Excerpt from A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Meal in Winter

A Novel of World War II

by Hubert Mingarelli

A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli X
A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2016, 144 pages
    Oct 2018, 144 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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THEY HAD RUNG the iron gong outside and it was still echoing, at first for real in the courtyard, and then, for a longer time, inside our heads.We would not hear it again. We had to get up straight away. Lieutenant Graaf never had to ring the iron twice. A meagre light came through the frost-covered window. Emmerich was sleeping on his side. Bauer woke him. It was late afternoon, but Emmerich thought it was morning. He sat up on his bed and looked at his boots, seeming not to understand why he'd slept in them all night.

In the meantime, Bauer and I had already put our boots on. Emmerich got up and went to look through the window, but he couldn't see anything because of the frost, so he kept on struggling to disentangle night from day. Bauer explained to him that it was afternoon and Graaf was calling us.

'What, again?' Emmerich groaned. 'What for? So we can freeze to death?

' 'Hurry up,' I told him.

'You're kidding,' Emmerich replied. 'Why should I hurry just so I can freeze while I'm standing to attention?'

We felt the same way as him. The whole company did. Why did Lieutenant Graaf need to muster us outside? Wasn't he afraid of the cold, like we were?We could just as easily have heard what he had to say standing by our camp beds here in the warm. Presumably he didn't think it was formal enough, talking to us inside a gymnasium. He'd had a piece of old iron hung from a telephone pole, and we hated the noise it made when it was rung, that sinister chime, even more than the cold that awaited us outside.We had no choice – we obeyed orders – but all the same, it took courage to go out in weather like that.

We had put on our coats, and wound our scarves several times around our necks, tying them behind. Next came the wool balaclava. Completely covered except for our eyes, we went out into the gymnasium courtyard. Bauer, Emmerich and I were the last ones out there.

We were used to it, we knew what to expect, and yet the cold always came as a shock. It seemed as if it entered through your eyes and spread through your whole body, like icy water pouring through two holes. The others were already there, lined up and shivering.While we found our places among them, they hissed at us that we were arseholes for making the whole company wait like that. We said nothing. We got in line. And, when everyone had stopped shuffling their feet to get warm, Graaf, our lieutenant, told us that there would be more arrivals that day, but late probably, so the work was scheduled for the following day, and that this time our company would be taking care of it. I had the same thought as everyone else: was that all? Couldn't he have told us that inside?

Graaf could not tell how it made us feel to know that there would be more arrivals that day. He couldn't see if we were whispering behind our scarves. All he could see was our eyes. And from that distance, he could not yet guess who would report sick the following day.

He hadn't told us how many were coming. He knew it made a difference to us, that it was important. Because if a lot came, he worried that we'd start reporting sick that night.

He nodded, turned around, and went to the officers' mess.

We could have broken rank now and gone back inside, but we didn't. We stayed where we were. Earlier, we would have given almost anything not to have to go outside, and yet we waited before returning to the warm. Perhaps it was because of the work that awaited us the following day. Or because we were already frozen inside, so a few minutes more made no difference.

Now they were outside anyway, the soldiers in charge of the stove that night took the opportunity to fill their buckets with coal. Bauer and I were looking over at the officers' mess because apparently they had a bathtub.We'd been talking about it when the iron sounded. I told Bauer that, in the old days, I'd saved up to have a bathtub fitted. We often used that phrase. We often said 'in the old days', partly as a joke, but not entirely. Emmerich came towards us. He tried not to show us his distress. He had dark rings around his eyes from sleeping during the day.

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Excerpted from A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli. Copyright © 2016 by Hubert Mingarelli. Excerpted by permission of The New Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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