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Winter Garden Paperback – January 4, 2011
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Top Customer Reviews
At the start of "Winter Garden," we meet two pre-teen sisters, Meredith and Nina Whitson. We see them briefly act in a play, a story their mother has told them that seems to be of a worthy, yet poor, young woman, her sister, and the prince who rescues her. But the play angers and upsets their mother, Anya, who cannot tell them why; this makes them vow never to try to please their mother again.
Then we see them as full-fledged adults -- Meredith, the nurturer, someone who takes on difficult jobs around the house and at her job without praise or fanfare and is running herself into the ground, and Nina, the prize-winning and world-renowned photojournalist, who takes on difficult jobs in various countries photographing people (mostly in war zones) and is running herself into the ground in a wholly different way. Meredith is married, with two children in college, but her marriage is in trouble because she can't communicate; Nina is in a long-term relationship but can't admit she loves her boyfriend because she isn't able to communicate. Both place their problems in communication solely on their cold, quiet mother Anya's shoulders, and both idolize their father, Evan -- a bluff, hearty, good-humored man who brings out the best in his wife and daughters. Neither daughter knows why Evan married Anya, nor why Anya seems to hate them.
But the story of Evan and Anya rests squarely on the shoulders of a deeper, richer and more profound love story of another, younger woman -- a story neither Nina nor Meredith knows, but Evan knows and accepts. This is the reason why Evan, on his deathbed, asks both his daughters to please try to get Anya to tell them the rest of the story about the prince, the worthy young woman and her sister -- all of it. And this promise changes everything . . . .
Because so very much of "Winter Garden" relies heavily on the story Anya tells her daughters in fits and starts, I am unable to give you too much information because it would spoil your reading experience. I will say, however, that this novel is not to be missed; Anya's far more than a cold, reserved woman, and her love story with Evan is only a small part of what she's endured over time and throughout her life. And once her daughters figure this out, their view of their mother -- as well as their view of themselves -- changes. Forever.
I believe this is a story that women, their daughters, their friends, and most men will enjoy; it is a story of hope, fear, death, friendship, sacrifice, honor, and history. It is also about fate, second chances, and personal redemption; it is a profoundly satisfying reading experience.
Just a shade under five stars (I rounded up for Amazon's purposes), highly recommended.
There have been many novels lately that flip back and forth between the past and the present, many revolving around wartime. Personally I like that, it is like reading two novels in one. We have seen this in Shanghai Girls, on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Whiskey Island, and countless others. This one gives us an intimate look at Leningrad survivors in the Russian/German war. It varies in the fact that the past is presented as a fairy tale by the Russian mother of two American born daughters. All three are strong-willed and feeling incomplete and do not relate well to each other. As adults, grief unites them and a death-bed promise forces them to face and come to know each other as well as themselves.
It starts as the two young daughters Meredith and Nina fail time and again in seeking affection from their cold, distant mother. When they were young their mother would tell them this fairy tale at night, practically the only communication they had between them at the time. It mesmerized them, leaving them wanting more, but the story telling stopped suddenly and does not continue until their adulthood when circumstances brings about the completion of the tale. In actuality the "fairy tale" is the story of their mother's young life in Russia. This tale is the highlight of this novel, and as we move into the second half, this is where the reader gets drawn in as we get more of the story of young Anya and all we've wondered about is brought to light. The author did a wonderful job of evoking every emotion from a mothers and a daughters perspective. The description of war-torn Leningrad is something I won't easily forget. It is atrocious how often it happened in wartime that foreign armies separated children from their parents, and how unfathomly emotional that separation had to be for parent and child...just one aspect of war. I cannot even imagine a hunger so bad, or cold that is so harsh that the children could hardly open their frozen eyelids without bleeding.... and the strength required to get through it all. Most did not. My heart broke and real tears streamed down my face at this mothers plight to save her children, from the hunger, the cold, the war... reminding us once again that war is the ugliest atrocity that mankind has brought upon itself in its quest for power.
In the present day story, the visit to Alaska by the three women, the look at Sitka and the history there, and the ending of the novel was extremely satisfying. Even the title is perfect, Winter Garden. It is one of those novels that you keep thinking about long after you close the book. Hannah has matured as a novelist. Her characters are real, the emotions powerful, the writing captivating. Highly recommended.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Excessive description that made it a...Read more
A beautiful story of life, love,and loss. Worth the read.