I find books on The Holocaust interesting mainly because it is a topic that is so popular that authors are now finding new ways to approach this atrocious period in history. However there are times when things take the normal route and it is just as good. I would classify Rachel Seiffert’s A Boy in Winter in this category.
The book focuses on four people: Yasia, a Ukrainian farmer’s daughter, Otto Pohl, an engineer hired by the Reich to build a road and two Jewish brothers; Yankel and Momitz. As the book progresses the destinies of these characters cross. The era, as mentioned is the second world war and SS men are in the Ukraine rounding Jews for labour camps.
On one hand The characters are beautifully realised. I cared for them and I wanted to know what would happen to their fates throughout the novel. In fact through each character us readers get a different perspective of the Holocaust. From Otto’s point of view it clashes with his morals, Yasia is on the periphery and is just witnessing the horrors and the brothers have escaped persecution and are trying their best to avoid being seen. Seiffert gives each character an individual voice and that helps when reading the book.
However A Boy in Winter is not without flaws. There were times when I wished there was more character development, especially from Otto, who is caught between obeying orders and following his own ethical codes. Other than that this is a good solid story, Seiffert may not have contributed anything new to the Holocaust genre but I reason that such things do not matter. What is more important is that the novel is well structured, has relatable characters and captures the spirit of that time (or at least how I see it from reports and other portrayals from the media) and A Boy in Winter achieves this.
Many thanks to Virago press for giving me a copy of A Boy in Winter
Here are other reviews from the Women’s Prize Longlist: