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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full (391 pages)
Heat: Sensual
Rating: LASR Best Book
Reviewed by Camellia

Can a woman ever really know herself if she doesn’t know her mother?

From the author of the smash-hit bestseller Firefly Lane and True Colors comes a powerful, heartbreaking novel that illuminates the intricate mother-daughter bond and explores the enduring links between the present and the past

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.

This poignant story made me cry and then rejoice for the strength and resilience of women and their capacity to love.

Meredith and Nina Whitson’s mother Anya is the epitome of a warrior woman with strength beyond all understanding. While Meredith and Nina felt Anya did not love them, they did not know her life story because all she had ever told them had been couched in what they believed to be a fairy tale.

When Evan Whitson, beloved father and husband, dies, the three women are connected by his dying requests, a connection that makes each of them face herself with all the protective excuses stripped away. For each of them, Evan Whitson had been their “North Star”, their level ground; so none of them could ignore his deathbed wishes. Regardless how painful, the wishes must be honored.

Forty-year-old Meredith, successful businessperson, mother and wife, is a doer. She never shirks a duty and always puts others’ desires and needs ahead of her own. In times of stress, she keeps moving and doing, asking no one for help to carry part of her burdens. When she loses sight of what is truly most important to her, she cannot find the strength to regain a balance in her life—not until she gets to know her mother’s story.

Nina, Meredith’s younger sister, is a world-famous photographer who travels the world taking pictures that stir people’s souls. Her pictures raise awareness of evil and misery that needs to be dealt with. Through the lens of her camera, Nina can set herself apart from the suffering—a survival skill that makes her good at her profession but at times makes her appear insensitive. She, too, must know her mother’s story before she can find herself.

Evan, Jeff, and Danny, the strong men in this story, know how to love and appreciate strong women, making WINTER GARDEN a phenomenal love story--far beyond the usual.

With the magic of words, Kristin Hannah reaches out and engages the reader’s heart, mind, and emotions. She tantalizes the senses with her imagery and descriptions that make the world of plenty and a world of “not any” come alive for the reader. The smells, sounds, sights, feels, and tastes in Anya’s story augment the horror, suffering, and inhumanity she endured.

As Anya’s story unfolds, Meredith and Nina, after so many years of feeling unloved by their mother, begin to understand themselves and their mother for the first time in their lives. The three of them connect and give strength to each other as they find their way to a firm relationship.

The extra-special surprise Kristin Hannah offers the reader during the women’s trip to Alaska makes the heart sing.

Love that is longsuffering, gentle, patient, good, and faithful makes WINTER GARDEN a story that will be long remembered.

Having tissues nearby is helpful while reading parts of this tribute to women warriors.