A Meal in Winter: A Novel of World War II
One brutal Polish winter in an unspecified year during World War II, three German soldiers go hunting one of “them,” meaning a Jew. If they succeed in bringing their quarry back to camp, they’ll be spared having to participate in mass executions, a duty that disturbs them. But that means sacrificing anyone they find, even if they need not pull the trigger themselves.
The understated prose conveys the frigid, barren winter landscape, the trio’s attempts to pull through their hardships together, and, from the outset, having to choose between unpalatable alternatives. Such is their state of mind that when they capture a Jew and find an empty house in which to warm up, that counts as a special occasion.
With no attempt at adornment, A Meal in Winter is a razor-sharp moral tale that attempts to explain how men caught up in a heinous crime contribute their share of it. The characters never soapbox; like most soldiers, they’re largely inarticulate, especially about feelings, and, to make the moral case even more cold-blooded, bear no particular malice toward Jews. Also like most soldiers, these three concentrate on how to stay warm, eat enough, and get safely through another day—but that program requires them to murder innocents. By their actions, therefore, they’re innately unsympathetic, but I doubt Mingarelli cares; rather, he wants the reader to ask, “What would I do in this situation?”
In that, the author succeeds, which is why this slim novel packs a punch and will satisfy readers of literary fiction in particular. But if you’re looking for hope, compassion, or escape from a moral box, you won’t find them here.