Uncomfortable, Valuable Reading

A Meal in Winter: A Novel of World War II, by Hubert Mingarelli, translated by Sam Taylor, (The New Press), 144 pages, release date 5 July, 2015

Hubert Mingarelli’s A Meal in Winter offers a brief, deceptively simple tale: in occupied Poland, during World War II, a trio of German soldiers, desperate to escape their bloody, daily work as executioners, gain permission to leave their base to search for hidden Jews. They take a prisoner, spend an evening in an abandoned cabin with this prisoner and a Polish national, putting together a stew of cornmeal, sausage, and the local rot-gut alcohol.

Mingarelli’s novel was originally published in French in 2014, and this English translation is both a welcome and a distressing piece of work. No one in this novel is truly likeable, but the motivations of characters are presented with enough clarity that readers can’t simply vilify them with a smug “I would never.” The central characters are all living lives they despise, choosing between multiple evils on a daily basis.

Did I enjoy this novel? No. Will I be reading it again? Yes. This is the sort of reading that isn’t pleasurable, but is necessary, forcing confrontation with historical fact and with what may potentially lie inside each of us. You can read A Meal in Winter in an evening, but it will remain with you for much, much longer.

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