Winter Kept Us Warm

Written by Anne Raeff
Review by Helene Williams

The first winter after World War II ended was brutal to those living in Berlin: cold, grim, few jobs and little food. For Ulli, a young woman who fled from her parents and their suffocating relationship, it was also a taste of freedom. She found a place to live in an abandoned apartment, and work in translating endearments between young German women and their soldier boyfriends. For Isaac and Leo, American servicemen and best friends, Ulli was a taste of the exotic; she was smart and sure of herself, and seemingly immune from the horrors of the last few years.

Thus begins a decades-long relationship, full of complexities and opportunities. The story of Ulli, Isaac, and Leo covers great distances, from Berlin to New York City, to the Soviet Union and Morocco. Even when physically together, though, they each hold themselves at a distance emotionally, with memories and secrets keeping them apart. Isaac, especially, spends much of his life waiting, rather than doing, preferring to observe, reflect, and pick up the pieces of others’ lives, rather than direct his own. Only at the end of his life does Isaac take action; his final visit to Ulli is the frame through which all three characters’ strengths, flaws, and secrets are slowly revealed.

Raeff is a consummate storyteller, providing deep insight into her characters through her keen use of language and image. Depictions of places are similarly moving, both historically accurate and a vital part of the characters’ story. Readers’ emotions will run the gamut, rejoicing at quiet moments of happiness, and tearing up when tragedy strikes. These are characters—and choices—to think about long after finishing the last page.