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Hubert Mingarelli’s World War II novella was well-received. The plot is that three German soldiers stationed in a camp in Poland, do not want to be involved in killing of prisoners and receive approval to search the countryside for Jews to capture. Their immediate superior is more hard-line than his superior, so they get the latter’s permission and leave in the early morning before breakfast. The three have different personalities reflected in their conscience. One is a father who is concerned about his son who has taken up smoking. This is devastating to the father and the other two try to console him. Considering what is going on at the camp this seemed peculiar to me, but their conscience is about how they feel or will feel not about others. This becomes clear after they capture a Jew who they keep safe from a local anti-Semitic Pole who they meet. Keeping the Jew safe is only for the purpose of being able to avoid staying at the camp. They have a taste of what it is like to be without food or warmth, but give no consideration to the plight of the Jew who has had neither. Their offering is only to spite the Pole, who they despise only because he is a Pole.

The story is a twist on this genre of World War II fiction as it is from the perspective of camp guards who the author humanizes. They are neither good or bad people, just people who by circumstance fall along the spectrum of people who do or don’t do bad things. The tension in the plot is whether they will release the Jew.

Translated by Sam Taylor the prose is unembellished. The French author who resides in Switzerland was the recipient of the Prix Médicis for his novel Quatre Soldats. This novella was shortlisted for the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

A Meal in Winter is a satisfactory short read.

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