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.