Friday, December 2, 2011

A Train In Winter by Caroline Moorehead

Part Of Synopsis From Back Cover:

They were teachers, students, chemists, writers, and housewives; a singer at the Paris Opera, a midwife, a dental surgeon. They distributed anti-Nazi leaflets, printed subversive newspapers, hid resisters, secreted Jews to safety, transported weapons, and conveyed clandestine messages. The youngest was a schoolgirl of fifteen who scrawled "V" for victory on the walls of her lycée; the eldest, a farmer's wife in her sixties who harbored escaped Allied airmen. Strangers to each other, hailing from villages and cities from across France, these brave women were united in hatred and defiance of their Nazi occupiers. 

Eventually, the Gestapo hunted down 230 of these women and imprisoned them in a fort outside Paris. Separated from home and loved ones, these disparate individuals turned to one another, their common experience conquering divisions of age, education, profession, and class, as they found solace and strength in their deep affection and camaraderie. 

In January 1943, they were sent to their final destination: Auschwitz. Only forty-nine would return to France.  

I have been reading a lot of great books, both non fiction and fiction, that deal with WWII.  It's not a subject I had sought out on purpose, but for some reason I was presented with books this year that I could not turn down.  For the most part, they blew me away with their narrative voices and I walked away feeling as if I had not only learned something, but my emotional thinking was altered as well.  So when I agreed to review A Train In Winter, I was betting on the same thing happening.  I wish that that bet would have payed off.  

It's not that I didn't find the story being told compelling, because I did.  I found the women (and men) featured in this book to be both heroic and engaging.  What happens to them after they are captured broke my heart and reaffirmed for me the inhumanity that we, as a species, can show to each other.  They are true heroes and deserve all the recognition and honor that we can bestow upon them.  My issue with the book, and I'm sure it's more of me comparing this book to others that I have read this year, is the tone of the narrative voice.

I don't think cold is the right word for it, but it comes close to the way I reacted to it.  In the beginning of the book the author throws a lot of names, dates, and events at the reader, hoping that he/she will be able to follow along and not get bogged down in facts.  The author shows her skill as a biographer and historian, but the human side of the story seems to get lost in the shuffle.  There are moments where the women shine through the recital, but it's pretty sparse.  As the book continues, the narrative changes a bit, especially after the women are captured and put into the camp.  But even then, as the women take more shape and the author lets us to get to know them on a more personal level, there still seems to be a level of detachment there that I was just not able to get over.

I'm glad I read the book and even happier to learn even more about a period of history that seems to, the more time passes, get glossed over in our schools.  The women whose stories are being told, deserve to be remembered for their courage and strength.  I just wish I had been able to connect with the author's style a bit more.

I would like to thank Trish of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read/review this book.  Please visit the tour page to read other reviews.


Audra said...

I agree with your review -- there was an aloofness to the narrative that made it hard to connect. Partially I think from the barrage of info at the beginning -- the foundation and context that is meant to flesh out the women in part two. I wanted more connection with the women featured -- by the end, I did with some -- but I did see some 'cold' with the writing as well.

Anonymous said...

I had a really hard time connecting with this book as well, mostly because I was getting frustrated with trying to keep everyone straight!

bermudaonion said...

That's too bad, because the human side of the story is what would interest me.

Anonymous said...

Oh, no! It started out sounding so good and promising. Sometimes the most amazing and emotional facts lose something in the telling.

LoriStrongin said...

omg this sounds like a heartbreaking book. My aunt is a WWII historian, emphasizing on women's role in Nazi-occupied Europe. So I grew up hearing stories like these, and they never failed to make me tear up.

I wonder if the cold narrative was an intentional style to align readers with the facts more than the emotion of these stories?


Carrie K. said...

I agree - I had the same issue. Her focus was simply too broad to evoke any personal or emotional connection with the reader.

Staci said...

Loved your review...i requested this one from my library. I wonder if the detachment and coldness was on purpose? Maybe to evoke the feeling and atmosphere that these men and women experienced???

Beth(bookaholicmom) said...

I have seen many similar thoughts as yours about this book. It is too bad because the book sounds very promising!

Anonymous said...

Too bad, this sounded like a book I would have really liked. It takes great skill to decided when history should end and fiction begins while telling a story.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry the narration didn't quite work for you Ryan, but it sounds like the book did make an impact on you all the same, so that's a good thing.

Thanks for being a part of the tour.

Yvette said...

Ryan: Sometimes you want to really like a book and then something about it prevents the love from flowing. You know know how we all are about books.

But it sounds as if the story is a compelling and well worth telling.

You're right, these women (and men) should be remembered. I wish the school systems did more about teaching events of WWII and even, WWI.

carol said...

Sounds like one I'd have to struggle to get through, but a good one to read nonetheless.