Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Guest Review: A Second Winter

Summary: Set in Denmark in the darkest days of World War II, The Second Winter is a cinematic novel that, in its vivid portrayal of a family struggling to survive the German occupation, both captures a savage moment in history and exposes the violence and want inherent in a father’s love.

It is 1941. In occupied Denmark, an uneasy relationship between the Danish government and the Germans allows the country to function under the protection of Hitler’s army, while Danish resistance fighters wage a bloody, covert battle against the Nazis. Fredrik Gregersen, a brutish, tormented caretaker of a small farm in Jutland laboring to keep his son and daughter fed, profits from helping Jewish fugitives cross the border into Sweden. Meanwhile, in Copenhagen, Polina, a young refugee from Krakow, finds herself impressed into prostitution by Germans and Danes alike. When Fredrik steals a precious necklace from a helpless family of Jews, his own family’s fate becomes intertwined with Polina’s, triggering a ripple effect that will take decades and the fall of the Berlin Wall to culminate. -- Other Press

I picked up a copy of THE SECOND WINTER by Craig Larsen at last year's SIBA. While the book did appeal to me, I had a feeling that my dad might enjoy it (and get to reading it before I could!) Here are his thoughts:

THE SECOND WINTER by Craig Larsen is a story about how the lives of everyday people are impacted by war. The book opens in 1969 when Angela Schmidt, a concert pianist with the Munich symphony visits her aunt in East Berlin. Her aunt gives her a package from her late father, Hermann, who was a photographer with the German army. Angela was hopeful the package would tell her something about her father who never returned home from the war. She later opens the package to find a series of photographs and a sapphire necklace.

The story then flashes back to 1938 where a young Polish-Jewish girl, Polina, is trying to live a normal life in occupied Poland. Her life changes dramatically in 1940 when she witnesses her family being arrested by the by the Nazis. Polina moves in with an aunt and uncle and suffers terrible abuse. She runs away and is picked up by a group of German soldiers who use her for sex. By 1941 Polina is a teenage prostitute in Nazi occupied Copenhagen. Hermann Schmidt, a good family man before the war, is obsessed with Polina and purchases her from her pimp and sets her up in an apartment.

The reader is then introduced to Fredrik Gregerson. Fredrik is the black sheep of a respected Danish family who ekes out a living on a farm in rural Denmark. Fredrik is a cruel brutal man and the sole parent of his children, Oskar and Amalia. As a means of earning extra cash he works to smuggle Jews out of Denmark to escape the war. He shows no sympathy toward the Jews and on one such trip Fredrik steals a suitcase full of jewels from a Jewish family. When the police come to the farm to investigate Fredrik’s role in a local murder, he fears they will discover the jewels and sends Oskar off to Copenhagen to sell them. Oskar sells most of the jewels to Hermann Schmidt and leaves a sapphire necklace as “payment” for Polina who he takes back to the farm. Polina is ambivalent about Oskar’s apparent love buts holds an unusual attraction toward Fredrik. This situation cannot end well and Oskar takes Polina and leaves the farm.

Using World War II as a backdrop, THE SECOND WINTER is a story about how far people will go to survive a crisis. The author has done a very good job of describing the horrors of war through the behavior of the characters. Although Polina is the character that the reader follows from the very beginning of the book, the story is not about her but about how the war changed the character of the men who meet her.

THE SECOND WINTER tells a suspenseful story that is as depressing as war itself. It is a sad story with an unhappy ending. I would not be surprised to someday see this story made into a movie.

I should probably share that my father wasn't sure that his review of THE SECOND WINTER "gives it justice" because it's a "very deep book." As a result, I'm guessing that this novel would make a terrific book club discussion. I was thrilled to find a link to ten discussion questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include war, heroes, morality, and fatherhood.

Thanks to Booking Pap Pap for his review.


bermudaonion said...

That sure does sound sad. When I read stories like this, I always wonder if I would be that brave.

The Book Sage said...

I sure do like smaller stories that center on WWII. Even when they're not uplifting.