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Winter Men

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As the dark specter of the Nazis settles over Germany, two wealthy and educated brothers are suddenly thrust into the rising tide of war. Karl, a former soldier and successful businessman, dutifully answers the call to defend his country, while contemplative academic Gerhard is coerced into informing for the Gestapo. Soon the brothers are serving in the SS, and as Hitler’s As the dark specter of the Nazis settles over Germany, two wealthy and educated brothers are suddenly thrust into the rising tide of war. Karl, a former soldier and successful businessman, dutifully answers the call to defend his country, while contemplative academic Gerhard is coerced into informing for the Gestapo. Soon the brothers are serving in the SS, and as Hitler’s hateful agenda brings about unspeakable atrocities, they find themselves with innocent blood on their hands. Following Germany’s eventual defeat, Karl and Gerhard are haunted by their insurmountable guilt, and each seeks a way to escape from wounds that will never heal. They survived the war and its revelation of systematic horrors, but can they survive the unshakable knowledge of their own culpability?


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As the dark specter of the Nazis settles over Germany, two wealthy and educated brothers are suddenly thrust into the rising tide of war. Karl, a former soldier and successful businessman, dutifully answers the call to defend his country, while contemplative academic Gerhard is coerced into informing for the Gestapo. Soon the brothers are serving in the SS, and as Hitler’s As the dark specter of the Nazis settles over Germany, two wealthy and educated brothers are suddenly thrust into the rising tide of war. Karl, a former soldier and successful businessman, dutifully answers the call to defend his country, while contemplative academic Gerhard is coerced into informing for the Gestapo. Soon the brothers are serving in the SS, and as Hitler’s hateful agenda brings about unspeakable atrocities, they find themselves with innocent blood on their hands. Following Germany’s eventual defeat, Karl and Gerhard are haunted by their insurmountable guilt, and each seeks a way to escape from wounds that will never heal. They survived the war and its revelation of systematic horrors, but can they survive the unshakable knowledge of their own culpability?

30 review for Winter Men

  1. 5 out of 5

    Melki

    "Everyone seemed to just accept what was happening." Teaching at the University of Hamburg in 1938 has become frustrating for Gerhard Strangl. "Two thirds of the students are gone, either because they're Jews or because they've joined the army. All discussion between students and professors has become completely meaningless, since no one dares to state their opinion anymore. People hardly dare describe what they have in their lunch box." His brother Karl owns a prosperous clothing factory that "Everyone seemed to just accept what was happening." Teaching at the University of Hamburg in 1938 has become frustrating for Gerhard Strangl. "Two thirds of the students are gone, either because they're Jews or because they've joined the army. All discussion between students and professors has become completely meaningless, since no one dares to state their opinion anymore. People hardly dare describe what they have in their lunch box." His brother Karl owns a prosperous clothing factory that makes SS uniforms. Both men end up getting sucked into the war and become reluctant soldiers. "When this war is over, I hope that men like you and I can look ourselves in the eye and tell ourselves that we didn't abet the evil that goes hand in hand with the war." Despite Karl's hopeful words, the brothers both see and participate in atrocities. This book is a well written and absorbing account of how two ordinarily compassionate and intelligent men get caught up in a nightmare. Highly recommended! "I am a good man. I'm not like them."

  2. 4 out of 5

    Shelley

    I rated the book several days ago but waited to review it until I'd put some distance between myself and the material. I will often have an initial gut reaction that doesn't match with my attempt at an objective review, and given the topic, I wanted to wait. I waited. I still think it's three stars. This book should be looked at two ways: substance and form. As for substance: we are reading primarily about two brothers, adults in their forties, who lived (one fought, one didn't) through WWI and I rated the book several days ago but waited to review it until I'd put some distance between myself and the material. I will often have an initial gut reaction that doesn't match with my attempt at an objective review, and given the topic, I wanted to wait. I waited. I still think it's three stars. This book should be looked at two ways: substance and form. As for substance: we are reading primarily about two brothers, adults in their forties, who lived (one fought, one didn't) through WWI and are now facing WWII. They are flawed, they are human, they are not very likable. They are German. The book is written by a Dane. Does that matter? I don't know. I learned more than the average bear about World War II (and the atrocities committed) at a young age. My father did a master's thesis that involved a large residual household library about World War II...and correspondence with Albert Speer. When I was old enough to read German, I saw in one letter that Herr Speer thanked him for the Christmas card and the picture of his lovely daughter. That daughter would be me. Guy's been dead for decades and it still creeps me out. (What the hell was he thinking?) Maybe as a result of that--and other assorted weirdness of my upbringing--I became interested in what makes people evil. This man who writes a thank you for a Christmas card was evil. That caused dissonance. I read memoirs and biographies of major Nazi figures and then Solzhenitsyn in my teens (disclaimer: my husband read all of the Gulag Archipelago, but I could only get through half of the first volume, but managed Cancer Ward and a couple of others). I digested all that and, after a little bit of life experience, decided true evil isn't committed by Hitlers or the Stalins. That is: evil takes place every day, but we only see it when it's writ large, when Spain "conquers" South America, when Europe turns its back on Syrian refugees, when the US obliterates native populations, when Stalin and Hitler kill millions. To me, evil is an average person, a "good citizen," turning away when he should look--and when a lot of "good citizens" do that, you get the Eastern Front and death camps, Gulags and Indian reservations. Evil is doing nothing when you should do something, when you *must* do something because it is the right thing to do. Evil is when you know there's a guy molesting kids in your church but you're too scared to report it. There would have been no Hitler without popular support. There would be no Ted Cruz without... Well, I suppose we have enough examples. Back to the book. Most of my reviews are of non-fiction, and most of those address, at some point, accessibility to non-scholarly audiences. Here, though, for this novel? If you don't know much about the Eastern Front, if you don't know much about the SS...well, I can't honestly endorse going and reading this novel to learn more. I can't honestly say I would want you to experience the gut-churning horror of what happened. Should you? Probably. History repeating itself and all that. Would I want you to? No. It's horrible. If you have a soul, you will want to be sick reading it. Instead, read non-fiction. You will learn the awful facts but you will not be inhabiting the heads of people who burn churches full of women and children or calculate how many Jews and Gypsies and Communists can fit in a livestock car. If you're already familiar with the SS and/or Eastern Front, you will catch more of the book's historical nuances (and realize how toned down it is in many ways: it could have been so much more gut-churning and awful). Putting aside history and getting to the novel itself: the problem is the main characters are not likable. The secondary characters are not likable. No one is worth your time sympathizing with. There are no heroes. There aren't even any tragic heroes. Just two men who were not heroic to begin with becoming worse. If either had been more sympathetic to begin with, it would have made a more compelling read. I think if the author had focused on one individual, it would have been a very strong novel. But that's not what we have. There is a bit too much deus ex machina--not so much in the resolution, but in the setup. It's farcical, the way both brothers end up in the SS. Usually in a book dealing with so many atrocities, there is at least a little humor to break the grimness of it all. Gallows humor. Not here. (Wait. I can think of one incident that is darkly funny, but it's not enough.) Also, the pacing isn't quite right. It's in fits and starts. The early phases of the war receive too much attention, and the horrible parts--the parts that are important--receive too little. I don't know if it was an editing hatchet job or if it was poorly planned or if the author got to, say, Ukraine, and couldn't actually bring himself to write all of what happened. All that and three stars? Yes. For all that, it's well-written, and you will want to finish it, even as you want to hurl it across the room and/or be sick. Additionally, I pay closer attention to tone in translated novels. Here, the translator did, I felt, an amazing job in bringing the characters to life. (I didn't like them any better, but they were as vivid as they could be.)

  3. 4 out of 5

    David Reviews

    Brothers Karl and Gerhard are respectable Germans living in Hamburg as change sweeps through Germany before the start of WW2. The Nazi propaganda machine, headed by Adolf Hitler, is at lts most effective and is spiralling Germany towards violence and war once more. We follow the brothers as they are torn by their own hearts, conscience and beliefs while finding themselves on the wrong side of history. Winter Men is a superb novel highlighting the moral dilemmas of everyday Germans caught up event Brothers Karl and Gerhard are respectable Germans living in Hamburg as change sweeps through Germany before the start of WW2. The Nazi propaganda machine, headed by Adolf Hitler, is at lts most effective and is spiralling Germany towards violence and war once more. We follow the brothers as they are torn by their own hearts, conscience and beliefs while finding themselves on the wrong side of history. Winter Men is a superb novel highlighting the moral dilemmas of everyday Germans caught up events out of their control. Beautifully written and utterly absorbing author Jesper Bugge Kold’s thought-provoking story takes us from Hamburg to battle fronts to concentration camps. He offers the reader a heart-stopping experience of the absolute horror of these places of conflict, whilst still providing a wonderfully sobering read that has moments of kindness and compassion too. After the death of their father Karl is left reluctantly running the family textile business profitably making military uniforms. As a young soldier in WW1 he has signed up as a reservist and will be proud to fight for Germany again. Gerhard is a lecturer at the University in Hamburg and secretly questions what the Nazi’s are doing. Though neither are true supporters of the Nazi’s they both end up in the German SS and they live through some shocking experiences during WW2. It is desperately sad to see these men suffer so much, losing people they love and ending the war so filled with regrets and guilt. It asks the reader a difficult question of whether these men were possibly just pawns in a game they couldn’t escape, or truly evil? The power of the Nazi war machine was incredibly irresistible and this novel catches the fears and emotions of two men caught in its grip. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this fascinating piece of historical fiction, it was hard to put down and I can happily recommend it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Michael Stern

    Chilling and Instructive Does the world need yet another work of historical fiction set during WWII and told from a German point of view? As it turns out, Winter Men proves that it does. I didn't really appreciate what Hanna Arendt truly meant by the phrase "banality of evil" until I read this book. Winter Men serves as a powerful reminder that for every ideological fanatic shouting 'Heil!' and burning books, there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of respectable middle and upper-middle class busin Chilling and Instructive Does the world need yet another work of historical fiction set during WWII and told from a German point of view? As it turns out, Winter Men proves that it does. I didn't really appreciate what Hanna Arendt truly meant by the phrase "banality of evil" until I read this book. Winter Men serves as a powerful reminder that for every ideological fanatic shouting 'Heil!' and burning books, there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of respectable middle and upper-middle class businessmen, academics, and civil servants who just wanted to 'go along to get along', as the cliche goes. Of course, without the support and active cooperation of these 'pragmatic' masses, the full horrors of that period would not have been possible. Winter Men is a literary autopsy of the lives of two such respectable brothers from Hamburg. They are neither villains nor victims, nor even truly Nazis in the conventional sense. Each in their own way, they make decisions aimed at keeping their hands clean as much as possible. Yet their incremental choices to 'go along' inevitably lead them to sink further and further into both the literal and metaphorical muck which eventually consumes them both. Written in a rather naturalistic style, this bloody novel is not one that everyone will be able to stomach. But for those who do, the reward is a highly thought-provoking read, and a reminder to remain vigilant. Times may have changed, but people haven't.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Elijah Egnor

    "Work for us or die?" What would you do if you had to respond to a statement like that? Even if you know you're working for an organization you hate and believe to be evil would you do it in the name of self-preservation or literally bite the bullet? This is one of the questions raised in "Winter Men." Two brothers with of opposite personalities who both embark on a long journey into their own versions of hell on Earth. Both brothers through different means end up working for the SS and yes, it's "Work for us or die?" What would you do if you had to respond to a statement like that? Even if you know you're working for an organization you hate and believe to be evil would you do it in the name of self-preservation or literally bite the bullet? This is one of the questions raised in "Winter Men." Two brothers with of opposite personalities who both embark on a long journey into their own versions of hell on Earth. Both brothers through different means end up working for the SS and yes, it's probably very unrealistic how it happened or that it would happen it still makes for a compelling story. Some people might hate them just because they were Germans during a horrible period of human history, however; I ended up hoping that they wouldn't bend to their fates and keep their good nature about them. That just isn't the case. Some people might find it hard to believe that during that time there were actually people who were not all "gung-ho" about Nazism and the whole Socialist movement. People who despised the Führer. During their years they tried to tell themselves over and over that they are still good people and that they tried not to cave. To me it comes down to the age old question "are we inherently good or evil?" Or do things around us and the influences of others makes us more evil? Can someone who believes they are a good person really convince himself otherwise knowing all the horrors he's seen and done just to stay alive? Are people evil or do we create monsters? Read and decide for yourself...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Abbey

    My rating is actually more of a 3.5. At times the story was amazing, and kept my attention, but there were other parts that really dragged.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tim Stretton

    Fiction about the lives of Germans in Nazi Germany normally falls into one of three categories: the Jewish experience; Germans implicitly or explicitly opposed to the regime (see Philip Kerr, Luke McCallin, Ben Pastor); or portraits of monsters (David Thomas's Ostland). The Winter Men is closest to the third of these classes, taking us through the war experiences of two German brothers, both of whom are portrayed as reasonable men, and both of whom end up in the SS. The path each takes to end in Fiction about the lives of Germans in Nazi Germany normally falls into one of three categories: the Jewish experience; Germans implicitly or explicitly opposed to the regime (see Philip Kerr, Luke McCallin, Ben Pastor); or portraits of monsters (David Thomas's Ostland). The Winter Men is closest to the third of these classes, taking us through the war experiences of two German brothers, both of whom are portrayed as reasonable men, and both of whom end up in the SS. The path each takes to end in committing unspeakable atrocities is set out with chilling plausibility. Both Karl and Gerhard end up, unquestionably, as monsters; but the strength of the novel is that they both remain recognisably human. The Winter Men is a searing portrayal of evil, and how those who commit it were once like the rest of us.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Laurie Notaro

    Maybe this is a realistic portrait of good people doing bad things in horrific circumstances. Maybe I won't understand those choices until I am faced with them. Maybe most of the Nazis were good people to begin with--how does a whole county become psychopaths? What I do know is that I wish I had read something else

  9. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    A solid and worthwhile (if, alas, unspectacular and not necessarily memorable) Kindle First selection, once again introducing to English reading audiences a talented author originally published abroad. World War II isn't the most uplifting material, and the holocaust (and genocide, generally) is heavy stuff, but both continue to provide a rich source of content spun from any number of new and novel perspectives. Ultimately, I found Kold's work fundamentally depressing, but sufficiently realistic, A solid and worthwhile (if, alas, unspectacular and not necessarily memorable) Kindle First selection, once again introducing to English reading audiences a talented author originally published abroad. World War II isn't the most uplifting material, and the holocaust (and genocide, generally) is heavy stuff, but both continue to provide a rich source of content spun from any number of new and novel perspectives. Ultimately, I found Kold's work fundamentally depressing, but sufficiently realistic, compelling, and thought-provoking to justify the time and energy. This one won't generate the kind of loyal following, nor do I expect to see it on the Booker or Pulitzer short lists like the sublime All the Light We Cannot See, but it's a good, solid read. The book also reads as having been extremely well researched (and the after-materials seem to confirm this), which added value. I expect many readers will either find Kold's protagonist(s) sympathetic (or pathetic) or resent the author's effort to humanize Nazis (or distinguish between evil Nazis and good Nazis or accidental Nazis). For me, it's just a novel, and - even if it's neither ground-breaking nor epic - one that was well constructed. I'm unwilling to analyze much more than that, but I'm glad I read it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca (agirlirlblog, bekkilyn)

    I'd probably give this book 3.5 stars if it were possible. I really enjoyed seeing what happened in Germany during Hitler's regime through the eyes of Germans and members of the Gestapo/SS. The two brothers in this story were dragged into it reluctantly and were not fully supportive of the things they ended up doing, but often felt trapped. So much harm was done, even to those who were a part of Hitler's army, and it's so tragic all around as oppression doesn't just do harm to the oppressed, but I'd probably give this book 3.5 stars if it were possible. I really enjoyed seeing what happened in Germany during Hitler's regime through the eyes of Germans and members of the Gestapo/SS. The two brothers in this story were dragged into it reluctantly and were not fully supportive of the things they ended up doing, but often felt trapped. So much harm was done, even to those who were a part of Hitler's army, and it's so tragic all around as oppression doesn't just do harm to the oppressed, but also to the oppressors. One thing diminished the tense effect of the book, and that was the prologue and a few small chapters scattered throughout the book that showed snippets of what was happening with one of the characters years after the main events. For me, the story would have been more effective without these as I wouldn't have already known what was going to happen to the two brothers and their families ahead of time. I chose this book out of the February Kindle First selection and feel that I made a really good choice.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Manchester Military History Society (MMHS)

    Powerful novel of moral dilemma in World War 2 Two brothers, neither of whom are true supporters of the Nazi’s end up in the SS through coercion. Through promotion they both slip into a path that leads to them taking part in atrocities. The book is thought provoking and raises questions within the reader as to how you would have dealt with the dilemmas presented. The gradual slip into evil deeds is excruciating and sad as in other circumstances these are reasonable people. It’s like watching a cra Powerful novel of moral dilemma in World War 2 Two brothers, neither of whom are true supporters of the Nazi’s end up in the SS through coercion. Through promotion they both slip into a path that leads to them taking part in atrocities. The book is thought provoking and raises questions within the reader as to how you would have dealt with the dilemmas presented. The gradual slip into evil deeds is excruciating and sad as in other circumstances these are reasonable people. It’s like watching a crash you know is going to happen. Even though the book is translated from the Danish it reads well and keeps your attention throughout. It’s definitely not a feel good read, but does make you think and I can happily recommend it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sadie (formerly known as Lennongirl)

    This was quite a different book/view on Germans during Nazism and WWII. The two main characters are brothers who are neither the pure, evil baddies, nor the bright, shining heroes. They do think of themselves as being "good" people: They despise Hitler, the NSDAP and everything connected to them and their politics. Yet, for various reasons, they can't get away from it and, even more so, get involved. The book is very brutal, the descriptions of both wars (WWI and WWII) are violent and destructiv This was quite a different book/view on Germans during Nazism and WWII. The two main characters are brothers who are neither the pure, evil baddies, nor the bright, shining heroes. They do think of themselves as being "good" people: They despise Hitler, the NSDAP and everything connected to them and their politics. Yet, for various reasons, they can't get away from it and, even more so, get involved. The book is very brutal, the descriptions of both wars (WWI and WWII) are violent and destructive, not to mention the inner struggle of all characters. Plus, the general atmosphere of those times - everybody is frightened, suspicious, a potential threat. That doesn't shine any positive shade on the bad decisions the characters make, but it offers a lot of food for thought. The main message this book gave me is that thinking you're a good, decent human being isn't enough. You also have to act upon it, as soon as possible. As soon as you notice things are getting worse, you have to actively distance youself from it and, in whatever way you can, fight against it. It's some kind of cautionary tale, which is (sadly) very relevant to what goes on in too many parts of the world these days. It was - despite its rather depressing content and tone - an entertaining read overall that kept me thinking about it a lot.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sg

    Very good but extremely dark story about two brothers, Germans, compelled to join the SS in WW2. (Fiction). Not one for the easily depressed!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Dianna

    Review to follow

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Smith

    First, I would like to sincerely thank my friend, Ryan Moore, for suggesting that I read this novel. Since I was 10, I have been fascinated by many of the events that occurred in and shaped American history. At the age of 10, I was blessed to have an amazing 5th grade history teacher who enthralled me with daily lectures about the events that formed this country into what it was at that point in time. And... While I was sickened by the fact that this country and its citizens had been ravaged by First, I would like to sincerely thank my friend, Ryan Moore, for suggesting that I read this novel. Since I was 10, I have been fascinated by many of the events that occurred in and shaped American history. At the age of 10, I was blessed to have an amazing 5th grade history teacher who enthralled me with daily lectures about the events that formed this country into what it was at that point in time. And... While I was sickened by the fact that this country and its citizens had been ravaged by several significant wars, I had also been drawn to learning about all the details recorded about those wars. For example, I was immensely impressed -- even at such a young age -- by the realization that a catastrophic number of American soldiers had bravely fought AND sacrificed their time, effort, and lives in order to secure this country's freedom and independence. And... As a result of the incredible bravery AND ultimate sacrifice demonstrated by that catastrophic number of American soldiers, the generations who have lived following the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War I and World War II could truly experience that our forefathers had founded America on in 1776. Anyway... Needless to say, Ms. Sandra Belaire proved to be the kind of history teacher who piqued my interest and had me sitting on the edge of my seat EACH and EVERY day that I sat in her class. I clung to EACH and EVERY word of her lectures throughout the course of the 5th grade, and I fell in love with history. Although I certainly do not consider myself to be a "history buff" by any means, my love for history has been fed and remained since I was 10. So... After I read the review of WINTER MEN that Ryan Moore posted, I asked him if anyone who truly had acquired an appreciation for history would enjoy reading this novel. When he strongly encouraged me to read WINTER MEN, I just knew that I would have to make time to read this novel for myself. Therefore, having said that... Second, I must say that I truly did enjoy reading WINTER MEN by Jesper Bugge Kold. It is a novel that most definitely did make a remarkable impression on me from the first word to the last. Honestly, I did find the structure of WINTER MEN quite confusing at first. Because this novel only contained parts (ex.: PART 1, PART 2, and PART 3) rather than individual chapters, I must admit that it did take some time for me to become acquainted with the flow of the overall plot. But... Once I was able to navigate the structure of the plot without getting lost, I was able to sink into the details of the plot itself. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I thought that Jesper Bugge Kold did a fantastic job writing this historic fiction novel. In addition, I found WINTER MEN to be a compelling saga that described the lives of two German brothers who lived throughout World War I and World War II. Throughout the course of WINTER MEN, Jesper Bugge Kold painted a heart-wrenching, terrifyingly inspirational picture of the happiness, sadness, and struggle that both Gerhard Strangl and Karl Strangl encountered throughout their lives. From the very beginning of this novel, I found myself enthralled in the individual lives that Gerhard and Karl led. However, I grew emotional and found my heart breaking more and more for both brothers as EACH was forced to enter World War II in Germany. Neither Gerhard nor Karl wanted to serve their homeland during World War II, and each brother had his own reasons for not wanting to fight. However... When neither Gerhard nor Karl could refuse to join World War II and serve Germany, each brother accepted the fate that he had been handed. By the time that Gerhard and Karl submitted to the higher powers commanding and overseeing their actions, each brother could only see one goal: his own survival. Then, by the time that World War II finally did end in 1945, both Gerhard and Karl had to accept the truth about the directions of their lives. Throughout the various twists and turns of WINTER MEN, Jesper Bugge Kold constantly intrigued me because I was always asking the following two questions. First, would it be possible for both Gerhard Strangl and Karl Strangl to survive their consciences and move on with their lives after World War II ended? Second, would one brother prove to be a survivor after World War II ended; while, the other brother gave up and succumbed to his conscience? Third, would neither brother prove to be strong enough to survive a war in which neither one wanted to become involved in the first place? Jesper Bugge Kold's FINAL outcomes for Gerhard Strangl and Karl Strangl both surprised and saddened me.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Alisa

    This is one of my must-reads. A book that makes me think, a book that still has me thinking and haunts me a day after I've finished it, one I'd just like everybody around me to read so I can talk to them about it deserves nothing less than a full five stars. The story centers around two brothers during the Nazi regime in Germany. They are "good" men, with an intense dislike of the Nazis and their politics - they abhor the way the Jews are being treated, disagree with almost everything the Nazis s This is one of my must-reads. A book that makes me think, a book that still has me thinking and haunts me a day after I've finished it, one I'd just like everybody around me to read so I can talk to them about it deserves nothing less than a full five stars. The story centers around two brothers during the Nazi regime in Germany. They are "good" men, with an intense dislike of the Nazis and their politics - they abhor the way the Jews are being treated, disagree with almost everything the Nazis stand for and yet, like most other German citizens at the time, they keep their opinions to themselves, they passively observe yet do not speak out or resist. Shortly before the war breaks out, both end up becoming reluctant members of the SS and each in their own way finds himself actively involved in the war and the atrocities committed. This book is an unsentimental, brutal and yes, depressing story of how "ordinary" citizens, who believe they are essentially "good" people can become caught up in an evil regime and go along with it without actually intending to do so, still believing themselves to be "good", still convincing themselves that they "had no choice" for whatever reason. For me, this was an emotionally hard book to read. The author leaves nothing to the imagination and even though we know what atrocities were committed during WW2, it still doesn't make it easier reading about them here. Normally, in other WW2 novels, the perpetrators aren't the main protagonists, we never get to really know them as a person with feelings and emotions but they are immediately the "evil" guards, officers, etc and that's it. Here, we KNOW the perpetrators, we know about how they lived their lives previously, we know about their families, we know of their dreams and ambitions. And this is what makes the crimes portrayed in the book even more difficult to stomach than usual. The author succeeds in portraying the characters and events so vividly, everyone and everything seems to come to life. His portrayal of the soldiers on the eastern front, and particularly the bombing of Hamburg are so powerful, it's as if you are there in the middle of it all. May I also add that, while this is set in Germany during WW2, I feel it is important to bear in mind that the two brothers could be any nationality. The book shows us just how easy it is to become swept up by a regime and to work with it whether you believe in it or not. In view of the current popularity of far right parties throughout Europe at present and the anti-immigant stance of many countries, you can imagine how easy it is for history to repeat itself.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sorrow (Hanka the bookworm)

    Tahle kniha se mě opravdu hluboce dotkla. Autor vybudoval příběh s naprostou precizností - hraje si se čtenářem - na jedné stránce ho dojme, aby ho hned na druhé naprosto znechutil. Postavy jsou neskutečně živoucí a troufám si tvrdit, že i s Vámi ta kniha pohne. Vedle Hany a Opuštěné společnosti ji řadím mezi trojlístek toho nejlepšího, co jsem letos přečetla. Opravdu si ji nenechte utéct, ale obrňte své city!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Laurie

    First I want to thank NetGalley and the publisher for my ARC for a fair and honest review. This is one of those books that I know will stay with me for a very long time! I had a hard time putting down this well written piece of historical fiction. This is the story of Gerhard and Karl Strangl and covers their lives from pre-WWII in Hamburg, Germany through the end of their lives. The do or die mentality that these men faced throughout WWII was heartbreaking. What would you do if you were in the s First I want to thank NetGalley and the publisher for my ARC for a fair and honest review. This is one of those books that I know will stay with me for a very long time! I had a hard time putting down this well written piece of historical fiction. This is the story of Gerhard and Karl Strangl and covers their lives from pre-WWII in Hamburg, Germany through the end of their lives. The do or die mentality that these men faced throughout WWII was heartbreaking. What would you do if you were in the same boat? I like to think that I would have the courage to stand up to the tyranny that the men faced throughout the war, but I sadly doubt that would be the case. Both men thought they were different from each other, and from the atrocities that they faced, only to find out in the end that they were cut from the same cloth. If you are interested in this era of history, this heartbreaking novel is for you, but it is not for the weak of heart, as it does accurately portray the devastation of war.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    This was a disappointing read for me and it felt in real need of some focus. There are two main story lines for the two main characters. Yet, about halfway through the novel, we are briefly introduced to another perspective. It didn't add much to the story, and in fact, made the novel even less smooth than it was already. In the midst of all of these stories, the reader is introduced to a TON of other characters. There is little to no development of any of these secondary characters, and yet we This was a disappointing read for me and it felt in real need of some focus. There are two main story lines for the two main characters. Yet, about halfway through the novel, we are briefly introduced to another perspective. It didn't add much to the story, and in fact, made the novel even less smooth than it was already. In the midst of all of these stories, the reader is introduced to a TON of other characters. There is little to no development of any of these secondary characters, and yet we are supposed to recall their names and largely insignificant roles at different parts in the novel. The main characters were flat and I didn't care about them or what happened to them at all. Though Bugge Kold certainly researched his topic with regard to time period, he barely scratched the surface on the complex topic of German guilt. In a novel that was supposed to be about German guilt, this was disappointing to say the least. It seemed like the author just wanted to lay down the story and get to the end as soon as possible. That made two of us.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lesley

    This is a story about 2 brothers, Karl and Gerhard! They seem like reasonable good standing well meaning citizens and had good faith in their choices. Instead they were trapped and did things they didn't know they had in them to do and live with. It is thought provoking, even in present day, do people settle and join the other side hoping to make a difference (not realizing the damage]??? I only give the book 4 instead of 5 stars because at times the writing and story went from extremes, some cha This is a story about 2 brothers, Karl and Gerhard! They seem like reasonable good standing well meaning citizens and had good faith in their choices. Instead they were trapped and did things they didn't know they had in them to do and live with. It is thought provoking, even in present day, do people settle and join the other side hoping to make a difference (not realizing the damage]??? I only give the book 4 instead of 5 stars because at times the writing and story went from extremes, some chapters were very intense and others dragged on. A worthy read!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Moore

    This book is excellent! The story of two German brothers caught up in World War II who both serve the Nazis in their own ways gives the reader a unique look into the war. It reminds me of a made for TV movie called "Hitler's SS". The brother angle is central to both. It's deep and detailed in a fantastic way. It's a page turner!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Birgitte Bach

    Uhyre velskrevet og barsk roman, hvor vi følger Anden Verdenskrig fra to tyske brødres synspunkt. Bogen fortæller hvordan det er at se sit land blive grebet af vanvid og opleve det forplante sig til en selv, uanset om man vil eller ej.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kristýna (The Book Talk Blog)

    Recenze: http://thebooktalkblog.blogspot.cz/20... Vynikající kniha, ovšem velmi náročná a rozhodně ne pro každého. Recenze bude brzy!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Keith Currie

    Into the maelstrom Two middle class German brothers, one a business man, the other an academic, neither of them Nazis, find themselves increasingly drawn into a whirlpool of acceptance, participation and direct control of Nazi atrocities and war crimes. Written in a simple objective style, the brothers are caught in a trap which will destroy themselves and their families. Terrifyingly plausible.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    This is a difficult book to review. We are viewing WWII through the eyes of two German brothers. It took me awhile to read. I kept putting down the book. It is a bitter source of conflict. My positive outlook on life wants to believe the action of the brothers was self preservation. But no, it was not just war. It was murder. This War destroyed cities, families, homes, lives and the character of many good men.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Rich

    I thought Winter Men was a well written alternative viewpoint to the German SS and the Nazi party. A viewpoint Americans don't find in average media too often. I do agree that maybe the character development was a little lacking but that's really about all I can find to complain about. I was riveted the entire length of the book. Is this a story of good people doing bad things? Leaves you wondering if that's the case.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Anthony

    This is a very good book. Not great, but very good. Later I will go into what I think could have made it even better than it is. Some spoilers will follow, one of which isn’t much of a spoiler: this is a story of WWII, so we should all know how that turned out. The good guys won. It is interesting that I say that, in that in this novel by Jesper Bugge Kold, the protagonists are Germans who think they are the good guys. The novel follows the lives of a family whose existence is intertwined with th This is a very good book. Not great, but very good. Later I will go into what I think could have made it even better than it is. Some spoilers will follow, one of which isn’t much of a spoiler: this is a story of WWII, so we should all know how that turned out. The good guys won. It is interesting that I say that, in that in this novel by Jesper Bugge Kold, the protagonists are Germans who think they are the good guys. The novel follows the lives of a family whose existence is intertwined with the rising tide of Nazism. A tide that is buoying up the fortunes of one part of that family for sure. The book bounces back and forth between various times and places, with each chapter having a location and date to begin that chapter. Within the first few pages we find out the fate of the two main characters, and meet one at an advanced age, hiding out in South America. However the largest body of the book deals with a very standard style linear story. We meet Karl Strangl, a successful business man whose clothing manufacture company is only becoming more successful with the rising call for uniforms for the growing branches of the Nazi military, and its ancillary organizations, seemingly all of which require a uniform of some sort. The other main character is Karl’s brother, Gerhard. A university professor, Gerhard is, like his brother Karl, a veteran of the Great War (WWI). Karl Strangl, has a family that we meet. His wife Ingrid, as well as, his teenage son August, and his teenage daughter Hilde. He also has young twins, Maximillian and Sophia. Gerhard however, is alone; his wife and daughter both dead. All in the Strangl family express a mix of private distain for the Nazi’s treatment of people’s human rights, while also a grudging appreciation for how they seem to be making the country prosper and grow in respect. In private they joke about those in the party, and even Hitler himself, and yet still take part in the prosperity that the horrific policies of the party make possible. Both brothers feel like a time is approaching when Germans must fight for Germany. Karl is a patriot, supporting his country, while still feeling he doesn’t support the Nazi’s. Gerhard just wants to finish his book; he is writing a history of math. Both brothers will find themselves pulled into the Nazi party in a more tangible way, through misadventure in both cases. In the case of Gerhard, it is his intellectual distain for the flag waving fiancé of Karl’s daughter Hilde. Hilde’s boyfriend is Heinz, a young man who believes that Hitler can do nothing wrong. When Gerhard tells one of the jokes about Hitler that all the kid’s clamor for, he will not know until many years later that Heinz sought petty revenge on him. Gerhard is reported to the Gestapo, and recruited by them and later into the SS. Karl will try to get his brother out, knowing this isn’t the life for him, only to find himself drafted into a role as member of the SS. From here the book finds us following the brothers and the men they serve with, as the nation they love moves toward war. Karl, in the beginning, working on moving supplies for the war at the eastern front, feeling like this will be a swift victory for the German armed forces. He fantasizes that once Germany’s enemies are vanquished, perhaps “good” Germans like himself, can rid the country of Hitler. Meanwhile, Gerhard finds himself working in numbers, figuring out how to move people and commodities efficiently. He is far from the war he thinks, knowing that kind of life isn’t for him; he isn’t a warrior like his brother. Both of these situations won’t last for long. We also follow the war experiences of Karl’s gentle son August, as he experiences it at the Russian front. August is an interestingly tragic character. He may be less a believer of Nazi philosophy than any other person we meet. Not a fighter, not a believer in any of Hitler’s philosophy, August just wants to make his beloved father proud. One of the ironies of the father and son is how little Karl knows about his son’s feelings toward him. August will die a filthy and ignoble death, and some of his last thoughts will be of his father and the home they lived in, but Karl will feel that he never really knew his boy. What makes this book interesting is its exploration of the idea that even people who think they are good people, may be capable of evil; may be doing evil and calling it loyalty to country. It’s jarring when Karl and Gerhard do more and more horrific things as time goes by. They start out saying they won’t be the ones that do terrible things even as those around them do awful things, they won’t do such things. But time passes, things happen around and to them, and they do the kind of things that at the beginning of the book, they would say that they could never do. This is jarring for the reader because most of the time we begin, as readers to sympathize with and see things through the eyes of the “heroes” of a story. We react to the main characters as if they are the people we vicariously live through. When Gerhard beats a girl to death at a concentration camp, when Karl orders the murder of hundreds of men, women, and children, it is a gut punch. My reason for giving this book one less star is due to what I see as some lost opportunities. If this had been a longer book we could have spent more time with August, his struggle to get by as a soldier without becoming something he hates is very moving. But there are also a few other people that get even less space, and I feel they had interesting stories to be told. Hilde and Heinz are seen only on a couple of pages after the early part of the novel. Gerhard finds out it was Heinz who informed on him but Heinz is already dead with his now pregnant wife Hilde. We are shown glimpses of Hilde’s personality, and she seems to be hiding more depth that her family doesn’t see. We hear from Heinz that he is kicked out of the army because he could not continue to do the unthinkable things he was asked to do, and was discharged do to “mental health problems.” Both are dead without any backstory. Ingrid, Karl’s wife is also a very luminous character, seeming to have depth we never get to look into further. Her hatred of the Nazi’s and what they do is even less thinly veiled than others, but she also is completely sure there isn’t a lot a woman can do to make any difference. Late in the novel after she left her husband when she found out about an affair he had with a health care worker while convalescing after a bustle injury, she returns after Karl commits suicide. Gerhard finds her there and she tells him she is leaving this country. Gerhard thinks she should wait, go with him, insinuating they are family and should stick together. Ingrid’s reaction is, for me one of the great small moments in the book. Something that today we might call a, you have got to be joking, reaction. There are other characters that could have used more time. I see a missed opportunity. I don’t know if this is something that is more about the writer or about editing. We follow Gerhard to his final moments laying in a bed in Bolivia as an elderly man. He has waited for this ending his whole life. His lonely existence finally over, he realizes he has always been a frozen winter man. His life suspended and meaningless. I think the best epitaph and coda for this story comes earlier I think however, when Karl makes the decision to end his life with a bullet. Karl’s experiences a sudden realization, that the real reason he did what he did in his life after the Nazi’s took power, wasn’t because he thought he was supporting his nation, wasn’t because he thought nothing he did would make a difference. He sees that he did what he did because he always felt he could be a good man and still support an evil national philosophy. He thought he was different than the others that totally believed what the Nazi’s were selling, but now he sees that no, he was just like them; too weak and afraid of the cost of actually being different, he was no different at all.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    This is a slow burner of a story that gets better as it goes along. It is about two men, Gerhard an introverted university maths professor and his older brother Karl who runs, but with little enthusiasm, the family clothing manufacturer business set up by their late father. Both men have not really had to face up to the realities of Nazi Germany as yet. Both hope it will just go away but of course it doesn't. Karl, who fought in WW1, is eventually glad to escape his work life and the prospect of This is a slow burner of a story that gets better as it goes along. It is about two men, Gerhard an introverted university maths professor and his older brother Karl who runs, but with little enthusiasm, the family clothing manufacturer business set up by their late father. Both men have not really had to face up to the realities of Nazi Germany as yet. Both hope it will just go away but of course it doesn't. Karl, who fought in WW1, is eventually glad to escape his work life and the prospect of a commission in the SS by volunteering to fight again as an NCO in the Wehrmacht, but Gerhard is first dragged unwillingly and under threat into informing for the Gestapo and then as a preferable alternative into the transport department of the SS. Both will eventually have to face up to witnessing and then perpetrating acts of real evil during the conflict and what that has done to them as human beings once the war is over. It was a really good exploration of the moral dilemmas any of us could face if living under an oppressive, dictatorial regime that goes to war. How would we react in the face of tyranny? Sad to say I think that not knowing the outcome I might take the perceived route of least personal pain as travelled by Gerhard. What was also interesting was the telling of the nightmare fire storm that the Allied bombing inflicted on Hamburg late in the war. I read The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook last year which deals with the same subject but this treatment was better.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    I have read many books on this period in history. My father-in-law came to the United States before World War II. He had a hard time with people accusing him of being a Nazi, so my husband doesn't really like me to read about this period. The book is in three parts, and the first part seemed to go on forever. It gave the background of the two brother's, and others in the story. I found it interesting to see the story through the eyes of German people, even though the novel was written by a Dane. I have read many books on this period in history. My father-in-law came to the United States before World War II. He had a hard time with people accusing him of being a Nazi, so my husband doesn't really like me to read about this period. The book is in three parts, and the first part seemed to go on forever. It gave the background of the two brother's, and others in the story. I found it interesting to see the story through the eyes of German people, even though the novel was written by a Dane. My father-in-law's family lived in Hamburg during the war, so it was hard for me to read the third part, which dealt with the bombing of Hamburg, and the terrible fires, that killed many people. My father-in-law never talked about the war, or what his family went through. He sponsored several German's to come to this country, and he mailed many packages to Germany to help his family. He wouldn't let his children learn to speak German, or he would not pass on any of the German cultural things he had loved in his country of birth. I wanted him to speak German to our children when they were little, but he wouldn't. He said he and his family were Americans. As I read, I wondered what the German relatives went through during the war. Some of the German people were forced to do evil things. There were also psychopaths, who loved to do brutal evil things. I have read many books on the war from other perspectives, and this was the first one I have read from the point of view of the German soldiers. I didn't know there was a concentration came 15 miles outside of Hamburg. This was a sad read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Colleen Lahey

    It's hard for me to describe how this book made me feel. I've read my fair share of books about World War II and the Holocaust. The books I've read have either been about soldier's viewpoints (our guys) fighting in the war or survivors of the concentration camps. The author chose to present a different story here. This one portrays two German brothers who are coerced into serving the SS or the Gestapo. The things they eventually do are horrifying and scare themselves. In the end, they do not eve It's hard for me to describe how this book made me feel. I've read my fair share of books about World War II and the Holocaust. The books I've read have either been about soldier's viewpoints (our guys) fighting in the war or survivors of the concentration camps. The author chose to present a different story here. This one portrays two German brothers who are coerced into serving the SS or the Gestapo. The things they eventually do are horrifying and scare themselves. In the end, they do not even recognize the men they have become. The author attempts to demonstrate how ordinary citizens can be caught up in extraordinary situations. Sometimes I found myself empathetic and other times confused as to what I would have done if I had been placed in similar situations. The ultimate ending for the two siblings left me ambivalent as well. I can say that I found the book fascinating as it is the first time I have ever read a book from this perspective. I wish to thank the publisher and Goodreads for providing this advance reading copy for my review. It was an interesting read and I believe that anyone interested in World War II will be interested in this unique view of the war.

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