Book review: A Winters Day in 1939 by Melinda Szymanik

cv_a_winters_day_in_1939This book is in bookstores now

It’s always interesting when you read a book about a well-known event and an entirely different perspective is presented that makes you pause and think. As the cover of this book suggests, it is set in World War II and the narrator is Adam, a 12 year-old Polish boy whose family are uprooted and relocated to various labour camps in Russia.

Reminiscent of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, the main character, an adventurous boy named Adam, has no idea what is actually happening to him; the political background remains unspoken. Of course, as readers in 2012 we know the unspeakable terrors of World War II are not far away.

I really like the authentic voice that this character has – he is undeniably his age, and he never quite comes to grip with why the events that unfold in this book (and his life) actually happen. It’s easy to believe in this young character, who is in fact the author’s father.

Melinda Szymanik has skilfully managed to recreate her father’s young persona and avoids any temptation to preach, inform, or explain this war. Adam never becomes bitter and jaded, he still notices the small wonders of life and is resolute in his will to survive.

The book opens with the family’s idyllic life on a farm awarded to Adam’s father for military service. They are hard working, and enjoy a comfortable and fruitful, if not wealthy, life. But the new authorities have decided the farm should be re-gifted to another man and rather suddenly, the family are ousted from their farm and find themselves heading to places unknown. Their imposed long train journey starts in a cattle wagon and finishes in what appears to be a concentration camp albeit without the gas chambers. Disease, death and hunger accompany this family through their enforced journeys through a vast area we would know as Russia and Persia.

Weeks, months and years pass. The end, when it comes, is thrust upon Adam’s family as suddenly as that first train trip was thrust upon them. This plight of displaced persons during World War II makes a sobering read, but this is a tale of survival and although Adam’s family is changed beyond recognition through their experience, there is a happily ever after.

Reviewed by Gillian Torckler

A Winters Day in 1939
By Melinda Szymanik
Published by Scholastic
ISBN 9781775430308

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