Archive for the ‘Caroline Moorehead’ Category

Subject to correction about how to post here…..Arrived at this posting place quite by accident, I think.  Anyway……

As mentioned last time we met, I’m reading a book about the Resistance movement(s) in France in early World War II, and a difficult read it is. In fact, since we met, I’ve advanced at a snail’s pace. Or should I say, at the rate of a tired escargot, creating a dull short trail. Barely 100 pages read in two weeks, not exactly the track record of an eager experienced reader.

A Train in Winter-Book coverThe work is “A Train in Winter”, by Caroline Moorehead, which I learned of it from a recent “high high praise” Washington Post book review. Spoke of it with a friend who had previously loaned me Sarah’s Key, and she gave me the book for Christmas.

From the review, I knew that certain women who were in the French resistance movement would be introduced, and that following discovery of their activities, they would be imprisoned, and then deported to camps in foreign parts. This was to be followed by a narrative showing how, as a group, they supported each other in prolonged miserable captivity, and so survived the war in greater numbers than one would have expected. OK, it was going to be the story of hope despite horrendous circumstances, triumph of the will to live due to sisterly love and caring, feminine solidarity. It would also showcase a group neglected in World War 2 narratives: the non-Jewish victims of Naziism who, because of principled stands against Fascism, were also incarcerated in concentration camps, treated inhumanely, and caused to die in significant numbers.

Not exactly the story you seek out for pleasure or distraction, but one which fits into a special category Cathie described, as we discussed the subject when I drove her in the direction of home–one which bears witness, honors that which deserves attention, however difficult that might be to give. I knew–or at least thought I knew -exactly what she meant: that same impulse which makes me watch every minute of the slideshow of war dead which often follows The PBS News Hour: the pictures, names and ages of our military dead of the moment. I feel compelled to watch their faces and identity details, whether or not I agree with the decisions that sent them to war, and whether or not I believe in the cause they supposedly died for. It just seems that as a citizen of this country, I owe them that much, to watch as they are personally described. And in a very similar way, for reasons of the same sort, I’ve so far continued to read A Train in Winter, though I’d much rather put it aside, and turn my attention to something else. It would, however, seem a betrayal of everything the women it describes stood for, and all they suffered, if I closed the book definitively, put it on the pile of unreads, knowing that despite any promise to myself to get back to it soon, that no, I really wouldn’t.

Because so far, it’s almost unbearably saddening and oppressive. An intimately-described story of bravery and courage, shown pitted against true blind evil, of the kind which will prevail over goodness of any kind, mow down anything thrown against it, at least in the initial phases of struggle. The women are teenagers, young mothers and wives, grandmothers. Their country is occupied, at first with a relatively light hand, against which they rise up or are recruited to defend with what we’d probably call arms of civil rights–words, ideas, group actions of propaganda. As the repression increases, so do their efforts, and the risks they face. While they might in early months of danger have been questioned and released for their “doings” by the foreign powers which took over their country, as both the French and their German occupiers engaged in higher levels of opposition and repression, the women were imprisoned and then tortured in increasing numbers, with complicity of collaborating French authorities. And the men these women loved and worked with were at the same time being executed for deeds of patriotism and resistance, or simply as reprisal victimes, for deeds of others they had no physical part in causing.

So–that’s where I am. Maybe a third through the book, with the background set for a heavy hammer of inhumane political power falling arbitrarily on these women acting in the interests of the country and beliefs they hold dear. With the knowledge that their story will be getting much much worse before it ends–or doesn’t–in that triumph of humanity mentioned in the Post review. There is much suffering to come, that’s for sure.

I don’t want to meet with you again, and tell you I couldn’t proceed with this book, but just set it aside. And I don’t want to read any more of it right now, either, anticipating descriptions of these women’s great suffering, followed by accounts telling which of them survived captivity, and who among them did not.

Not taking the definitive step of starting another book, am not proceeding for the moment because (I tell myself), am looking for a recipe of a tea/coffee/breakfast pastry my grandmother used to make, a search I gave up earlier, but am now taking up again. What she made for us looked a lot like a small compact croissant, but wasn’t one, really-was denser, and lightly sweeter. She called it a rugelah, but it wasn’t at all what’s sold today with that name–they’re crusty, while hers were definitely yeast dough-based, though not fluffy or like rolls in any way. I’ve found a sparse Hungarian cookbook which has a recipe for yeast “crescents”, and it looks promising. Will let you know how they turn out. And eventually, will also let you know if I’ve gone back to A Train in Winter and, if so, how far I’ve progressed.


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