Comments from the judges
A Boy in Winter is told though the voices of several characters, over the course of three days, and it’s testament to Seiffert’s ability as a writer that in such a limited space she draws so a strong and clear a picture of such a brutal time in history. The story is one of survival, bravery and terror, and the prose is spare and beautiful, not a word is wasted. The way she writes about the physicality of people, makes them feel immediate and alive and you feel frightened for them. A harrowing but ultimately hopeful, important book.
There are many novels dealing with the Holocaust and World War 2, but Rachel Seifert’s nevertheless succeeds in being original, moving and interesting. The Ukraine setting is not new, but it is relatively rare at least among novels written in English. Her treatment of the story is sympathetic to individuals on both sides caught up in the tragedy, trapped by the nets of history. She depicts Germans who are weary and dismayed by the whole wartime project but have no way out, and likewise Ukrainians who are recruited to the German side and simply have to join them in order to attempt to survive.
I think there may be writers who believe they have an obligation to retell this story and that she may be one of them. Some aspects of history need to be retold again and again, for new generations.
This is a most impressive novel, gripping from start to finish, well composed and beautifully written, and dealing with an historical topic whose significance can never be underestimated.
About the book
Early on a grey November morning in 1941, only weeks after the German invasion, a small Ukrainian town is overrun by the SS. A Boy In Winter tells of the three days that follow and the lives that are overturned in the process. And in the midst of it all is the determined boy Yankel who will throw his and his young brother’s chances of surviving to strangers. A Boy In Winter is a story of hope when all is lost, and of mercy when the times have none.
About the author
Rachel Seiffert’s first novel, The Dark Room, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and was made into the feature film Lore. She was named as one of Granta’s twenty Best of Young British Novelists in 2003, and in 2011 she received the E.M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Field Study, a collection of short stories, received an award from PEN International. Her second novel Afterwards was long-listed for the 2007 Orange Prize as was her third, The Walk Home. Her books have been published in eighteen languages. Rachel Seiffert lives in London with her family.
This book gives us an understanding of what it must be like to experience the entry and takeover of your country and village by foreign troops. The villagers do not know what to expect, but through the Jewish boy of the title, the peasant girl who helps him escape, and the German engineer horrified by the massacre of the Jews by the SS, we experience the devastation of a community and individual lives. The sharp, precise language devastates us.