When the Germans arrived in Paris in 1940, it initially appeared that life could go on as usual for the French. They soon learned this was not to be. Though the government was willing to bow down to Hitler and the German forces, many of the country's citizens were not. As the resistance formed and gained strength a number of women came out in support. They were mothers, daughters, wives, and sisters -- teachers, doctors, dentists -- some as young as 14. At a time when they were considered secondary citizens, these women were able to slide under the radar, at least in the beginning. Though many of them would perish in Auschwitz, their heroism will not be forgotten.
Caroline Moorehead explores the history of the French resistance in A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France. It's interesting to note that at the time of her research, 2008, only a small handful of the women still remained. The ones who were able shared their stories and offered great insight into this remarkable story.
While this is certainly a fascinating piece of history, I did find that Moorehead's approach was a bit muddled. The opening chapters are filled with names of resistance participants and small pieces of their backstory, but there are so many of them that they quickly become confusing -- unless you were to take notes along the way. I found myself flipping back and forth trying to remember someone's background as we came across them again further down the line.
I should point out -- for any potential readers who come across my post -- there's a very helpful appendix in the back of the book listing the women and their background notes. Had I paid attention to the table of contents, I likely would have saved myself a lot of confusion! But now I'm able to tell you it's there and you can benefit.
Another thing I struggled with through the first half of the book was the organization. Moorehead skips back and forth in time, moving forward a bit and back again over and over. My own preference would have been a more linear timeline just to help keep the story straight.
While I had some issues with the overall organization, Moorehead's style is certainly not overly academic. In fact, I think she falls in the middle in terms of a well-written look at a very important chapter of history that will be respected by scholars and appealing to a more general audience as well.
A Train in Winter was a challenging read, but one that I think is important for so many reasons.
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