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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Winter in Wartime
by Jan Terlouw
Age Range: 12+
Fifteen-year-old Michiel van Beusekom lives with his father, the mayor of their village De Vlank in the Netherlands, his mother, older sister Erika and younger brother Joachem. Michiel was eleven when Belgium and the Netherlands were occupied by the Germans in 1940. Now the Second World War is approaching its end and the population is weary. A treacherous winter, shortages of food and the ever present fear of living under occupation with everywhere still under German control and acts of resistance that are punishable by death have all taken their toll.
Michiel hasn’t been able to go to school for months so he makes himself useful around the village wherever he can. When one of his neighbours Dirk Knopper, a member of the resistance, asks him to deliver a letter, but with strict instructions to do so only if their mission to raid the rations office in Lagenzande is unsuccessful, Michiel is more than willing to help. After the raid goes wrong and Dirk is captured and the other accomplice killed, Michiel must keep his wits about him. On reading the letter he discovers there’s a wounded British Spitfire pilot hidden underground in Dagdaler Wood. Joining the secret struggle against the Nazis, knowing there are spies everywhere and one loose word could cost him his life, Michiel sets out on a dangerous mission to ensure the pilot is kept from being captured.
Winter in Wartime by Dutch author Jan Terlouw, translated by Laura Watkinson, is a gripping and moving novel based on the author’s own experiences as a child in occupied Holland. It paints a vivid portrait of life during the occupation – the suffering of the population as they struggle to survive, the brutality and the courage of those fighting in the resistance.
Terlouw manages to successfully weave the essential elements of a good adventure story with historical accuracy of what life was like for those who lived under German occupation. It is at times shockingly brutal as well as heart-breaking – the ruthless retaliation against the men of the village when a dead German soldier is discovered or the uncovering of an unlikely collaborator in their midst keeps the story grounded in the harsh realities of the cruelty of war. But juxta positioned is sense of mystery as Michiel works undercover and the undisputed courage and selflessness of Michiel and his sister in their care of the British airman which is at terrible risk to themselves and their family.
A powerful and compelling read and as Michael Morpurgo says on the back cover “a book we should all read, to remind us never to take our freedom and peace and plenty for granted.” Terlouw is a retired Dutch politician and physicist as well as a children’s writer. Winter in Wartime has long been considered a classic in Holland having sold over half a million copies