TLC Book Tours: A Train in Winter

A Train in Winter

Caroline Moorhead


384 pages

As readers, we are inundated with books on WWII.  I, for one, am pretty burnt out.  It’s gotten to the point that I rarely choose to pick up books on this particular subject matter, so it is surprising that I chose to read this one! It just felt like it was a different aspect of the war that I maybe wasn’t familiar with.

230 women were transported to Auschwitz during the war, the majority of them being part of the French resistance.  They had no idea that they were being sent to an extermination camp, but they learned fairly quickly that they would have to work extremely hard to survive.

I suppose I should back up a bit, because I am getting ahead of myself.  A Train in Winter is broken up into two parts, part I consisting of an overview of the women and their upbringing as well as their activities during the war.  Given that there were so many women, Moorehead obviously had to pick and choose which women she would discuss, however she cast her net pretty wide, so there was quite a bit for her to cover.

Part II was more focused on the time these women spent in Auschwitz and various other concentration camps.  This portion of the book had me a lot more interested and I was fascinated and appalled by the descriptions of daily living; I never imagined that it would be pleasant to live in a concentration camp but I could not even speculate that there would be so many atrocities. The women were forced to stand at roll call for hours each morning and evening, standing in the snow and freezing mud with barely any clothes on.  They lived among fleas and lice, in the most unsanitary conditions imaginable.  Women died daily, whether by being gassed or finally succumbing to the harsh conditions or various diseases going around.  The French women, however, seemed to be a little more resilient than the women of other nationalities imprisoned with them.  They were determined to stick up for one another and protect one another despite all the adversity they faced, and miraculously, quite a few of them survived.

I had one problem with this book, and it was a big one.  The way Moorhead chose to write A Train in Winter was a bit problematic for me.  The story and the circumstances of the women was so compelling, but I could not follow the threads of so many women.  Dozens and dozens of women were mentioned in the text to the point where I could not make heads or tails of which was which.  Add to this the fact that many of the women had the same first name and I was a goner.  Unfortunately, this was a big deal breaker for me, and although I finished the book, it was really hard for me to get through, at least the first part.

I was disappointed with the execution of A Train in Winter.  I feel that it is a very powerful book that could have made much more of an impact.

About Caroline Moorehead

The author of numerous biographies and works of history, including Gellhorn and Human Cargo, Caroline Moorehead has also written for The Telegraph, The Times, and The Independent. The cofounder of a legal advice center for asylum seekers from Africa, she divides her time between England and Italy.

Caroline’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, November 8th: Unabridged Chick

Friday, November 11th: Elle Lit.

Monday, November 14th: Diary of an Eccentric

Wednesday, November 16th: Among Stories

Wednesday, November 16th: Unabridged Chick – author interview

Thursday, November 17th: Broken Teepee

Friday, November 18th: Ted Lehmann’s Bluegrass, Books, and Brainstorms

Monday, November 21st: Jenny Loves to read

Tuesday, November 22nd: Picky Girl

Wednesday, November 23rd: Books Like Breathing

Monday, November 28th: Reviews by Lola

Tuesday, November 29th: Buried in Print

Wednesday, November 30th: Savvy Verse & Wit

Thursday, December 1st: In the Next Room

Friday, December 2nd: Wordsmithonia

Friday, December 2nd: Books and Movies

Monday, December 5th: Take Me Away


22 Responses

  1. Great review! It sounds like a really good read. When they’re too many points of view, or too many characters I have a hard time figuring out who’s who and I get frustrated.

  2. That does sound like a fascinating story – it’s too bad the author didn’t focus on only 2 or 3 of the women.

  3. This sounds like a compelling and inspiring story and one I don’t know a lot about. I had hoped that even if Moorehead mentioned a large number of women, she’d focus on just a few and develop their stories for us. It doesn’t sound like that’s what she did. But this story still interests me quite a bit. I feel like these women deserve our attention for all they went through and survived (I realize not all did, though).

    Thank you for a wonderful and honest review!

    • My negative reaction is definitely in the minority, so I hope you give it a shot because it’s a powerful story. Maybe it will be helpful to you to read it now that you know to expect such a large focus.

  4. The abundance of characters would have probably really bothered me too, so I can get where you are coming from. I will probably pass on this book. Even though it does sound interesting, the multiple viewpoints would probably be overwhelming for me. Very thoughtful review today, thanks!

  5. I could see myself having similar problems following so many stories at the same time.

  6. Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place is a surprisingly uplifting story by a camp survivor who dedicated her life to other survivors and their tormentors. I still intend to read A Train in Winter but need to be in the right frame of mind.

  7. I can see why you would have this response, but honestly, I wasn’t overwhelmed by the discussion of so many women. I felt like Moorehead consistently went back to a top few (pretty much the survivors). Just wanted to mention that in case it deterred anyone from reading the book.

    I found it to be enthralling and deemed it my top nonfic pick of the year (and I’ve read some great stuff).

    • I definitely think I am in the minority, since most people seem to really like this one. I thought it was a horribly touching story and wish that the one issue hadn’t been such a problem for me.

  8. Ugh! This story sounds so promising. Too bad the execution was so off. 😦 I hope your next read is much better.

  9. I agree that there are a lot of books set in WWII, although I always seem to learn something when I read them. I am sorry to hear this one wasn’t as powerful as it could have been!

  10. Hmmm, I had to have my date for this book extended because I hardly got a chance to read it and what I did read was slow going. I’m thinking I should try to read part 2 so I can at least comment on that since everyone seems to be more interested in that part!

  11. Bummer, bad organization is always a struggle for me too. Still, I am curious to give it a try myself.

  12. Like The Picky Girl, I feel compelled to speak up and say that I think approaching the book knowing that there are a lot of individuals involved, and giving yourself permission to not remember every single name and date, particularly in the first half of the book would make for a different reading experience.

    It is a lot of information, but even without tracking every single detail, you can still appreciate the quality and dimensions of these individuals’ bravery and determination. And, as you move into the second half of the book, you can make some of the connections more easily and some of the women do take more shape for you.

    Besides, if you were to think about taking it down to focus on one or two women, that requires a very hard question be answered: which of these brave women’s stories will you leave untold.

    The sacrifices they made are impossible for us to truly understand; I would rather read a couple of sentences about them and have them memorialized in that tiny way, than have them completely and entirely overlooked. I think that would be heartbreaking.

    • I agree that Moorehead could not just focus on 1 or 2 women. However, I do feel that she could have culled the women a little more to have a clearer focus. Either way though, I have a hard time with books that deal with that many people because I get frustrated when I can’t remember every person and their personal details, so it’s more of an issue with my own reading style.

  13. Darn, I’m sorry this book didn’t work out for you, especially since you were so interested in the subject matter. Thanks for your honest review for the tour.

  14. What a disappointment – I had the same reaction when I first read about this one that you did. It is hard to find a WWII book that is unique and it certainly should have been able to pull you in.

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