The Winter Orphans is emotional, heartbreaking, and mindblowing historical fiction about real people and events. I highly recommend this to fans of historical fiction.
The Winter Orphans by Kristin Beck
Publication Date : September 13, 2022
Publisher : Berkley Books
Read Date : September 20, 2022
Genre : Historical Fiction / WWII
Pages : 416
Tea for this book : Lemon Balm+Peppermint Tea
Disclaimer – Many thanks to Berkley for eARC via NetGalley.
This post contains affiliate links.
A poignant and ultimately triumphant novel based on the incredible true story of children who braved the formidable danger of guarded, wintry mountain passes in France to escape the Nazis, from the acclaimed author of Courage, My Love.
In a remote corner of France, Jewish refugee Ella Rosenthal has finally reached safety. It has been three years since she and her little sister, Hanni, left their parents to flee Nazi Germany, and they have been pursued and adrift in the chaos of war ever since. Now they shelter among one hundred other young refugees in a derelict castle overseen by the Swiss Red Cross.
Swiss volunteers Rösli Näf and Anne-Marie Piguet uphold a common mission: to protect children in peril. Rösli, a stubborn and resourceful nurse, directs the colony of Château de la Hille, and has created a thriving community against all odds. Anne-Marie, raised by Swiss foresters, becomes both caretaker and friend to the children, and she vows to do whatever is necessary to keep them safe.
However, when Germany invades southern France, safeguarding Jewish refugees becomes impossible. Château de la Hille faces unrelenting danger, and Rösli and Anne-Marie realize that the only way to protect the eldest of their charges is to smuggle them out of France. Relying on Rösli’s fierce will and Anne-Marie’s knowledge of secret mountain paths, they plot escape routes through vast Nazi-occupied territory to the distant border. Amid staggering risk, Ella and Hanni embark on a journey that, if successful, could change the course of their lives and grant them a future.
The Winter Orphans is emotional and heartbreaking historical fiction that revolves around Jewish refugee children of Château de la Hille and Swiss volunteers women, Rösli Näf and Anne-Marie Piguet, who showed tremendous courage and determination to save the children of Château de la Hille. The story is about courage, iron will, determination, perseverance, loss, survival, tragedy, cruelty, humanity, politics, and hope.
Writing is vivid and emotive with three perspectives from Ella, Rösli, and Anne-Marie. The story take place in chronological order starting from August 1942 to April 1943 which makes readers live through events happened during this timeline. The pace is steady to slow. You can’t go fast with this book but story is filled with many ups and downs with tense tone making it gripping and suspenseful. Characters in the story are fabulous.
Swiss Red Cross volunteer Rösli Näf is severe, fierce, non-nonsense person with strong determination of saving kids under her protection at all cost. She was nurse before she joined Swiss Red Cross. She doesn’t show her emotions easily. She runs tight ship as director of La Hille and keeps kids bound to order and rules but when French gendarmes take away her teenage kids and older staff, she shows incredible courage and uses her fierce nature taking back her kids and keep them safe and when the highest officer of Swiss Red Cross refuses to get kids out of France and in Switzerland, she is ready to ditch rules and their ultimatum to keep kids free and safe.
It was incredible how hard she worked and all the illegal measures she took to make sure those teenagers in immediate danger get their freedom. The risks and danger involved in doing so is unimaginable. It broke my heart when misfortune made her leave her position and that’s when Anne-Marie comes to La Hille.
Anni-Marie is teacher and staff at Chateau Montleuel, north of Lyon. She has sunny personality, easy smile and is driven to help kids. Her determination and fierceness is same as Rösli’s and that’s why Rösali finds ally in her. Her idea of crossing the border was mindblowing and also riskier than Rösli’s and it was amazing to see her work on it.
Ella is 17 yr old girl who left her parents four years ago and was running with her younger sister ever since until she came under Rösli’s care at La Hille. She is angry, sad, and heart broken. At first, she didn’t like Rösli’s stern organized nature but once she experiences internment camp she comes to respect her. She could see no future as she soon will be turning 18, if French authority came for her again Rosie or Swiss Red Cross has no authority to save her. She wants to live for her sister, to make sure she is safe, and also for the boy she fiercely loves and wish to have future with him. She has to get out of France if she wants to keep hope and as time passes it becomes hard and more dangerous to cross the borders. It was amazing to see her love for her sister, how long she stayed behind for her, how many times her hopes and heart was shattered, and yet her fierce nature and determination made her keep going.
It was interesting to see if these women can accomplish what they have planned and what obstacles they have to overcome for that. It was impossible to predict those obstacles that made their journey suspenseful and anxious.
There are many other characters who helped and supported these women in their journey and they all are remarkable in their own way. I don’t have enough words to express these characters. Their emotions, fears, and struggles flowed through the words on every page making them come alive.
This very much different from all WWII books I read before and the one that included France was either when France was attacked or France in the beginning of liberation or spies and allied forces helping France and Jews there but never I read about how unfair, cruel and selfish the government, police, and authorities were who worked with Nazis, gathering and Malnaurishing Jews by sending them to internment camps and then send them in cattle cars to Nazi concentration camps. The situations in those internment camps were horrible and it was hard and extremely soul-shattering to read whole family, even little kids, being sent in cattle cars to their death.
All these made me think how could people live through this time period and how could Nazis or people who didn’t support Jews could live with direct or indirect blood on their hands. It was outrageous to see how poeple followed fascism and how blindly people followed rules either to keep their position or power or made the whole situation a means to earn money. It was heart shattering to see children’s dreams, hopes, and beliefs dying slow death as the days passed. It made me think how long one can keep hope with years of running, hiding, and losing people around them without any help or with help that had little power and no surety of keeping them safe from Nazis.
Last 30% is super gripping and kept me on the edge. There is so much tension in this part, I couldn’t dare to hope or predict anything as there are so many points where things could go wrong. The whole operation or journey depended on luck. I loved the way author wrapped up the story. The epilogue set in 1956 telling about what happened to kids of La Hille and also to Rösli and Anne-Marie is perfect.
Author’s note is awe-inspiring. Both Rösli and Anne-Marie and some other volunteers of Swiss Red Cross and resistance workers in France mentioned in the book are real people. Almost everything about them is kept real. It was interesting to see what events and timelines author adjusted and which characters author fictionalized.
Overall, The Winter Orphans is provocative, emotive, heart-shattering, and mindblowing tragic story of cruelty and humanity based on real people and events. I highly recommend this to fans of historical fiction.
I highly recommend this if you like,
Story set during WWII
Slow to steady pace
Story based on true events and real people
Tense and anxious tone
No dual timeline
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