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“A Boy in Winter” offers a variety of perspectives on the horrifying events of the Nazi occupation of a small Ukrainian village during World War II. Surprisingly, the author presents the German occupiers—primarily Pohl, a dissident engineer who is nevertheless a cog in the German war machine—as sympathetic characters, trying to do their best in situations they find unpleasant and, to some, morally reprehensible. The author shifts her focus from one character to another: a Jewish optometrist, a former Red Army soldier, a farm girl torn between romance and her own safety, the runaway boy of the title.
I did not think the book worked well until the final scenes. So much has been written about the Holocaust, it is hard to be original or to offer a new perspective. I have read that two of the author’s grandparents were Nazis, her grandfather not unlike her character Pohl. This is unusual but does not necessarily make the book better. I found Pohl, with his conscience and his struggle to maintain his integrity, somewhat cardboard. Only in the surprising final scenes did I find the novel moving and effective.
The narration was very good, with subtle shifts to reflect the voices of the various characters.
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