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Winter: A Berlin Family, 1899-1945 by Len Deighton Review

Title: Winter: A Berlin Family, 1899-1945

Author: Len Deighton

First published November 12, 1987

544 pages, Paperback

ISBN: 9780586068953 (ISBN10: 0586068953)

Rating: 4.12


Len Deighton’s Winter: A Berlin Family, 1899-1945 is a poignant exploration of a German family’s journey through the tumultuous events of two world wars. With a keen eye for detail and a masterful grasp of historical context, Deighton weaves a complex and compelling tale of two brothers, born at the turn of the century, whose lives are forever intertwined with the fate of their country.

From the height of the Kaiser’s power to the dark days of Hitler’s regime, Winter offers a powerful and vivid portrait of Germany in the first half of the twentieth century. A remarkable achievement of meticulous research and superb characterisation, this novel is a must-read for anyone interested in the intricacies of European history.

About the Author

Len Deighton was born in Marylebone, London in 1929 to a father who worked as a chauffeur and mechanic and a mother who was a part-time cook. After leaving school, Deighton started working as a railway clerk before serving as a photographer for the Royal Air Force’s Special Investigation Branch during his National Service.

After discharge from the RAF, he studied at St Martin’s School of Art in London in 1949 and won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in 1952, graduating in 1955.

Deighton worked as an airline steward with BOAC before he began his writing career. He worked as an illustrator in New York and as an art director in a London advertising agency in 1960, creating the first British cover for Jack Kerouac’s book.

He has also used his drawing skills to illustrate a number of his own military history books.

After producing a successful film adaptation of his 1968 novel, Deighton and photographer Brian Duffy bought the film rights to Joan Littlewood and Theatre Workshop’s stage musical. However, he had his name removed from the credits of the film, which he later described as “stupid and infantile.” It was his last involvement with the cinema.

Deighton left England in 1969 and briefly resided in Blackrock, County Louth in Ireland. Since then, he has not returned to England apart from some personal visits and very few media appearances.

He and his wife Ysabele spend their time between homes in Portugal and Guernsey. Deighton also became a cookery writer, producing illustrated cookbooks, and wrote travel guides before becoming a film producer.

In September 1967, he wrote an article about Operation Snowdrop – an SAS attack on Benghazi during World War II for a newspaper. Unfortunately, the article led to David Stirling being awarded substantial damages in libel the following year.

Editoral Review

Len Deighton’s “Winter: A Berlin Family, 1899-1945” is a captivating historical novel that weaves together the lives of one family and the turbulent events of Germany in the first half of the twentieth century. Deighton is known for his espionage thrillers, but here he displays his talent for meticulous research and vivid storytelling in a different genre.

The novel opens in 1899 with the birth of Paul von Hartmann, the patriarch of the German family at the center of the story. Through his eyes, we see the rise of nationalism, the impact of two world wars, and the devastating consequences of fascism.

The other members of the family include his wife Elsa, their children Robert and Eva, and their extended family and friends. Deighton’s attention to detail is impressive, and his descriptions of Berlin in different eras are vivid and immersive.

He uses real historical events like the Treaty of Versailles, the Reichstag fire, and Kristallnacht as backdrops to the family’s personal struggles. It is clear that he has extensively researched the time period and has a deep understanding of its complexities.

The characters are varied and well-drawn, each with their own unique experiences and perspectives. Robert, the sensitive artist, struggles with his sexuality under the strict moral codes of the time.

Eva, his sister, becomes a nurse and witnesses firsthand the horrors of war. Elsa, the matriarch, tries to hold her family together and maintain their social status in the face of changing political tides.

The conflicts and tensions between these characters drive the plot forward, and Deighton handles them with sensitivity and nuance. One of the strengths of this novel is the way it portrays the gradual descent of a society into fascism.

Deighton shows how the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party affected ordinary people’s lives, from food shortages to censorship to outright violence. He also shows the complicity of many Germans in this transformation, as well as the heroic resistance of a few.

Overall, “Winter: A Berlin Family, 1899-1945” is an excellent historical novel that brings an important era to life. It is well-written, well-researched, and emotionally resonant.

The only criticism I have is that at times it feels like Deighton is trying to fit too much history into the narrative, which can make the pacing uneven. However, this is a minor quibble in an otherwise excellent book.

I highly recommend this novel to anyone interested in World War II, German history, or family sagas. It is a sobering reminder of the dangers of nationalism and the importance of standing up for one’s values.

I give it a rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars.