After reading this short story book, I’m still not sure how I feel about it.
This is book is centred on the idea of our morals and beliefs. It’s about three German soldiers who are in Poland tracking Jews. Rather than shooting the captured people, the three soldiers ask their more lenient leader if they can go out and actually hunt down the Jewish people. They walk for miles in the freezing conditions and get nowhere, until one solider, Emmerich, sees a chimney in the woods with a young Jewish teenager down there. However, on there way back to base they get lost and end up in a deserted polish household. By this time they are starving and decide to build a fire using the wood left in the house and make a meal. This takes them hours, and whilst the Jew is in the store cupboard, the worry of sourcing more wood becomes apparent. Meanwhile a polish man and his dog, that the narrator has already met, come in and bargain for some soup in return for some alcohol. They agree, but towards the end Bauer makes the polish man work for it. In the end they all get to have some cornmeal, salami and onion soup, but then the topic of what to do with the Jew comes apparent. Emmerich, who’s son is constantly in his mind, says that they should let him go so that they can look back and know they have saved at least one life during the war. However, Bauer strongly disagrees, so the choice comes down to the narrator. In the end he picks Bauer’s side.
For me reading the blurb on the back of the book really made me feel disappointed about the story. It said, ‘one of them is a Jew’, so throughout the whole book I was searching for clues as to which one out of the three soldiers was the Jewish one. However, it disappointedly turns out that none of them are Jewish, and so this big dramatic scene I had made in my head didn’t happen. So I found it a real let down, particularly because I hadn’t actually been concentrating on the ‘meal in winter’.
I also found it a little lacking in description. It was a story that was taken over 24 hours and I found it very hard to imagine the three man characters as well as the location they are in. although, because it was lacking in description and told at a very slow pace, the viewer had more of an opportunity to think. The main thing that has come out of reading this book is for me to think, ‘what would I have done?’ I certainly know what I would have liked to do, but being in their circumstances I’m not sure and that makes me feel guilty.
The theme and topic is such a dark one about a horrible situation, yet the author makes it more personal and it becomes more about these five people and their own narratives, and that really works in favour of the book.
I felt sorry not only for the Jewish young adult, as he is perceived very quietly and well behaved even though he knows who they are and what situation they are, and also for the polish man who I feel such sadness when Bauer tells him he can’t have some of the soup because he doesn’t have a spoon, so he franticly digs one out of wood, but I also feel sorry for the three soldiers. That really surprises me, but if they don’t bring the Jew to the base then they wouldn’t be allowed to leave tomorrow, they would have to stay and kill Jewish people. So for them to have this choice between hunting for future dead bodies and killing them is unbelievable. I feel particularly sorry for Emmerich because he is constantly talking about his son and wanting the best for him, and that has almost made him appear crazy.
The front cover doesn’t do the book any justice, it looks to blasé for what the actual story line is, but the title works well and I wish the author kept it at that and didn’t include the misguiding blurb. If your looking for a book that you can get your teeth stuck into then this isn’t for you, but if you looking for a story that makes you think about decisions and morals as well as a slow pace, gentle moving narrative then you will love this.