Monday, December 26, 2011

Winter in Wartime by Jan Terlouw

Published October 3, 2011.

Michiel feels resentment towards his father, a mayor, seemingly only interested in maintaining the status quo between the town and the German Army. He worships his uncle Ben, an adventurer in contact with the local resistance. During the winter, Michiel's loyalties are tested. When he discovers an injured pilot in the woods, Michiel must find a way to keep the wounded man alive, hidden from the increasingly desperate occupying force.

As Michiel mounts his own small resistance, he becomes aware of the currents of Resistance that are swirling through the town. A German soldier is killed and his death must be revenged so they take six townspeople, threatening to shoot them if the murderer does not surrender. They compromise and shoot only one--Michiel's father.

I'm a total sucker for novels set in the European theater of World War II and the fact that this was autobiographical only fueled that fire. I don't know what it is about that war, but I'm drawn to it. It's like I can feel these experiences in my heart and it just keeps pulling me in.

Writing-wise it had a couple of things going against it: it's a translation so some of the beauty of the language was taken away; and, in my opinion, it's written by someone that had a story to tell but wasn't necessarily a writer. And that's okay. The writing as I read it could have been a result of the translation or it could have been the way in which the author told the story. Had it been anyone else, I might have been more critical of the writing but keeping these two factors in mind, coupled with the fact that the story was pretty short, I was able to push the flaws in the writing aside and just read the story. That's not something I'm able to do very often at all. Another testament to how much I love this era of story.

And the story was amazing. Just the notion that the author's real-life experiences fueled WINTER IN WARTIME was such a fantastical feat. That Michiel aided in hiding a British pilot in the woods. How someone so young was working for the underground movement. How he could lose his father simply because the Germans were being retaliatory. It's horrifying that this was real. And it's almost unbelievable. But I believe it. It's probably one of the reasons why I keep reading WWII-era works: writers can't make this stuff up. They really can't. What happened during that time was just so fantastical that creative liberties really need not apply.

It reminds me of THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by Tim O'Brien (who himself never went to war), which is a Vietnam-placed work of metafiction. And it's entirely fictional but it could have happened. And maybe it did. I guess that's true of any war story in general. While the stamp on the spine says fiction, there are things going on in war that one just can't imagine so who's to say it never really happened?

WINTER IN WARTIME is another excellent addition to any WWII nut's reading collection. The point of view is switched so you're not getting a war story in the sense that there's actual fighting (think BAND OF BROTHERS). You're getting the point of view of a boy living in a country occupied by the Germans. You see the daily life. The fear. The blackouts. It's a different aspect of such an expansive war. And you feel it. Despite the writing, despite the translation, it's an amazing story and it deserves to be read. If you're at all interested in WWII, you won't want to miss it.

Ban Factor: Low - It's an historical. Clean except for a couple background killings. Overlookable by those that don't read.
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