Tag Archives: women’s history

A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead

22nd November 2011

* I received this book through TLC  Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Trish for the opportunity to read and review.

Whenever I talk about World War II, the same question always pops up: How did it happen? And while the answers to that question could fill many volumes, Caroline Moorehead’s book A Train in Winter is an excellent example – at least in part – of how atrocities happen.

It’s 1940, and Occupied France is a mostly peaceful France. The first lines of the book emphasize this: “It seemed not an invasion but a spectacle. Paris itself was calm and almost totally silent….And when they stopped staring, the Parisians returned home and waited to see what would happen.”

Many did nothing, but Charles de Gaulle called for the French people to resist the Germans. A Train in Winter is the story of 230 women who did resist and who, in turn, were captured by their own government before being handed over to the Nazis as dissenters.

I have never before read such an in-depth breakdown of the changes in Occupied France and the effect on its people. Nor have I experienced a story of greater selflessness and hope. The 230 women originally captured are whittled down slowly to a small band of survivors who fared far better than those women without a support system within Auschwitz, bodily holding one another up during roll call and hiding sores and illnesses or broken bones, if necessary.

However, the part of this book that has left the most lasting impression on me – and the part I have discussed in greater detail than my mom, sister, aunt, or friends want to hear without reading the book, is the aftermath of the concentration camps. When these women are released, malnourished and physically and mentally scarred, they are in every sense of the word, displaced. They have no idea where to go or who they will see once they are there. Each woman arrives in the midst of a government trying to forget its own depravity after a war that ravaged the world in unbelievable ways, and each finds no one wants to hear about the unreality of a German concentration camp. This, to me, was and is one of the most real atrocities, our desire to forget and move on.

Coming home was, therefore, not the happiest experience, and Moorehead points out that “having lived so intensely together, depending on each other to stay alive, they were now forced apart: by geography, by families, by a world whose rules and ways they had forgotten and which, physically weak, quickly exhausted, prematurely aged, they had to learn again.”

Though I have read some great non-fiction this year (Manhunt, In the Garden of Beasts, The Paper Garden, Devil in the White City), this is by far my favorite and a must for anyone interested in World War II or the role of women in wartime.

Have you read this? Or is it going on your Christmas wish list? Also, does anyone have any recommendations for similar books?

Recommended for:

high school/college readers

book clubs

World War II buffs

women’s history buffs