A Meal In Winter by Hubert Mingarelli

“As we ate, and the soup disappeared, the music changed. The spoons made more noise in the mugs and the saucepan. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Emmerich murmured, ‘We should let him go.'”

A white snowflake embroidered on the hat of a Jew held captive. A salami and half an onion to go with the Italians’ cornmeal which will make soup. A hope that a soldier’s son left at home should not start smoking. And what do these things have in common? Nothing but what they represent: a life without hate. A life without suffering. A life without war.

Emmerich, Bauer, and the narrator beg their commanding officer to be allowed to go hunting. For if they set off in the freezing cold, succeed in finding a Jew, and bring him back, they will not have to be a part of the executions on the base.

When Emmerich sees a group of trees with less frost on them than others, he discovers the hiding place of a young Jew. As the four of them make their way back to base, they discover an abandoned house along the way. Stopping there, they put the Jew in the storeroom, and proceed to make a meal which requires burning almost every piece of wood they can find: chairs, cupboards, doors.

The hot meal gives them comfort, until they must face what to do with their prisoner. For by including him in the merest resemblance of life, a meal, they have taken away his prisoner status.

It is a dreadful irony; who is the hunter and who is the hunted? Surely our guilt, surely our memory, surely our humanity, will torment us about all the others even if we let one prisoner get away.

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11 thoughts on “A Meal In Winter by Hubert Mingarelli”

  1. Great review, Bellezza. Mingarelli packs so much into such a short novella, doesn't he? It's very atmospheric with vivid descriptions of the bitterly cold conditions. Even though I read it on a relatively mild spring day, it left me craving a bowl of hot soup.

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  2. I, too, love books with moral dilemmas. It seems the older I get, and the more I read, the less I am interested in plots which merely tell a story. I want to muddle through a difficult situation with the characters, or be left wondering what I would have done in their place.

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  3. I like how your review went further into the story to include the savage Pole, and how he influenced the course of events. I'm always afraid of telling too much, but then perhaps I leave the reader with too little.

    I can't say I was very hungry for their particular soup; they didn't sound like good cooks to me. But, I had so much compassion for their hunger and their need for warmth. If not also safety and peace.

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  4. Hmmm, now I'm wondering what Goodreads has to say about it. They're not a resource I use very often, so it doesn't occur to me to go there straight away. In any case, yes, you must have it.

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