Meghan returns to us again with another guest review! Enjoy and don’t forget to leave your thoughts in the comments!
Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
Summary: 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.
Spoiler warning! Only getting one.
Review: I loved this book. It is not a light read it’s very heavy emotionally. Anya Whitson tells her children a fairy tale all through their childhood but always stops short of finishing it.
Anya is very cold to her children and they grow to be drastically different women as a result. Once she fulfills the promise to her husband and finishes the story you learn along with Meredith and Nina that Anya (Veronika) is actually a WWII survivor of the Siege of Leningrad which lasted a mind boggling 872 days.
The thing that made me love this book is that it haunted me for days after reading. The imagery is both mesmerizing and terrifying.
It starts off with the fairy tale being just that, a fairy tale with goblins and black smoke carriages, with ice bridges and princes then as Anya starts to lose herself in the past and do odd things like peel wall paper from the walls to make soup and walk barefoot in the snow muttering about feeding her lion “Leo”. The pieces fall in place with clues and pictures they find Meredith and Nina learn the truth and the fairy tale turns into a steadily worsening real life nightmare.
When Veronika is forced to feed her children a boiled leather belt and soup made from strips of wall paper because there is nothing else, you think it can get no worse. It does when after escaping a work camp with her children Anya and Leo. Little Leo falls ill with typhoid fever and Veronika must leave him alone in a hospital to die or miss the train to safety.
Unable to choose she does the unthinkable she puts Anya on the train with a note pinned to her coat. “Her name is Anya. She is six.” It gives me chills and chokes me up just thinking about it. Then she goes back and remains with Leo until he dies.
She catches yet another train to safety only to learn her remaining family died when the train station was bombed. She throws herself at the Germans literally and she’s taken to a concentration camp and is later freed by Nina and Meredith’s father.
I’m not sure if it was the general sadness of the story that stayed with me or knowing that those Leningrader women where real and this story was somewhat an amalgamation of their own stories. It leaves you feeling connected to a very dark part of world history.
I loved this book the only thing I found fault with was the ending it was too bright and happy for such a tense story. It was somewhat unbelievable also but I won’t give it away.
Characters: Anya/Veronica, Meredith, and Nina are each unique with their own problems but well drawn in that you still see similarities between each character.
Meredith is the loving mother Anya was before losing her children to war.
Nina is the spitfire photographer who can’t settle down, she’s who Veronika was before the war.
Anya is who Veronika became due to the hard life lived in her years. She isn’t instantly likeable but she grows on you.
Writing: I was a bit worried when I started this book that the prose would be choppy but you needn’t worry it flows beautifully and paints often painful and vivid pictures for the reader. It was a slow starter but you’ll be hooked by third or fourth chapter and will not be able to put it down.
All in all it’s a really great book but you’ll need tissues and maybe a lighter happier read afterwards.
As always thanks for reading!
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