When does a week last 9 days? When it’s Dutch Book Week of course! (7-15.03.2020). I will be part of the official UK Dutch Book Week tour, but am going to bookend that contribution with reviews of two prizewinning novels, starting with a classic that took the Gouden Griffel Prize for the best Dutch children’s book in 1973.

Translated from Dutch by Laura Watkinson

15 year old Michiel is about to come of age, as they say, but what a time in which to do this! The end of World War Two approaches, and his part of rural Holland remains under Nazi occupation with all the restrictions that implies. There are shortages, yet no one is starving and the area has not been affected by the worst excesses of the occupiers. There are stories regarding the treatment of the Jews and reprisals when German soldiers are killed, and these ensure the Dutch population are compliant (on the surface at least).

The Dutch Resistance is, of course, active. When an action involving one of his friends goes horribly wrong, Michiel is suddenly landed with the responsibility of ensuring the safety of an injured British pilot. He proves himself remarkably adept and resourceful. The pilot’s injuries are too great for him to manage, and so reluctantly he must enlist the nursing skills of his older sister. Cue sibling rivalry and a wartime romance …

Tensions are magnified when the corpse of a German soldier is found in the woods. The resulting reprisal affects Michiel deeply and steels his resolve to thwart the occupying forces. And yet, despite his caution, someone is on to him, for every move he makes results in dire consequences for others. He can’t understand why the Nazis never pick him up. This is part of his learning curve: people, especially resistance fighters and collaborators, are not always who we suspect. Then there is Michiel’s greatest sorrow, an inadvertent consequence of his friend’s actions. Can he find it within himself to forgive?

Winter in Wartime is based on the author’s own wartime experiences. (He was 8 when the occupation began.) So this is not just an adventure story, even though it is a terrific one. (Apropos the dowager Louise Adelheid Mathilde, Baroness Weddik Wansfeld – once met, never forget!) Nor does it present a simplistic Dutch is good, German is bad picture. That said the Nazi regime is shown for what it was, but Terlouw includes a scene in which an individual German soldier is shown to be a courageous and compassionate human being. This is one of the hardest lessons for Michiel to grasp – that ordinary Germans were victims of Nazi terror too.

Highly recommended for fans of Michael Frayn’s Spies

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