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Winter by Len Deighton
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Winter (1987)

by Len Deighton

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Like a number of English speakers with German names, I'm a bit obsessed with the Hitler years, and I find this book an intelligent treatment of how the ghastly catastrophe started and took hold of a civilized state. I'm obviously not a believer in the "Germans are just like that"" school, and firmly believe in the "It could happen here !"school. But the book is good quality Deighton and pretty fair-minded. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Sep 15, 2013 |
עד כמה שהשתדלתי, לא הצלחתי לקרוא יותר מ ​120 עמוד מהזבל הזה. ( )
  amoskovacs | Nov 3, 2011 |
Winter is a nice-to-have, though less than vital, prequel novel to Len Deighton's three Bernard Samson trilogies (Game, Set, and Match; Hook, Line, and Sinker; Faith, Hope, and Charity), which were set at the tail end of the Cold War and immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Winter follows the vicissitudes of the Winter family (as well as the families of several other characters in the Samson novels, with one or two characters who actually appear in the later-set novels thrown in for good measure) against the backdrop of Germany from 1899 to 1945.

While Winter does have some good and interesting elements -- the description of a German aerial bombardment of London, via zeppelin, during World War I is a highlight for military buffs, and Deighton's deft sketch of the legal maneuverings to justify the Nazi regime's policies ("Leave the presidency vacant -- what a great idea") recalls in a way the very good 2001 made-for-TV movie about the 1942 Wansee Conference (wherein General Reinhard Heydrich chaired a secret meeting to hammer out the Nazis' "Final Solution"), Conspiracy -- it is, on the whole, disappointing. The lack of character development is painfully obvious in this updating of a 19th century family chronicle; the characters are stock, pat, and rote, and it's only at roughly the halfway point (the mass market paperback edition of this book is 536 pages long) -- say, from 1929 onwards -- that there are sufficient plot complications so as to make this lack less glaring.

Come to that, characterization wasn't really the point of Deighton's Game, Set, and Match trilogy (consisting of Berlin Game, Mexico Set and London Match) either, for all that he effectively plunked the reader into Bernard Samson's skin (the middle-aged British spy who is the first person narrator/protagonist of the trilogy), imparting Samson's anxieties, desires, seething anger towards his bosses, and brief flashes of terror. But Winter covers a larger canvas, and, while it never is exactly boring, it never rises above the level of a good, not great, TV movie.

Deighton necessarily has to compress or wholly elide events to keep his story moving (and to avoid the book from becoming a two thousand-paged tome), but, even so, he makes some puzzling choices: for one thing, I was surprised that Deighton didn't mention, even in passing, the assassination of the German foreign minister Walter Rathenau by Freikorps thugs on 24 June 1922, given how much the Nazis promoted it after they assumed power in 1933 (they declared 24 June a holiday) and how much weight various right-wing conspiracy theorists have given to Rathenau's off-hand remarks about certain highly-placed Jews holding an inordinate amount of influence in world affairs. (Rathenau was rather prejudiced against and embarrassed by the Ashkenazim, and felt that no German Jew should be a Zionist or self-segregating.) For another, given how much of a build-up Deighton gave the zeppelin industry, I was surprised that the Hindenburg disaster of 1937 -- which precipitated the once-promising industry's utter collapse -- didn't even merit an aside.

However, Deighton is skillful at pointing out how relatively few hardcore ideologues there were among the Nazis: Pauli, the younger Winter brother (and, here, the legal mastermind behind the Nazis' consolidation of power) himself isn't -- he isn't even anti-Semitic -- but he is a German nationalist, a patriot, and he hates arguments in his personal life (all the more interesting that he became a lawyer after WWI and the suppression of the various Freikorps bands): he goes along to get along, and constantly tries to get his friends and family to be friendly with each other, where most sensible people would keep the non-compatible parties discretely compartmentalized. The older Winter brother, Peter, proves in the end to be not quite as stiff as he appears earlier in the book; he too is a German nationalist and patriot, and it is through sheer dumb luck -- and an accident of birth (his mother is American) and the happenstance of his choice of spouse (his wife is a Jew from California) -- that he ends up working for U.S. intelligence against the Nazis, at least until V-E Day, and through the preliminary stages of the Nuremberg trials. Deighton successfully suggests that the real reason for the Nazis' success was due to enough Germans acquiescing, if not actively supporting, their program; the Nazis tried to be all things to all "Aryan" Germans, tailoring their speeches and pamphlets to the different socio-economic classes as necessary. (That said, I have another bone of contention about Winter: Deighton never even hints at the many foreign corporations -- many of them American -- who actively supported Hitler's regime, or of the many groups of Americans who were either indifferent to or supportive of the Nazis and their agenda.)

Winter doesn't seem like that vital a prequel to the three Bernard Samson trilogies; Bernard's father Brian is a negligible presence, and Bernard's boss Brett Rensselaer's character isn't really illuminated by Veronica Winter (née Rensselaer) -- Peter & Paul's mother -- her brother Glenn, or their father Cyrus. (Brett is one of Cyrus's stepsons: he remarries a woman named Dott, who has three sons from a previous marriage, after his first wife dies; one of these sons is Brett.) Still, I'm glad I read it, even if I didn't like it, on the whole, quite as much as any of the books in the Game, Set and Match trilogy. ( )
  uvula_fr_b4 | Mar 28, 2010 |
A history of people his spy man meets in Berlin ( )
  jaapberk | Apr 26, 2009 |
I've never been too keen on Len Deighton's work but a friend recommended "Winter" and I decided to give it a go. That was a week ago. 536 pages later, I've finished.

The book is a lot like Jeffrey Archer's "Kane and Abel". The book charts the highs and lows, the triumphs and the crises of the Winter family from 1899 till 1945. That covers a lot of German history including the two world wars, the Weimar Republic and the Freikorps chaos in 1919-20.

The head of the family is Harald Winter, a successful and hard-working businessman with connections to Count Von Zeppelin, the man who invented the airships. The story sees Winter's two sons being born - one is intelligent and articulate and the other is not too bright academically. But both sons end up in the German military in 1914. Then from there until 1945, their paths widen then intertwine as each son goes through good times and bad times. One son chooses to be an anti-Nazi and become a US Army colonel while the other becomes a high-ranking Gestapo lawyer.

The story does drag in places as pieces of a story are told that doesn't seem relevant. I also didn't like how Deighton skimmed past important sections and missed out a lot of important events in the life of the Winters. I know he can't write everything but he seemed to write more about unimportant things and rush over the important stuff.

A good book but it is quite a thick doorstopper of a novel which will take you some time to read properly. This would be a good holiday novel for sitting on the beach. ( )
  obsessedwithbooks | Nov 16, 2007 |
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Winter entered the prison cell unprepared for the change that the short period of imprisonment had brought to his friend.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0586068953, Paperback)

Epic prelude to the classic spy trilogy, GAME, SET and MATCH, that follows the fortunes of a German dynasty during two world wars. Winter takes us into a large and complex family drama, into the lives of two German brothers - both born close upon the turn of the century, both so caught up in the currents of history that their story is one with the story of their country, from the Kaiser's heyday through Hitler's rise and fall. A novel that rings powerfully true, a rich and remarkable portrait of Germany in the first half of the twentieth century. In his portrait of a Berlin family during the turbulent years of the first half of the century, Len Deighton has created a compelling study of the rise of Nazi Germany. With its meticulous research, rich detail and brilliantly drawn cast of characters, Winter is a superbly realized achievement.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:40:26 -0400)

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Relates a Berlin family's experiences under the Nazis and through two world wars.

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