Winter in Wartime

Written by Jan Terlouw
Review by Richard Bourgeois

By the winter of 1944, Holland has been under German occupation for four and a half years. Sixteen-year-old Michiel has grown up quite a bit in that time. As the village mayor’s son, he’s always riding his wooden-wheeled bicycle in search of supplies for an endless stream of refugees. Some are on their way to labor camps in Germany, some search for food for starving families, and some are Jews a step ahead of the concentration camps. Michiel helps them all, cautiously, and for the most part simply waits for the war to be over at last – until a botched partisan raid thrusts Michiel into the thick of things, and he becomes a member of the Resistance.

Michiel is a decidedly un-heroic hero who simply does what all of us would like to think we would do in a bad situation. His fear is palpable and the consequences real; though he does his best, he makes mistakes and people die. The mystery of who betrayed the partisans unfolds neatly, and the reader will cheer Michiel along as he solves it. When he does, it brings this tale of occupation and survival to a satisfying close. I had a just few problems with the translation, especially slang words – some of these should have come through in the original Dutch rather than borrow from English or French (e.g. “the Boche”). Otherwise this is a well-told tale of quiet courage and an exceptionally unexceptional young man, recommended for young adults and everyone else.