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Winter Kept Us Warm

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A bold and haunting novel that sets love against the brutality of WWII and post-war life

Ulli is a young woman, half-English and half-German, squatting in a dismal, empty Berlin apartment, one year after the war has ended. She’s scraping together a living as an interpreter between Berlin-based GIs and the wide-eyed local girls eager to meet them. One night, Ulli meets two American soldiers: Leo, handsome and ambitious and desperate to escape his small town upbringing; and intellectual, asthmatic Isaac, whose refugee parents had fled Russia and then Paris for New York.

Winter Kept Us Warm follows Ulli, Leo, and Isaac through the next six decades of their lives―from Berlin to post-war Manhattan, 1960s Los Angeles, and Morocco. A marriage. Two children. And yet, only one parent. At the core of this novel is the mystery of how this came to be; not a chronological narrative, we explore the dark corners and lantern slides of these characters' lives, revealing in pieces and fragments what became of their long ago love triangle set against the brutality of post-war living.

Winter Kept Us Warm is an evocative story of family, strained by the cruelty of war and its generational repercussions. A novel of the heart, filled to the brim with unforgettable characters stitching together the deep threads of love, friendship, loyalty, and, of course, loss.

304 pages, Hardcover

First published February 13, 2018

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Anne Raeff

6 books24 followers

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5 stars
88 (20%)
4 stars
175 (41%)
3 stars
120 (28%)
2 stars
30 (7%)
1 star
12 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 79 reviews
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,286 reviews2,205 followers
January 23, 2018

There’s a somber, serious tone, a surprisingly quiet novel given that this is a story of war. The focus, though, is mostly about after WWII when the three main characters meet in Berlin. It about how the war shaped their futures and how their relationships evolve over sixty years. Three friends, two American soldiers, a young German woman form a close bond, yet the secret life of one is held closely by one and kept from the other.

I was immediately pulled in wanting to know Isaac and Ulli’s connection from the past, as he travels from New York to Morocco. They haven’t seen each other in over 40 yrs and it has been 60 years since they met. That connection slowly unfolds as the story of Ulli, Leo and Isaac is told in pieces spanning not just the years but the globe from Berlin to New York, to California to Russia to Morocco. The pieces are not in chronological order but each reflection on the past reveals how the present day came to be as the story of the decades in between come to light, how there is a husband, a wife, two daughters and their “father”.

I couldn’t decide whether these characters were complex or whether they just simply managed a complex situation in a way where the motivations were hard to understand at times. Yet this novel which tells of a marriage based on love but not on truth, unrequited love, loss, trauma, depth of friendship, pure love of a father for his “children” is one that I found to be sad at times, thought provoking and sometimes touching.

I received an advanced copy of this book from Counterpoint/ Ingram Publisher Services through Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Fran.
640 reviews585 followers
January 28, 2018
Sixty years have passed since Ulli and Isaac met in a bar in post World War II Berlin. Now eighty years old, Isaac traveled to Morocco where Ulli was hotelier of the Hotel Atlas. Ulli, although taken aback, was not really surprised to see him. The reader will be privy, through flashbacks, to view the tangled web of life, love, laughter, and sadness stemming from a coincidental meeting between a German girl and two American soldiers.

Ulli was being groomed to take over her father's typewriting business in Berlin. After all, her father was able to keep the business afloat during the war. Her English mother taught her to speak English. Ulli chose to venture out on her own at the end of the war. She found a vacated apartment hoping the tenants were safe but unable to return. Her knowledge of English enabled her to translate for American soldiers desiring companionship with German girls. she did not expect to bond with two American soldiers.

Isaac's father was a Menshevik. The family was allowed to live in France as refugees but without passports or the right to work. They boarded a ship to America. Isaac was a tall, introverted bookworm. As an asthmatic, he was unfit for combat. Leo, a stocky handsome Pennsylvania boy with a weak heart, was excused from active duty as well. Leo enlisted to escape Johnstown, PA, the area of the Great Flood of 1889. He feared being swept away by water. Ulli, Isaac, and Leo met and had drinks at a bar. Time spent that evening spilled over into a stay at Ulli's apartment for the winter. War had ended and many dwellings were reduced to rubble. They, however, were warm and cozy, able to procure food and drink. The simplicity of living in a cocoon of safety changed in spring when a knock on the door confirmed that Ulli was not the authorized tenant of the apartment. They had to vacate immediately.

If it is true that the more things change, the more they stay the same, the love shared by this triumvirate will stand the test of time. Relationships may shift, globetrotting might became a cure for restlessness and children will be raised. Now after forty years, Isaac felt the need to reconnect with Ulli and unravel some smokescreens and deceptions that perhaps would have changed the course of their history.

"Winter Kept Us Warm" by Anne Raeff is a poignant story of love and longing in the aftermath of World War II. Raeff, in an understated manner, let's the reader view the tender, supportive trio while they navigate a seesaw of emotions traveling the ever changing path of life.

Thank you Counterpoint Press for an ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Faith.
1,847 reviews518 followers
March 3, 2018
I thought this book was a contrived, melodramatic tear jerker but the writing wasn't bad. I can't jump through the hoops required to review this without spoilers so I have put the whole review under a spoiler tag.

Profile Image for Jaksen.
1,332 reviews57 followers
March 9, 2018
Won this book through a Goodreads giveaway! Thank you, Goodreads!

This book is plainly for those who like a long, slow, sentimental read, one that mines characters' personalities, histories and motivations while linking them together. Who did what when; who said what when; who left whom and why. It's the story of three people who first meet in post-WWII Germany. They live and love, prosper (or not), move to New York, meet up again here and there. There are children; there are moments of extreme angst, and then happiness, much of it bittersweet and...

Wow, I had a hard time getting through this. It wasn't torture, just it seemed like a job I had to do. I had to read it; I did want to find out what happened, but there wasn't that sense of immense pleasure I get when I read a book that really, truly, and often surprisingly, engages me. It just wasn't there.

However, I was happy to read it, find out what happened to the three majors: Isaac, Ulli and Leo, and then I was just as happy to finish it.

Kind of a mixed review, I guess.

Three stars.
Profile Image for Kasa Cotugno.
2,354 reviews452 followers
March 8, 2018
This is a beautiful take on war's aftermath, employing connections that would have been impossible if the protagonists hadn't met due to the consequence of war. Ulli, Leo and Isaac meet in Berlin, and form a threesome reminiscent of the three in Jules and Jim. Hidden secrets and motivations, a touch of melodrama, but the reason I don't give this a solid 5 star rating is my memories of the memoir A Woman in Berlin are still so strong years after reading, that the realities of life in that city at that time didn't ring exactly true here. Still, the writing is strong and beautiful.
Profile Image for Jessica Treadway.
Author 16 books224 followers
November 14, 2017
This book is easy to read in terms of the beautiful, flowing narrative – its simple and elegant style – but to its credit, it’s not easy to read when it comes to the emotions it will make you feel. There’s much joy in this story about a decades-old love triangle, and how the three lives involved overlap and intersect beginning just after World War II. There’s also a great deal of rich and poignant heartache, of the type we feel only for the people we love the most. I happen to love rich and poignant heartache, so this book was a deeply satisfying one for me. Anne Raeff makes us care more than we might have guessed we would about the characters of Isaac, Leo, and Ulli, as we follow them through their lives in the United States and abroad, at different ages and under different circumstances in the world. Very soon after I began reading, they fell away as characters in a novel and became people I knew. I couldn’t wait to get back to it each time, to find where the next episode in their lives would take me. “Read it and weep” is the phrase that comes to mind as I recommend it, most highly, to anyone who likes books that make them feel strongly, at both ends of the spectrum and all the points in between.
Profile Image for Barbara Ridley.
Author 2 books28 followers
February 24, 2018
A beautiful novel with characters that will stay with you long after you have finished reading. From the opening scene when Isaac, now in his eighties, arrives in Morocco to visit a friend from his distant past, you know you are in the hands of a skilled writer. Raeff seamlessly moves from the present back over the decades, covering territory as varied as Berlin in the immediate aftermath of WWII, a POW camp in Arizona, New York in the 1950's and Los Angeles in the 1960's, as the mysteries of the interconnecting lives of Isaac, Ulli and Leo are gradually revealed. Readers of Raeff's short story collection will be thrilled to delve more into the story of Isaac and his daughters. A wonderful story of love and loss and friendship.
Profile Image for Marilyn.
807 reviews238 followers
December 24, 2017
I received a copy of Winter Kept Us Warm by Anne Raeff in a goodreads give away in exchange for an honest review. As Raeff began her novel, World War II had ended and the reader meets Ulli, a young girl living with her parents in Berlin, being groomed to take over her father's typewriter business. Since Ulli had no interest in taking over the business, she moved out of her parent's apartment and found an empty apartment that she made her own. Gradually, she found that she could make good money as an interpreter for American soldiers that wanted to meet young German women. While performing these duties at a popular bar she befriended two American soldiers, Leo and Isaac. The three became inseparable and the two Americans moved in with Ulli. Leo and Ulli become intimately involved while Isaac looked on. Over the years Ulli and Leo married, had two children and Isaac remained a good friend to both Ulli and Leo. The story follows these friends to New York, California and finally to Morocco over the course of 60 years. Raeff's Winter Kept Us Warm is a beautiful story of friendship, disappointment and love. I highly recommend this book. It was wonderful.
Profile Image for Samantha Jewett.
110 reviews25 followers
February 15, 2018
Winter Kept Us Warm is a melancholy story, alternating past and present, about survival, desperation, identity, friendship, balancing success and family, and the repercussions of war.

Raeff takes readers on a poignant journey, not only through the characters’ reflections, by also through radical time periods set in Berlin, New York, Russia, California, and Morocco

For war aficionados, history buffs, and anyone who appreciates storytelling at its best, this novel is a riveting must-read.

Profile Image for Ethel Rohan.
Author 20 books243 followers
February 25, 2018
When I read I'm most interested in language and relationships. This story of three main characters and their love triangle (and its secondary love triangle of children and single parents) made for an immersive read.

The precise writing imbues character, place and time with a vivid and lovely aliveness. A heartfelt, thought-provoking work, WINTER KEPT US WARM left me thinking about dilemmas and pain, particularly around not always being able to fulfill the roles society forces on us, and love ones need from us.
1 review2 followers
January 8, 2018
Having greatly admired Anne Raeff’s collection, The Jungle Around Us, which won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction in 2015, I wasn’t surprised that her new novel, Winter Kept Us Warm, is an exquisitely beautiful story that has lingered in my mind long after I put it down. The novel traces Ulli, Isaac, Leo, and their two children through time (fifty-plus years) and space (around the globe), but this capaciousness comes with intense psychological revelations about each of the characters, their evolving love for one another, and the ability and inadequacy of that love to rise to life’s challenges. The final sentence, “And then it began again,” is what this wonderful, magical book is all about: those ripples in the water of our lives that never really end, always moving out ahead of our deepest desires. I can’t recommend Winter Kept Us Warm enough!

Profile Image for Kalen.
578 reviews80 followers
February 22, 2018
This book is amazing. Raeff teases the story out slowly--you know very early on there's something unconventional about the relationships but the whole picture isn't revealed until nearly the end.

I wasn't anywhere close to ready for this book to end. And I may have cried a few times.

This will be a great one for book groups because there is so much to talk about regarding people's choices and motivations.

What a wonderful story, executed perfectly.
Profile Image for Joanna.
431 reviews54 followers
April 16, 2018
First I have to thank Goodreads ....for letting me win this book.I'm giving it 5 stars for beautiful writing and excellent story.The main characters are so believable I had to remind myself that this book is a fiction.The story stretches probably for 50 years with a love triangle...sadness...happiness....disappointments...it has it all.I really enjoyed reading it.
Profile Image for Jana.
778 reviews89 followers
August 18, 2018
This is how I like my books. The narrative weaves around time and place, always in the presence of one, or all, of the three main characters. It’s beautiful. It’s heartbreaking.

For me, it feels the musical equivalent of a Beethoven symphony slow movement.

Thank you Russell for the signed copy by an author and novel I knew nothing about.
Profile Image for Janet.
664 reviews4 followers
August 30, 2018
I just never warmed up to these characters. (Sorry for the pun.)
Profile Image for Bolg.
5 reviews1 follower
November 30, 2017
I won this book through a Goodreads giveaway, so first off, Thank You very much for giving myself and all of us these kinds of opportunities!

I must say, I enjoyed this book from cover to cover.
The 3 main characters are all interesting in their own right, and the way their bond is told makes the overall relationship that much more captivating.
As the first reviewer stated, I personally began to feel like these were real people I was following, rather than fictitious characters. Sure there may be some heartache, but that doesn't mean it isn't a beautiful story.
The deep yet flawed love among the characters was compelling, and had me excited to continue on and discover the true fate of how their stories would end.
The story is about more than just the 3 characters, but about Us, people, emotional beings.

After reading this debut novel, I am now looking forward to touching on some of the author's previous work, such as the award winning 'The Jungle Around Us' short story collection.

I would not be surprised if this novel grabs an award or 2 for itself!
446 reviews6 followers
January 23, 2018
Ulli is an interpreter living in Berlin after the war, when she meets two soldiers , Ivan and Leo . The three form a unique friendship that spans many years. They eventually move to Manhattan where Leo and Ulli get married and Ivan continues his education . Their lives connect in a special way, when Ulli has two daughters who become very close with Ivan. The years unfold from New York to California and Morocco as everyone’s lives change . The thread connecting the three characters becomes unbroken through tumultuous times.
This book is one you won’t want to miss reading. I received this ARC as a gift from Goodreads in exchange for an honest review. The characters will linger with you long after you have finished it.
Beautifully written and highly recommended!!
9,635 reviews86 followers
February 4, 2018
A love triangle which began in post WWII Berlin is an interesting starting point for what is in many ways an old fashioned family saga. It covers 50 years of the lives of Ivan, Ulli, and Leo, crosses continents, and so on. This is more character than plot driven (although it does clip along at a good pace.). Each of these people will feel very real to you as they make their ways through the years with and in some cases without each other. There are some secrets and some lies but the important thing here is the love. Note that the time does shift around a bit. Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC.
230 reviews
January 4, 2020
3.5 stars.

Especially engaging for me were the scenes in Berlin, right after tWWII ended. I got more of a real sense of what that was like from this novel than from nonfiction that I have read. One of the most remarkable things about the novel is how quiet it is, and how much respectful space Raeff allows her characters. While their inner thoughts and feelings are sometimes conveyed in a sentence or two, Raeff largely documents these without dwelling there.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
744 reviews3 followers
September 2, 2018
A good read for sure but I couldn't get beyond Ulli's detachment in life. She never picked up on her husband's preference and she abandoned her children to be raised by a friend who was in love with her. I didn't feel that there was much to be in love with.
Profile Image for Susan.
67 reviews
October 18, 2018
3.5/5 I was almost decided on three stars but the book pulled it out at the end. She ties together themes of abandonment, awakening sexual identity, friendship and loyalty into something that ultimately did make me care about the characters. You can read the book summaries for yourself I would say thumbs up.
Profile Image for Gail.
153 reviews
November 27, 2018
I found the novel very well written, engrossing, sad and upsetting. Although the author presented characters which due to their traumas exhibited strange or none existent parenting practices, I could not abide those practices.
Profile Image for Debbie.
695 reviews12 followers
July 29, 2020
What a heartbreaking story! Don't say I didn't warn you. The book starts during WWII and focuses on 2 Americans and 1 German whose lives become entwined and stay that way for the next 60 years. I thought it was told really well.
3 reviews15 followers
January 12, 2019
Serious readers, you are in for a treat if you read the extraordinary WINTER KEPT US WARM by Anne Raeff. Raeff created three lovable, flawed, complicated, deep, memorable characters with Ulli, Isaac, and Leo, and it is easy to fall in love with all of them. Each one is endowed with a compelling inner life, and yet Raeff expertly knows when and how to keep the novel moving forward. You'll be treated to landscapes as varied as The Soviet Union and California. You'll be in the hands of a writer whose language is so filled with beauty and keen perception, you'll want the book to never end. The novel looks at the effects of the second world war on three close friends in Germany, and we get to follow them far into the future. It's a heartbreaking read, with a huge heart and great ethical concern, and there's just never a false note. I can't wait to read Raeff's next novel.
1,852 reviews
March 25, 2018
Beautiful and haunting this is a story of love, sexual identity and loss. Two men, Leo Buchovsky and Isaac, meet in the US army during WWII. Leo has a bad heart and Isaac has asthma. In the desert of Arizona, Russian and German POWs are being held. Leo meets Bidor Uzbek, a Russian, and they are drawn to one another. Leo and Isaac are deployed at the end of the war to Berlin where they meet a German woman, Ulli Schlemmer. Isaac falls in love with Ulli, but she is attracted to Leo. Leo marries Ulli. They return to the US to live in New York where Leo becomes and insurance salesman and they have two daughters Simone and Juliet. Isaac has a close friendship with the Buchovsky family. As Leo begins to disappear more and more, Ulli withdraws from her family. Isaac takes on more and more responsibility for Simone and Juliet. Leo meets an optometrist, Howard. When Leo has heart surgery, Ulli, Isaac and Howard are at his bedside. Ulli and Leo divorce. Ulli gets a position as an interpreter for the UN and begins to travel the world. Leo moves to California where he meets Oliver. Isaac has the children whom the girls consider to be their father. Leo takes in a runaway boy, Lucas (15), whom Simone finds severely beaten on the beach outside Leo’s Home when she and Juliet are visiting. Then Lucas disappears. Leo searches for Lucas and one night he is severely beaten and dies. Now an elderly man, Isaac, travels to Morocco to visit Ulli who is managing Hotel Atlas. While there, Isaac dies from old age and asthma. Ulli is forced to reconnect with her estranged daughters, Simone and Juliet.
Profile Image for Candy.
217 reviews2 followers
February 24, 2021
A very sad story of devoted friends, unrequited love, secrets and loss. I did not find the story riviting, but from the first few pages, I did want questions answered. I didn't especially like the characters, but by the end, understood them better. I really liked Raeff's narrative style.
Profile Image for Roger DeBlanck.
Author 6 books121 followers
April 21, 2018
Raeff’s characters are so incredibly well drawn and she examines their lives with such tenderness and heartbreaking beauty that I felt the depths of every hardship along with them. Leo, Isaac, and Ulli meet in Berlin in the years after the Second World War. Isaac and Leo are soldiers who remain stationed in Germany as part of the American military force. Ulli is a German girl scraping by as a translator for the American troops. The three develop an inseparable bond held together by the pain and struggle of love and longing. Stretching over decades and across continents, Winter Kept Us Warm offers a thoughtful and compelling exploration about how the elusiveness of love can lead to great sacrifice and sadness. The novel is also an unforgettable account of the cost individuals often face in their search for happiness and fulfillment. Raeff writes with breathless command and fluidity. Her lovely, detailed prose bursts with haunting insights, poetical passages, and a heartfelt need to capture the most delicate aspects of the human struggle.
Profile Image for William.
1,038 reviews5 followers
April 24, 2018
There is a lot I liked about this book, especially a smooth and somewhat languid writing style.
The structure is somewhat unusual, since the story unfolds in pieces, and switches time periods frequently (and locations -- Morocco, Berlin, New York, Los Angeles, Switzerland, New Jersey and more).

I realize some readers had difficulty relating to the central characters, but they worked pretty well for me in that I found them interesting people. But somehow Ulli's decisions, which are central to the plot, puzzled me more than I would have preferred.

The first two-thirds of the book really flowed well for me. I had real difficulty with the final third.
The least effective aspect of the plot is the meeting between Isaac and Ulli in Morocco. It also felt as if Raeff did not know how to end the story, and the final chapters disappointed me in that things get wrapped up too neatly and too quickly. Better plotting in the final chapters would have made this a truly memorable read.
Profile Image for Elyce Wakerman.
Author 6 books10 followers
May 12, 2018
This has been called a book about absence, and unfortunately one of the things I found continually absent was coherent information from one page to the next. For instance, we are told immediately that Ulli was "surprised" by Isaac's appearance at her Moroccan hotel, yet not a scintilla of surprise was registered. Later, we learn that Isaac is puzzling over Leo's invitation to New York; again, we did not see what would be this pivotal scene. On the brighter side, much of the prose is elegant, many of the emotions beautifully drawn, and the narrative lends itself to discussion: what are we to make of this mother who is bored by parenting? I don't feel that her late-dawning "secret" justifies her choices; perhaps, others will. Ulli is a translator and interpreter, a person whose life centers around language and helping people understand one another. Ironically, her story doesn't translate for this reader.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 79 reviews

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