forget our fears, or at least provides us hope that they are unfounded, as she explores the Nazi invasion of this small Ukrainian village through different points of view. Every time things look bleak, the characters remind us that they cannot possibly be as bad as they look. Every time our realistic fears begin to creep into our reading, the characters prove themselves better people as they insist on remaining hopeful. What makes A Boy in Winter spectacular is the fact that we fall for this line of thinking ever single time, no matter what decades of historical documentation and research have shown us.

One of the most compelling things about the novel is that we get sudden glimpses of empathy and humanity in various characters. These bursts are always surprising. With no lead-up, these glimpses occur when they are seemingly least likely and by people you would not expect. These glimpses provide another avenue of hope that makes us forget what we know in favor of what we would like to happen.

A Boy in Winter is not too explicit. Instead it shows how fear spreads with nothing more than rumor, how hope may blind us to the truth even as it saves us, how hope allows us to survive even the most brutal oppression. It is a powerful story that is not easy to read but worth every sentence.

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