Caroline Moorehead’s A Train in Winter tells the stories of the women who participated in and were largely responsible for the Resistance during the occupation of France during World War 2. They were publishers, writers, scientists, nurses. They were mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, and lovers. And they were absolutely crucial to the movement for which so many of them were willing to give up their lives.
The stories of the women are impossible to comment on. Their experiences embody a reality for which incomprehensible is an inadequate adjective. Their strength and the dignity with which they represented themselves and their country are the likewise the strength, arguably the only strength, of this book.
In terms of content, yes, Moorehead got this one right. Her depiction of occupied France and the ways in which she characterizes the women about whom she writes are moving and inspiring. However, the mechanical limitations of the book are enough to slow even the most rapacious of readers.
The book’s inconsistent pacing makes for a tough read, the first half of the book a tedious compendium of names and dates and vague character descriptions. At the book’s halfway point, however, the pacing increases rapidly, and the last half of the book is a quick read. In this case, the trudge up the hill of the narrative arc is in every way followed by a speedy slide into the book’s resolution. In order to get to that resolution, however, the reader must be willing to stick with the story.
Since reading is, in its most basic function, a form of communication, syntax is absolutely crucial for success. Moorehead’s sentence structure, however, leaves much to be desired. Varying sentence structure is undeniably important in good writing; however, when the reader is forced to constantly reread passages because of misplaced modifiers and awkward placement of dependent clauses, the overall success of the writing can be called questionable, if nothing else.
While the book is, overall, a success, it would have been nice to see more development of the women themselves, as the subtitle suggests, in the first half of the book. The details given in the first half of the book seem to barely skim the surface of their participation and importance to the French Resistance cause.