After abandoning a slow moving book, I was pleased to quickly get hooked on my latest book Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah. Set both in the modern day and a fairy tale time, which slowly becomes real (namely the second world war).
I love a great World War 2 story, but only European stories. The book I gave up on was about the second world war, but based in the US, and I just couldn’t get into it. I think I prefer the depths of despair and suffering the war inflicted on Europe (and it’s fictional storytellers like Kristin Hannah).
The book is set in an apple orchard in the US. (I’m sure it probably mentioned the state, but the information seems irrelevant to my memory.) It gets cold enough to snow, which draws parallels to the fairy tale world of the matriarch, Anya. Anya has two daughters, Nina and Meredith. Nina’s the photo journalist who’s forever in some remote corner capturing wars and poverty. Meredith has followed in her father’s footsteps, managing the apple business and bringing up her daughter Jillian and Maddy with her husband Jeff. The story starts with the patriarch’s death, where he urges his daughter Nina to connect with his cold and distant wife Anya, and asks Meredith to care for her mother.
Meredith takes the request to heart and works tirelessly to look after her mother, Anya, who seems to be losing her mind after a few interesting incidents the most common of which is sitting the Winter Garden in the cold snowy nights. Meredith works herself into the ground between maintaining her father’s orchard and caring for her mother. Suddenly, Nina returns from the far flung assignment in Africa and finds Meredith’s put their mother in a nursing home. Nina, being the impulsive child, discharges her mother and takes her back home to the orchard. Nina’s conviction lies in her promise to her dying father to make sure she hears the entirety of her mother’s fairy tale.
The childhood fairy tale enchanted Nina and Meredith as children, though they never heard the end of it. One year, in an effort to attract the love and warmth they missed from their mother, the children acted a play of the fairy tale. Their mother became further isolated, and Meredith vowed never to seek the love or affection of her mother. Nina, being younger, felt the same, but committed to her father’s request, continues to ask for her mother to return to the fairy tale in adulthood.
Slowly the fairy tale shows signs of truth. Of real places. Of grandmothers who smoke – and who smokes in a fairy tale? The sister slowly unravel the story from their mother, and in the process, discover the depth of suffering and pain their mother endured in a life long before them, and even their father. This book captivated me – I read it in the short minutes whilst I waited between activities. I was a little slack on reading and commenting on my favourite blogs, even though they are a little more time sensitive than a novel! But it was well worth it – I now have a stronger desire to see Russia and I’m even thawing to the idea of going in winter. Call me insane, right? An aussie in a Russian winter? I don’t know what I’m in for!