Book Review: A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France by Caroline Moorehead

Title: A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France
Author: Caroline Moorehead
Genre: Non-fiction, history
Publisher: Harper
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Source: ARC for a book tour with TLC Book Tours
First line: On 5 January 1942, a French police inspector named Rondeaux, stationed in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, caught sight of a man he believed to be a wanted member of the French Resistance.

In January 1943, two hundred and thirty women of the French Resistance were sent to the death camps by the Nazis who had invaded and occupied their country…..Only forty-nine would survive.

In A Train in Winter, Caroline Moorehead tells the story of the two hundred thirty women – who they were, what drove them to resist the occupying Nazis and the collaborationist Vichy government, the sacrifices they made to serve their cause, and the families they left behind when they were captured.

The forty-nine that survived Auschwitz and Birkenau did so because of a combination of fate and intelligence – and because they faced their imprisonment and captors as a united force. They learned how to fake health and strength to avoid being chosen for the gas chambers. They learned how to trade and steal for extra scraps of food, for tiny bits of medicine. They watched their friends and companions die, one by one. And they survived the most unimaginable circumstances and conditions – conditions so horrific that even members of their own families didn’t believe the stories they told when they came back.

To be honest, this was a very difficult book to read. I admire Moorehead for undertaking the task of telling the story of these women, but, in my opinion, she kept her focus much too broad. As I look back over the non-fiction that I’ve read this year, the ones that were the most engrossing, the most readable, were the ones that focused on a small group of people and told their stories. In A Train in Winter, the author introduces so many of the 230 women that I became completely overwhelmed. There were simply too many names and stories to keep track of.

The first half of the book was spent introducing these women and telling about their activities for the Resistance and the various police investigations that led to their capture, and it took me a long time to become engrossed in the story. The book picked up when the women were taken to Auschwitz, but then the book became difficult to read for a different reason. The magnitude of the atrocities these women experienced was simply overwhelming, and there were times that it became too much and I had to set the book aside. Of course, it is important that the truths of the death camps are told in literature, and I’m glad there are authors who make sure that we never forget. A Train in Winter may not be the easiest read, but the women who embody its pages must never be forgotten.

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19 Responses to Book Review: A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France by Caroline Moorehead

  1. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread

    I’ve seen a few reviews of this one through the tour, and I must admit, the premise is enticing. I love stories of the fierce desire to survive, and I am always in awe when I hear what people had to endure. But covering 230 people? It might have been better to focus in on two or three I agree. Great review.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Sandy – it was such a massive undertaking. I understand what she was trying to do – just wish she could have made it more personal.

  2. bermudaonion (Kathy)
    Twitter: bermudaonion

    You’re not the first one to say the author took on too much when she wrote this. It’s a shame because I think the premise is fascinating and it’s a story that needs to be told.

  3. Stephanie says:

    I had issues with the book too. I agree that her focus was too broad, and that really ended up killing the book for me. I had really been looking forward to it so I was disappointed. The potential was so great!

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Stephanie – I know – I was so excited by the premise that I took on another book tour when I already had too many! Oh, well, I still appreciated the information I gained.

  4. Sheila (Book Journey)
    Twitter: bookjourney

    This sounds fantastic and just my kind of read but like you – I like my books centered around smaller groups…. large groups are hard to follow and I find myself back tracking a lot to remember who is who.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Sheila – I lost track so many times that I simply gave up and just kept reading.

  5. Vasilly
    Twitter: Vasilly

    I’ve read a few reviews that had the same opinions about the broad focus of this book. I’ll probably read this one day but not soon. Great review, Carrie.

  6. Pingback: The Sunday Salon – December 4, 2011 (the “November reading wrap-up” edition) | BOOKS AND MOVIES

  7. Pingback: Caroline Moorehead, author of A Train in Winter, on tour November 2011 | TLC Book Tours

  8. Pingback: Caroline Moorehead, author of A Train in Winter, on tour November 2011 | TLC Book Tours

  9. Thanks for taking the time to read and review this one for the tour. I think you’re right, these women’s stories need to be remembered. I’m sorry the narration didn’t quite work for you but I’m glad the women made an impact on you in spite of that.

  10. Kailana says:

    I really want to read this. I have it, but haven’t really been reading anything lately…

  11. I totally agree with you.
    Most non-fiction I read, is a small number of peòple.
    here you couldn’t keep track, of remembering.
    I took a notebook, it helped for a short time but it was getting redundant.
    i could not keep track, so I stopped writing.

    But by the end of part one, heading to Aushwitz,I becae involved. Now on to part 2.Iam on blog tour and will be posting. Juust too much info. But important ,to read. Reminded me of war movies with espiionage, and spy rings. Have you heard of Julia. Excellent movie.