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Winter by Len Deighton

Winter (1987)

by Len Deighton

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
I found this a somewhat wooden novel, the sort of book that offers so much detail of the time in which it is set that it is clear that the author, having done his research, wants willy-nilly to share it with the reader. So you get banal descriptions such as ‘when the band marched past did the birds fly away. Alex said the band was that of the 3. Garde-Regiment zu Fuss marching back to its barracks at Skalitzer Strasse’. This has no relevance to anything really.

And because Deighton begins the novel with the adult brothers on opposite sides at the end of the Second World War, there is never any doubt about their survival up till then. In a book where the plot is pretty important, this takes away quite a bit of suspense, for example when Peter is in a crippled Zeppelin about to crash.

It took quite a bit of will-power for me to persevere with this book, so focused is it on swinging from one major historical event to another, drawing in fashions, the Wall Street crash – everything painstakingly researched and noted so that the characters merely become vehicles for carrying all the information Deighton wants to give to the reader. And how one-dimensional seemed the majority of the characters and how prosaic a lot of the dialogue.

This third person narrative is such a contrast to Deighton’s Bernard Samson novels. Yes, we get the link here to Samson’s father but altogether I felt in this book I was being given what seemed to me a really dry history lesson – and if a writer wants to stick so closely to the historical facts, then they should write a history book instead of manipulating imaginary characters to be right there whenever anything happened. ( )
  evening | Jun 9, 2017 |
Back-story to the Bernard Samson spy novels introducing his father, Brian. A series of episodes following the lives of the Winter family through the First World War, the rise of the Nazis and to the end of WW2. Well constructed. ( )
  abbottthomas | Jan 3, 2016 |
Just too long and not gripping enough although well written. ( )
  Carolinejyoung | Sep 27, 2015 |
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 |
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 |
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:15 -0400)

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

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