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A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli - Review

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

This was another of the novellas that I had seen in Waterstones in July and then ordered from the library. I took it away on holiday with me when I finished Death of a Bookseller so that I knew I would have something else to pick up. It's only 150 pages long so didn't take me long to read. I'm glad I didn't buy this as I definitely wouldn't read it again but I do like having read it, if that makes sense. 

So the story is about three Nazis, members of a Jew killing death squad, who, stationed in Poland in an extremely cold winter during World War II, leave their barracks and go out to try to find a Jew to take back to kill. They have a harsh commander and don't want to stand outside in the cold killing Jews who have been brought back the previous day, so they go above their commander's head and ask for permission to leave the barracks first thing in the morning. They are given permission so they head out in the freezing cold and walk for a long time. It's hard to understand the main character very much, but you do get more of a look at his companions. One of them is really worried about his wife and son at home, but the narrator has the benefit of knowing that he will die only a few months later. The other one is called Bauer and definitely seems like the most Nazi of the three - he comes across as hard and sadistic. 

The three discover a Jew hiding in a hole in the forest and they walk with him towards an abandoned hovel. The narrator is scathing towards the Polish owners of the hovel, as well as towards the Jew, aptly showing his hatred towards any number of people (please don't forget he is a Nazi!!!), but he is kind of moved by an embroidered snowflake on the Jew's hat and the idea that his mother may have made the hat for him. They put the Jew into the store room of the house and try to get the stove working. There is no fuel so the Nazis have to burn the door in the house, etc. They have some cornmeal that they want to make into a soup, and then it turns out that Bauer stole some provisions from the barracks before they left, meaning they can make a delicious broth. The rest of the novella is taken up by this simple act. But will they share their food with the Jew? What will they do with the Polish soldier who also turns up? 

It is a really tightly wound little book with a lot of drama packed in and a lot of tension. I'm not much into books which give sympathy to Nazis - for example those whole Tattooist of Auschwitz books and others like them - so I was a bit worried going into this. But on the whole I think these soldiers show themselves up for exactly who they are; it really works. I'm giving this three out of five. 

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