Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family apple orchard: the other followed a dream and traveled the world to become a famous photojournalist. But when their beloved father falls ill, Meredith and Nina find themselves together again, standing alongside their cold, disapproving mother, Anya, who even now, offers no comfort to her daughters. As children, the only connection between them was the Russian fairy tale Anya sometimes told the girls at night. On his deathbed, their father extracts a promise from the women in his life: the fairy tale will be told one last time – and all the way to the end. Thus begins an unexpected journey into the truth of Anya’s life in war-torn Leningrad, more than five decades ago. Alternating between the past and present, Meredith and Nina will finally hear the singular, harrowing story of their mother’s life, and what they learn is a secret so terrible and terrifying that it will shake the very foundation of their family and change who they believe they are.
I was a bit leery of this book. For one, it doesn’t look like the type of book I would normally pick up. I know that may come off as odd, but I’m not usually attracted to the frilly/girly type covers. However this is the book my local book club is reading and I really wanted to participate in it.
Initially, I found it difficult to really get into the book. The book has a slow start and it was difficult to read about how broken Meredith and Nina are. I know there’s supposed to be some ounce of sympathy, but I didn’t feel anything for the characters. Each were so self-centered that it was difficult to feel anything but contempt for them. Even as sad as their father’s passing, it’s not until Nina returns several months later that the story began to get interesting.
Though they have always felt their mother despised them, I was aware there was clearly more to the story than complete indifference for her daughters. Because let’s face it, had she truly despised them, this wouldn’t have made much of a book. At least not for this type of genre. In truth, Anya is the only reason I continued reading this book. Though she seemed odd and shut off, her behavior made her that more interesting. This book may be about two sisters discovering the mother for the first time, but it is Anya and her terribly tragic and heartbreaking tale that steals the spotlight.
Ironically, much like my initial reaction to the book, this story was not what it seemed to be. As a mother, my heart broke every time Anya began telling her fairytale. A tale that is actually an account of her life in Russia during World War II. I’m a huge sucker for historical stories. As long as the point isn’t to make it into a romance novel, I can easily devour these types of books. It leaves me wanting to learn more about the era and the life. My interest in the past becomes an all consuming monster, hungry for more. I actually had to refrain from trying to check out every book I could find about this. That’s how fantastic this book is. It inspired me to want to look into a world I had little to no knowledge of.
I know by describing the book as tragically, heartbreaking, you may assume it’s a book you should avoid. But as someone who normally wouldn’t have read this book, I highly recommend it to any reader who enjoys a great story. Maybe you’ll find the beginning as slow paced and hard to get into like I did. Maybe not. But I can promise if you take a chance on this book, you’ll fall in love with the story and though it is a tragic tale of historical events, it will touch your heart. And maybe, like me… you will find yourself inspired.
Pick up your copy on Amazon: Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah