Posted by: Corri van de Stege | February 5, 2011

Len Deighton and Winter – a digested read

Winter by Len DeightonThe author: Len Deighton, English,  born in 1929 and author of numerous fiction books in particular spy thrillers and probably best known for his Game Set and Match trilogy (which I did read in the distant past).  Some of his books were filmed, remember the Ipcress file?

Winter: a novel about a German (Berlin) family prior to (from 1900)  and during the second world war.  Harry Winter marries Victoria Rensselaer an American beauty and they have two sons, Peter marries Lottie an American Jewess and Pauli, the younger son marries a Berlin girl who originally fell in love with Peter.  Obviously, all this gives plenty of material for intrigues, fall-outs, upsets etc in particular as Harry has a mistress in Vienna, who is jewish, Pauli enters the army and then the Brownshirts and eventually becomes a high-ranking officer in the SS, in charge of death camps, but who nevertheless is childlike in his love for his father and older brother.   Victoria’s family, the Rensselaer play their part in the unfolding story as do in particular friends of Pauli, some of whom are fairly nasty Nazi party members, but who will always stay loyal to each other and help each other out, even if it means covering up for Pauli when he prevents Lottie being taken to an extermination camp. 

An NSDAP meeting in December 1930, with Hitler...

Image via Wikipedia

The story unfolds, taking us from Berlin to Vienna, and America, to Berlin and the Russian campaign and London where various members of the family reside, work or visit or fight.  Meanwhile Deighton gives an in-depth account of the intricacies of the various groupings in the unfolding history of the Reich and Hitler’s taking power.  There are the brown shirts, the SS, the SD the….. etc

Did I like it:  Yes and no, at times I became straightforward bored with all the various factions and explanations and all I wanted was some more insight into the characters and how they managed to retain their liking for each other even though some of them carried out quite gruesome acts.  It’s almost as if Deighton did not want to take sides, but rather wants his reader to decide for herself.  Is Pauli a monster?  Or simply a childlike figure who carries an enormous sense of inferiority with respect to his father, who wants nothing more than impress his father and his brother, but it is never quite clear why he has turned out that way.  At the same time, it is as if everyone is totally blind to what is going on around them, almost an apology that has been heard so many times: they did not know what was going on.  Peter, despite his wife having been persecuted, seems oblivious to the role Pauli has played in all of that and refuses to confront him, except towards the very end when, as an American officer, he returns to Berlin to take a lead in the Nuremberg trials.  Nevertheless, even then he supports, rather than faces up to the enormity of what Pauli has been involved in.  Should we like Pauli?  Excuse him?

As you can see, I did become engaged with the story, so I liked it up to a point. 

Anyone interested in the intricacies of German (Berlin) life pre and during the second world war should read this, if only to brush up on all the political intrigues that were ongoing, the roles of Hitler, Goering, Himmler, and others, and mixed with a dose of descriptions of what Berlin looked and felt like at that time.   There are huge chunks about the Zeppelin, legal intricacies, the crash, and many other upheavals.   However, trying to cover so much ground inevitably means that parts are only sketchy and this is the reason that in particular the character development appears to have suffered.

 Just a bit of advice: for some reason I did not enjoy reading this on my e-reader and would have preferred having a hard copy so that I could turn back to previous pages easier, or move forward (to take a peak at what happened next, revisit some dates, etc), always easier done with the paper version.



  1. Three corrections: the first name of Harold Winter’s wife is Veronica (not Victoria), Pauli is never a member of the “Brownshirts” and is never “in charge of death camps.”

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