Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Winter Men by Jesper Bugge Kold


Winter Men by Jesper Bugge Kold
First published in Danish as Vintermaend in Denmark in 2014. English language translation by K E Semmel published by Amazon Crossing in March 2016.

One of my WorldReads from Denmark

How I got this book:
Bought the ebook from Amazon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



As the dark specter of the Nazis settles over Germany, two wealthy and educated brothers are suddenly thrust into the rising tide of war. Karl, a former soldier and successful businessman, dutifully answers the call to defend his country, while contemplative academic Gerhard is coerced into informing for the Gestapo. Soon the brothers are serving in the SS, and as Hitler’s hateful agenda brings about unspeakable atrocities, they find themselves with innocent blood on their hands.

Following Germany’s eventual defeat, Karl and Gerhard are haunted by their insurmountable guilt, and each seeks a way to escape from wounds that will never heal. They survived the war and its revelation of systematic horrors, but can they survive the unshakable knowledge of their own culpability?

For me Winter Men was an interesting counterpoint to Alone In Berlin which I read earlier in the month. Both novels portray aspects of the Second World War from a German perspective, but Alone In Berlin concentrates more on the civilian experiences whereas the leading protagonists of Winter Men are soldiers. Karl and Gerhard, and Karl's son August, find themselves drawn into a war that they don't really support, but which they find it impossible to avoid. Gerhard is coerced, Karl yearns to return to his Great War soldiering, and August has grown up as one of the Hitler Youth (membership is compulsory) so isn't really aware of any other choice.

As Germany begins to annexe parts of Czechoslovakia and then declares war on Poland, the three men's lives diverge. Each is sent to a different theatre or war therby enabling Kold to show readers the full horror of Germany's war from the Kristalnacht to the concentration camps, and from the bitter winters in Russia and the Ukraine to the destruction of French village 'Balfour-sur-Roche' (which I can only think is a renamed Oradour-sur-Glane as the events are practically identical). The scope is ambitious, but unfortunately I felt that by trying to include so many events, the effectiveness of each was diminished. Winter Men isn't a particularly long novel so it all felt too rushed. I think I would have preferred to have followed only one man's story and in greater depth.

As to which of the three, the brothers at least are pretty much interchangeable characters. We are repeatedly told that, despite being brothers, Karl and Gerhard are complete opposites, but I didn't feel that this really came across in their personalities and I often lost track of which I was reading about. I was also unsure as to whether I was supposed to empathise with their actions? We see the men witnessing, abetting and then committing one violent act after another and we are told that they are opposed to what is happening, yet I didn't feel I actually Saw this opposition. I was left feeling uncomfortable about being encouraged to feel sorry for the Winter Men when it seemed that so many people with whom they had contact came out of it far, far worse.


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2 comments:

  1. An interesting war fiction.

    Thank you.

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  2. It's very sensitive ground to write about their perspectives and whether or not we should feel for them? So I think it would be hard to pull off and I can see why you are confused. I really don't like when characters are interchangeable and don't feel unique as well :/ So I don't think this is one for me.

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