Monday 25 March 2024

A Meal in Winter

Finished March 18
A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli, translated by Sam Taylor

I came to this book through a new book subscription service I decided to try out. It's from a shop in Wales called Mr. B's and they have a long form to fill out to get a sense of what books you like, and since I teach Readers' Advisory, I found it really related to the interview aspect that's a part of RA work. So this was the first book I got in the subscription, and I'd never heard of the author before, which was great. I love discovering new authors.
Because this book was somewhat dark in subject, I took my time with it, dipping in now and then over a couple of months to read it. It is beautifully written and translated, and really spoke to me emotionally. There are extremely touching passages, and elements of humour in their thoughts and conversations, and all the time there is the shadow of their task and its outcome hanging over them. 
The story is about three German soldiers in World War II in Poland. The camp that they live it looks for Jews and then the soldiers that are based there shoot them in a formal event every morning. These soldiers absolutely hate having to do this, and so they ask to go wander about the countryside and search for the Jews, a task they would rather do than shoot them. 
When they unexpectedly find a Jewish man, they go through a process where they are torn between their natural bent to let him go, and the expectations of their superiors. They know that if they prove successful in bringing someone in, they will be allowed to go out again and skip the actual execution task. 
As the title indicates, it is winter and very cold and even in the camp food supplies are low, so the men are constantly hungry. When they find an abandoned house and break in, they find a single room with a stove and decide to light it and make a meal with the food they have. 
Another interesting part of this book is that one of them, Emmerlich, is a father who worries about his son. The first time he does so here is when the men have stopped to smoke a cigarette and he worries that his son will start smoking. The worries about his son are ongoing, and the other two men talk him through them, and give their input on the situation. This is one way the author humanizes the men. This discussion also includes a foreshadowing of a future event that provides an eerie echo to what the men are doing now. 
A moving story, beautifully told. 

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