The Second Winter

Written by Craig Larsen
Review by Terri Baker

Larsen’s gritty tale is as much about one Danish family’s struggle to survive the Nazi occupation of Denmark as it is about a young Polish woman’s survival and escape from prostitution. The Second Winter moves from 1969 East Germany to 1938 Poland to 1941 Denmark, tracing the lives intertwined by their association with the elusive young Polish girl, Polina. She is left alone on the streets of Krakow after her family is shipped off to a concentration camp, then picked up by German soldiers, who take her to a place in the country “where other women were being kept as well.” Thus begins Polina’s initiation into a world where the profiteers of war exploit young girls’ bodies.

Fredrik Gregerson and his two children, Oskar and Amalia, live on a small bit of land in northwestern Denmark, on a farm that barely supports his family. Fredrik assists Jews escaping the Nazis, who have invaded Denmark and taken over the nearby Aalborg airport, but only for the money that keeps him in drugs and women.

These disparate lives cross in unexpected ways, making the ending satisfying without sacrificing the complexity of characters Larsen has so carefully created. This novel is a fresh approach to the abuses of both the occupier and the occupied in a period of history that continues to surprise us with its dark, dirty secrets.