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A Boy in Winter

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  1,402 ratings  ·  246 reviews
From the award-winning author of the Booker Prize short-listed The Dark Room a startling portrait of the Nazis' arrival in Ukraine as they move to implement the final solution.

Otto Pohl, an engineer overseeing construction of a German road in Ukraine, awakens to the unexpected sight of SS men herding hundreds of Jews into an old brick factory . . .

Inside the factory,
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published August 1st 2017 by Pantheon Books (first published May 30th 2017)
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Karen Lowe I thought that Yankel was the boy and all the characters were ultimately touched by his act of running away that fateful morning. It seemed that that…moreI thought that Yankel was the boy and all the characters were ultimately touched by his act of running away that fateful morning. It seemed that that one act was the pivot point: from the schoolmaster to Pohl, Yasia, her family/potential in laws, Myko, Ephraim, his wife and daughter, Arnold of the SS, and eventually to the baptism.(less)

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Average rating 3.62  · 
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Angela M
Jun 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I held my breath at one point a little more than halfway through this short but extremely powerful story. I was stunned, perhaps expecting it, but not ready for it. Who could be, really ? Certainly not the crowd of Jews rounded up by the Nazis in this small town in Ukraine in 1941 as the German occupation begins. Everything that happens before this slowly leads up to it and everything after it is burdened by it. A few days in the lives of a few people, experiencing fear and confusion, the desire
Hannah Greendale
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

A slim novel that only hints at the atrocities of World War II. The narrative finds traction shortly before it concludes. This elongated short story about compassion and quiet rebellion offers glimpses of sobering prose but is ultimately ineffectual.
Diane S ☔
Aug 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Ukraine, 1941, the Germans arrive to round up the Jews, and five different characters will be caught up in the horror and terror of these days. A young girl from the countryside trying to locate her boyfriend, two Jewish boys who run away rather than reporting to the warehouse as the Germans ordered, a engineer hired to build the roads and the young man, escaping from the defeated Russian army, who makes a very bad decision.

This is a sparingly written novel, a novel that needs to be taken as
Aug 15, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ww2, russian-history
3.5 Stars

Beautifully written, vivid prose that is effective in its storytelling as it is in its depiction of war and its ugliness.

A boy in winter is a novel set in the Ukraine in 1941 after the retreat of the Soviet Army and the arrival of the German Soldiers who are greeted by the peasants with food in the hope that life under German occupation may be more tolerable than that endured under Soviet collectivisation.

A short but powerful story, dark and yet hopeful a story where human kindness
Dannii Elle
This is my third book read in the Women's Prize for Fiction longlist.

A Boy in Winter is a split-perspective tale, focusing on the residents of a small Ukrainian town after it is overrun by the SS in 1941. The differing vantage points to the action, afforded by the varied perspectives, made for a fully-fleshed account, of the horrors inflicted on the Jewish inhabitants, to be recounted.

Reading this made me realise both how limited my reading of this time period was and how I have never before
Gumble's Yard
I read this book due to its longlisting for the 2018 Women’s Prize. It had overlap with two books I have already this year, both non-fictional although one written in close to a fictional style, and both motivated by family connections to some of the most terrible events of the twentieth century.

Maybe Esther: A Family Story by Katja Petrowskaja; born in Ukraine to a Russian speaking Jewish-descended but now non-religious and Soviet family, as she picks her “way through the rubble of history” to
Jul 17, 2017 rated it liked it
The sheer barbarity and unthinkable horror of the Holocaust begs a question: how should literary writers, most of whom were not alive in those times, portray such a heinous event in literature? Some use their art to transcend the Holocaust and prove that in the arc of history, art will always trump evil; among these works are White Hotel, Mischling, and Zone of Interest. The vast majority of works, however, exploit it to provide readers with a sense of moral outrage combined with a satisfying ...more
Feb 26, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2019, modern-lit
I must admit that sometimes I feel there are just too many books set against the stark backdrop of the Holocaust but this simple but affecting fable almost succeeded in changing my mind. The language is plain but there is barely a word wasted as the multiple characters whose stories alternate at the start of the book are reduced to just three survivors.

Most of the story occurs over a few days in a Ukrainian town, as the Germans arrive and arrest the substantial Jewish population. The titular boy
Mar 18, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Finished Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 longlisted A Boy In Winter this morning with my new giant mug. Wasn’t sure about this one at first as it’s quite slow yet flits suddenly between characters. There’s a very haunting section in the middle and the final third really finds its feet. A little hit and miss for me on and off overall though.
A book of muted beauty – but ultimately I think the “muted” aspect is the more significant one. Video review here:
Lewis Weinstein
This is a powerful story told in superb fashion. Seiffert manages to bring forward many aspects of German brutality against Jews and others in the Ukraine shortly after the invasion of Russia. Her choice of characters to present the story is outstanding, her prose is spare yet descriptive (not a word wasted), and the plot is compelling. Seiffert brilliantly trusts the reader to add the parts she does not tell, which enhances the reading experience mightily.

There is also the intriguing way she
This is one of those books that didn't inspire much of a reaction in me in either direction. There's certainly not enough here to love, but there's not much to strongly dislike, either. This felt to me like a bloated short story, whose subtleties would have perhaps been more effective in a shorter, more concise format.

A Boy in Winter's greatest strength is that it effectively downplays the grandiosity of the events it's portraying. Though it is a World War II novel (and I know most people's
Claire Fuller
Jun 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2017
I really enjoyed the clear, sparse writing, and the descriptions of the landscape, especially towards the end of the book. It was in the final third that it really picked up for me, even though sometimes I felt I wanted more focus on particular characters. The horrors of what happened in the Ukranian town were very well handled - perfectly underplayed so that much was left to my imagination. But early in the novel I felt like the tension was a little lacking, with a lot of time spent with not ...more
Jun 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Possibly the best thing I've read this year.

Clean, clear writing that was an uncomplicated pleasure to read. The story itself is heartrending and compellingly good, at times unputdownable if extremely disturbing in places.

Highly recommend.
Jonathan Pool
Ukraine 1941. The story is familiar. German barbarity in the Second World War. The setting is one less featured in British literature. Here the Ukraine provides the backdrop rather than Western Europe.

The economic devastation of the countryside brought about by Stalin’s collectives meets the invading German military, accompanied by the SS. The Russian scorched earth tactics happen as the Russian army withdrew further east.
Against this backdrop the rural communities in Ukraine, the marshlands,
Mary Lins
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: complete
First of all, “A Boy in Winter” is a strange title for this novel by Rachel Seiffert, because it’s not really about a specific boy. It’s about a collection of characters in the Ukraine during the fall and winter of 1941-1942, as the German SS rounds up Jews in towns and villages across the country.

Various points of view are: a 17 year old farm girl, two young Jewish boys in hiding (their family having been captured), a German engineer pressed into service to build a road for the Reich, an SS
Eric Anderson
Jun 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Whenever I read a description of another new novel dealing with The Holocaust I feel a little twinge of uncertainty. Despite being one of the most horrific acts of genocide in the past century it’s a subject that’s been covered in countless novels. Is there anything new to say about this atrocity? Of course there is. Many novels from Audrey Magee’s “The Undertaking” to Ben Fergusson’s “The Spring of Kasper Meier” have proven this to me. But never has a novel I’ve read about this period of ...more
Aug 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
It's plain to me shy Seiffert was long listed for the Booker. Her writing is elegant and haunting at once. Some parts of this World War Two drama were horrific but Seiffert takes it down a notch so the inevitable goings on such as a round up of Ukrainian citizens by the occupying German army almost comes as a surprise. There's also the irony of the Germans building a road to better get through this near wilderness and on to the next stop and the performance of more atrocities and they employ, ...more
The writing in Rachel Seiffert's A Boy in Winter is more stark than poetic. The novel felt effective with regard to the way in which she followed different characters affected by the German invasion; quite a thoughtful and varied mixture was used, which increased the scope of the work. I did not enjoy A Boy in Winter as much as I expected to when I began, and as far as novels about the Second World War go, Seiffert's work would not feature in any lists of my favourites. However, the final third ...more
There are a lot of books on the Holocaust out there. I hope it continually serves as a reminder to never forget the atrocities we are capable of committing against fellow humans. Baffling to think of now, but one person managed to convince a whole civilisation to act the way they did.

This is a story set in a particular time period, 1941 in Ukraine, and looks at human nature and the different forms humanity can take. Not all Jews were killed in concentration camps, and there is a part in the
Jessie (thatchickwithabook)
2.5 stars. This book wasn’t for me at all. I can’t deny it’s not a nice story, getting to know all the characters, but I felt very distanced from it all considering the premise is intended to make you feel (world war II, anti-semitism, orphaned children). I think this was a fault with the writer, Seiffert, because her writing never set you in anybody’s shoes. The reader’s an outsider looking in. It didn’t work for me. Unfortunate. Definitely my least favourite so far from the Women’s Prize for ...more
May 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
This snapshot of a village in Ukraine during three days in 1941 is not a happy picture. It is bone chilling cold, the occupying Nazis are brutally herding Jews into the old school house, there's not enough to eat, everyone is suspicious and afraid and hiding. Two Jew boys have avoided the roundup and are now keeping to the shadows. One is older, maybe a teenager, and the other is a toddler. They. Are.Terrified.

This is not a color snapshot. It is desolate black and white and shades of gray. The
Sep 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
In a New York Times book review by Liesl Schillinger of A Boy In Winter, I read the following about the author, Rachel Seiffert, “ Her abiding concern, ever since she learned as a child that her German maternal grandparents had supported Hitler’s Reich (her grandfather as a doctor in the Waffen SS, her grandmother as a Nazi Party member), has been to explore the motivations, contradictions and weaknesses of the bystanders, victims and perpetrators of the Holocaust. “How does it feel to be on the ...more
Wendy Greenberg
Apr 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Seiffert returns to similar story strands as in "Dark Room" but from different perspectives. I really liked the cornerstone being that the German invasion and occupation of Ukraine in 1941 can be re-told in endless ways building a landscape of populations, people, places, attitudes and how individuals react in dangerous times.

We see rounding up of Jews and their shooting into huge burial trenches.
We see unworldly Germain conscripts being given vast amounts of booze to carry out their tasks.
Finishing up my 2018 Women's Prize for Fiction reading. An interesting perspective into the lives of a German highway foreman, a Jewish family, and a Ukrainian family over a three-day time period, following the Red Army's retreat and the influx of Nazi troops. What became problematic was that the story is actually longer than three days when you add the additional time the Jewish boys and Ukrainian girl spend wandering, trying to find her uncle's dwelling in the marshlands and then their ...more
Sep 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
I was unfamiliar with this author, but discovered as I read that she capably told her story with remarkable brevity, clarity and pathos. Seiffert's small book tells of three days following the Nazi assault on an Ukranian town. Most of this involves three characters: Yasia, a young farm girl; Ephraim, a Jewish merchant, victim of Nazi captivity and Pohl, a German engineer suffering much disillusionment with the criminal activities surrounding him. Also, of importance, is the difficult, ...more
Mark Archer
Mar 13, 2018 rated it liked it
I stumbled upon this book while taking a walk through the bookstore, and although my 'to read' list is quite long, decided to take a chance. Something about it just stuck out.

Based on preference, I read mostly fiction and fantasy. A typical break from that trend is when I read historical fiction. Books about WW2 and the Holocaust are difficult for me to stomach, because I find myself worrying about the faustian bargain. Authors writing about events that he/she did not personally witness makes me
Anna Carr
Dec 05, 2017 rated it did not like it
1 star for this prejudiced disgrace of a book is too much. 0.5 is more appropriate, with half a star to acknowledge the author's ability to spell.
I think that when you pick a sensitive topic like the collaboration of Ukrainians with the nazi invaders, you just have to learn you "math".
When you say that Ukrainians supported fascists because they ran away from Stalin and got seduced by Hitler's promises of prosperity, oh you've got to study the crap out of archives (or interviews) - whatever
Atharv G.
Jul 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: ukraine, ww2
This book's strongest aspect was the characters, who were well-formed and memorable. However, the writing style was too simple for my taste. It made the long descriptions of the countryside or construction dull to read about. As a result, this novel struggled to maintain its suspense because moments that should have been more harrowing were foiled by the dull writing and the oddly drawn out nature of this quite short novel. While reading, my interest came and went, which made me fly through ...more
Stacey Wright Aumock
I’m sincerely disappointed in this book. It could have been so much more. Here are my issues:

1. What’s up with the title? It makes no sense. There are many characters in this novel and does not focus on one boy
2. The author did a fabulous job describing the emotions of the captured Jews. It was horrifying and descriptive. But the rest of the characters - the main characters - fell emotionally flat. I hoped they’d survive, but i never felt connected to them
3. I was glad to finish the book, but
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Rachel Seiffert is one of Virago’s most critically acclaimed contemporary novelists. Her first book, The Dark Room, (2001) was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and made into the feature film Lore. In 2003, she was named one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists, and in 2011 she received the EM Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Field Study, her collection of ...more
“He said the wicked know that if the evil they do is of sufficient horror men will not speak against it. That men have only stomach for small evils and only these will they oppose.” 3 likes
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