In the High Peaks

Friday, June 28, 2013

Winter in Wartime by Jan Terlouw

For Caroline's (of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat) Literature and War Readalong for June:

I especially appreciated the strong characterization of Michiel in Winter in Wartime. I suppose one could call this a YA novel, yet the book was written before young adult fiction became an established genre. It was published in 1972 in the Netherlands, named the Best Dutch Juvenile for 1973, and received a Certificate of Honor from the International Board of Books for Young People.

I'm not familiar with the latter award, which makes me wonder if the organization is still in existence. It was published in Great Britain in 1975 and in 1976 in the U.S. It is still in print, no doubt with the help of the Dutch film of 2008.

Michiel, at age 16, is strong, stoic, heroic, yet full of self-doubt and, occasionally, low self-esteem, particularly when he judges his resistance actions and missions harshly when they do not come off as he planned. These characteristics make him an ideal YA protagonist.

I had a strong personal reaction to one of the characters, Dirk.
Dirk is twenty-one, supposedly an adult, yet to my mind, he does not have the foresight, fortitude, inner strength, or heroism of Michiel.

The author lets Dirk off the hook easily, and Michiel does as well, though a bit more reluctantly. Dirk was the one who killed the German soldier, whom the Germans found and then punished the entire town, including killing Michiel's father, the mayor. First of all, Dirk was fully aware of the repercussions for the town, because, as he noted, town-wide reprisals had taken place before. Dirk said he "tried" to hide the German soldier's body, by wrapping the body in a parachute and then executing a shallow burial. Dirk noted that the ground was too hard, and he couldn't bury the body as deeply as he wished. How stupid is that? Was there no other solution?

So, then, why didn't Dirk the Dimwit ask for help? He was connected with the resistance. His comrades would have known as well as he that many, many people would suffer if the Germans found the soldier's body. And, if the body had disappeared without a trace, there would likely have been no evidence and no reprisals.

Dirk was not a traitor as was Uncle Ben, it's true, but he may as well have been, given the consequences of his screw-up.

I did enjoy this novel and all the twists and turns, and I do look forward to borrowing the film very soon. Michiel and his sister Erica? (I think that was her name) were the noblest of characters, and I'm glad to have met them.

I will include this title in my Children's and YA Literature course, as one of the books that students may choose from in the project entitled "Children's Literature in Translation."


  1. I'm very glad you liked this so much and that you will include this in your course.
    I must say you gave the charcaters so much more thiught than I did. I hadn't seen Dirk in such a harsh light but now, I agree with you. It was a reckless act to kill that German and leave him to be found. But the fact that the third guy in the small resistnace group found the parachute and used the material wasn't that much better.
    Michiel is a great character and so was Erica. I thought his behaviour was exemplary but he great parents too. I wonder how many people were feeding so many people during the war.
    Money was a bit of a question mark. They seemed to have a lot. Michiel too. I wonder how realistic that was.
    Thanks for reading a long and a great review.

    1. Yes, I wondered at the amount of food mentioned in this book, considering what I've read about how people starved. I had heard that the Germans requisitioned food from the countryside, so it's hard to imagine that there would be much left.
      Still, Terlouw lived through this time, so he must have been observant about something so important.

      Thanks for dropping by!

  2. I had never thought of Dirk that way before, but I can only say that I think this must be a matter of convenience somehow, to set up Michiel's story and his character. Hmm.. does that weaken the novel?

    1. Hi, Iris--
      When I had these strong reactions to what Dirk did and did not do, I wondered whether Terlouw's lack of focus on the incident and its repercussions weakened the novel. You may be right; perhaps Terlouw wanted the sole focus on Michiel. Maybe Terlouw also had a fixed length for the novel that he had to adhere to.

      Thanks for visiting!