Publication Date: Sep 27, 2016
List Price US $14.99
List Price US $28.95
Trim Size (H x W): 6 x 9
Set in Denmark in the darkest days of World War II, The Second Winter is a cinematic novel that, in its vivid portrayal of a family struggling to survive the German occupation, both captures a savage moment in history and exposes the violence and want inherent in a father’s love.
It is 1941. In occupied Denmark, an uneasy relationship between the Danish government and the Germans allows the country to function under the protection of Hitler’s army, while Danish resistance fighters wage a bloody, covert battle against the Nazis. Fredrik Gregersen, a brutish, tormented caretaker of a small farm in Jutland laboring to keep his son and daughter fed, profits from helping Jewish fugitives cross the border into Sweden. Meanwhile, in Copenhagen, Polina, a young refugee from Krakow, finds herself impressed into prostitution by Germans and Danes alike. When Fredrik steals a precious necklace from a helpless family of Jews, his own family’s fate becomes intertwined with Polina’s, triggering a ripple effect that will take decades and the fall of the Berlin Wall to culminate.
Excerpt from The Second Winter
The diesel engine settled into an unsteady idle, sputtered, then came to an abrupt stop. The hydraulic system hissed, the door swung open. A man dressed in a green uniform climbed the stairs. His eyes darted up the aisle. Angela looked down at her fingers. The cheap ring Lutz had bought her five years before, when they were finally married, caught the diffused sunlight like a small chunk of plastic. Lutz was having an affair. They had never spoken about his infidelity, but Lutz didn’t try to hide it. She didn’t want him to. It was worse to lie to each other, wasn’t it? Relax, Angela, relax. She reached for her throat, through the fabric of her dress touched a diamond and sapphire pendant dangling from a delicate platinum chain around her neck, made certain that it remained hidden beneath her collar.
When she dared to raise her eyes again, the border patrolman was three steps up the aisle, pacing slowly. Another soldier, shielded from view, was on board as well, speaking to the driver in German so guttural that he could have been choking. The patrolman’s uniform was perfectly pressed. There was something fastidious about him, something precise. He was wearing glasses an engineer would wear. Even from this distance, Angela could see how immaculate the lenses were. His features were fine, his skin unshaven but smooth. The hair visible below the rim of his cap was clipped short, close to the scalp. When their eyes connected, Angela froze. She dropped her gaze, straightened the ring on her finger, forced herself to breathe.
“[A] richly narrated story that brings the horrors of the Holocaust and the merciless depravities that accompany war into vivid focus. There is a remarkable cinematic quality to the novel, from the barrenness of Jutland to what remains of the glitter of Copenhagen. An absolute page-turner and a discussion-group leader’s dream.” —Booklist
“Larsen creates a darkly sensual world in which evil impulses often triumph, but not always.” – Kirkus Review
“A great historical novel, a touching family saga, and a noir wartime thriller all rolled into one terrific narrative.” —Lee Child, New York Times best-selling author
- At the center of The Second Winter is Polina, and an image of her graces the cover of the book. What do you make of her? Does she remain mysterious over the course of the novel or does she emerge clearly as a character?
- Have you read any other novels about Denmark during the Second World War? How are they different? How are they similar?
- Oskar thinks, “War can make criminals of heroes and heroes of criminals” (p 400). Who is a hero in The Second Winter? Who is a criminal? Do you think the line between the two can be easily delineated?
- How does your impression of or understanding of Fredrik change over the course of the novel? Do you ever feel sympathetic toward him?
- How does Polina’s arrival at Fredrik’s Jutland farm change his family?
- Why do you think Fredrik treats his children with such harshness? Do you agree with Polina when she says to him, “I think you’re pushing them away from you before they leave you first” (p 296)?
- Describe the relationship between Fredrik and Polina. Did it ever make you feel uncomfortable?
- Why is it that Polina doesn’t stay with Oskar, doesn’t go to America with him? Consider what she thinks on page 329, “This was the man to whom she belonged now—wasn’t it?”
- On page 400 Angela asks Oskar, “Was he a good man, my father?” Do you think her father was a good man? After finishing the novel, do you feel like circumstances determine a person’s character, or that one’s character remains the same, no matter the circumstances?
- What kind of a father is Fredrik Gregersen? What kind of a father is Hermann Schmidt? What do you think of the portrait of fatherhood that The Second Winter paints?