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A Boy in Winter: A Novel by Rachel Seiffert

A Boy in Winter: A Novel (2017)

by Rachel Seiffert

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1529124,555 (3.9)45
"From the award-winning author of the Booker Prize-short-listed The Dark Room, a startling portrait of the Nazis' arrival in Ukraine as they move to implement the final solution. Otto Pohl, an engineer overseeing construction of a German road in Ukraine, awakens to the unexpected sight of SS men herding hundreds of Jews into an old brick factory. Inside the factory, Ephraim anxiously scans the growing crowd, looking for his two sons. As anxious questions swirl around him--'Where are they taking us? How long will we be gone?'--He can't quell the suspicion that it would be just like his oldest son to hole up somewhere instead of lining up for the Germans, and just like his youngest to follow. Yasia, a farmer's daughter who has come into town to sell produce, sees two young boys slinking through the shadows of the deserted streets and decides to offer them shelter. As these lives become more and more intertwined--Rachel Seiffert's prose rich with a rare compassion, courage, and emotional depth, an unflinching story is told: of survival, of conflicting senses of duty, of the oppressive power of fear and the possibility of courage in the face of terror"--… (more)



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Set in a small town in the Ukraine in 1941, A Boy in Winter fuses the stories of three main characters together. One is a German engineer who has been sent to the town to oversee the building of new roads, yet who hates everything the German forces stand for. Another is a young farm girl whose intended has deserted the Red Army and has now reluctantly volunteers for the German police. Lastly, there is a young Jewish boy who has run away with his younger brother before the troops came to round up all the Jews in the town.

There are many great Holocaust and WWII fictional works out there, but for me this isn't one of them. Seiffert wanted to set the atmosphere of the times, with people from different backgrounds wary and suspicious of each other and as a result avoiding interaction. Yet the characters didn't just lack engagement with each other - they lacked engagement with me as a reader as well. These were horrifying times, yet I couldn't connect to what they were going through. The plot felt rushed and uneven, with peak plot points being reached too hurriedly before the characters and their back stories had been developed out properly.

I get what Seiffert was trying to do, blending the stories of characters from three very different positions in the war who ultimately at heart were all decent people. However, the writing was as cold as her winter setting.

3 stars - fine to pass time with, but not a book I'll think back on again. ( )
  AlisonY | Feb 7, 2019 |
Prize winning novel on a difficult topic. Well written and plotted, but, for me, a hard read.

It's 1941, a dull November day, and the German have invaded the Ukrainian. The SS arrive in a small town and the story goes on to tell of the next three days and what happens to the villagers. ( )
  p.d.r.lindsay | Dec 19, 2018 |
For me, this book was about the choices people make when all their options could lead to disaster. It was about the situations in which good people are left with horrible decisions. And, sometimes, the ways that good is accomplished, almost in spite of itself. Recommended. ( )
  NeedMoreShelves | Apr 21, 2018 |
I stalled on an ARC of Rachel Seiffert's book [A Boy in Winter], but with the women's fiction nomination I've picked it up again. I'm glad I did, although the reason I'd stalled did happen (given the setting is in the Ukraine during the holocaust, the reader is aware of the context and what is happening even when the Jewish community is not), the book was about more than that. Seiffert's other books (that I've read) have often included a journey, travel to unknown or barely known spaces. In [Field Study] short stories explore lives across German borders, in [Afterwards], it's lives affected by colonial violence and The Troubles. Here it's when three children are travelling across frozen countryside that the book really came alive for me. She writes beautifully, especially uncertainty, loss.

'Learning weights nothing,' he told him, over and over. 'Lessons you can carry with you. Don't you see it's our learning, it is our knowledge that has carried us, all through the centuries?' ( )
  charl08 | Apr 17, 2018 |
Who should I thank for bringing this excellent book to my attention? I know I read about it somewhere online, but I forgot to note down whose review it was…
I first read Rachel Seiffert when she was nominated for the Booker for her debut The Dark Room, a powerful trio of novellas that tackled the moral responsibility of ordinary Germans under the Third Reich. Seiffert has continued to tackle confronting themes… Though I’m going to leave it for a little while before I read it, I’ve just borrowed her next book Afterwards which explores the aftermath of service in the British Army in Northern Ireland and in Kenya. I need a bit of space after reading A Boy in Winter, in which Seiffert returns to the topic of The Holocaust, this time, in a small village in Ukraine, beginning in November 1941 as the German Operation Barbarossa makes its way across the Soviet Union.
Some might think, why another book about the Holocaust? People my parents’ age watched in horror as the postwar newsreels showed them what had happened, undiluted by any attempt to explain why or how. But it’s beginning to look as if successive generations have become desensitised to grainy B&W images, and the rise of the Far Right and Neo-Nazi groups suggests that there is a place for vivid fiction to counter it. But what Seiffert is interested in, is the ways in which ordinary people grapple with what’s right and wrong when they are caught up in the tide of events. This theme has an applicability to the present, in so many contemporary contexts…
Otto Pohl is a German engineer who has evaded military service for a regime he and his wife consider contemptible. Although he is in charge of building a road to further the German advance, he thinks that he is not implicit in the moral culpability of war. But far from any battlefield he has just heard the gun shots of an atrocity – and realised that he perhaps had had it in his power to have saved some of the victims. Out of compassion, he had refused to take them as a labour force because they were unused to hard labour in the icy weather.
The first shock has passed, leaving a leaden feeling. All day he has found himself incapable of working, unable to rid himself of this morning. Pohl can think of nothing but leaving, and he has sat down at his desk any number of times to write his reasons. He wrote in rage first. But what he put on the pages was little more than a tirade. No one would take such ravings seriously; even he, in all his anger, could see that. And then, after he’d redrafted, Pohl hit up against doubt and distrust: who to send this to? He could think of no one he was sure of.
Pohl had to force himself to think clearly, and more cleverly: his request for transfer had to have solid ground to stand on – any accusations he made all the more so. But this was no day to find clarity, or assurance, and page upon page ended in shreds in his wastepaper basket. (p.95)
He is not the only one who is shocked.

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2017/12/09/a-boy-in-winter-by-rachel-seiffert/ ( )
  anzlitlovers | Dec 9, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Rachel Seiffertprimary authorall editionscalculated
Allion, Raquel LeisCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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