Yay! Book Club Friday!
Up this week, Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
From the Back: How can a woman know herself...if she doesn't really know her mother?
Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and managed the family business; the other followed a dream and traveled the world. But when their beloved father falls ill, these two estranged sisters will find themselves together again, standing alongside their icy and enigmatic mother, Anya, who even now offers no comfort to her daughters. On his deathbed, their father extracts a promise of his wife: Anya will tell her daughters a story; it is a fairy tale she began years ago and never finished. This time she will tell it all the way to the end.
The tale their mother tells them is captivating, mysterious love story that spans more than sixty years and moves from frozen, war-torn Leningrad to modern-day Alaska. Nina's obsession to uncover the truth behind the story will discover a secret so shocking, so terrible, it shakes the foundation of their family and changes who they believe they are.
My Take: When I picked up Winter Garden, I was a little worried. If you've stopped by for Book Club Friday before, then you probably know I'm not an uber-fan of weepy reads. The only time I really like crying when I'm reading is when something is so touching, my grinchy heart can't help but swell. Unfortunately, this wasn't those kinds of books.
You know how when you're playing tennis (or something), having a great time and don't realize you're exercising? It's like, 'SURPRISE! You're getting fit while having fun!'.
Well, Winter Garden is like, 'SURPRISE! You're getting a history lesson!'
While that isn't necessarily a bad thing, it wasn't what I was expecting. This book is serious biz, people.
Kristin Hannah is a wonderfully eloquent writer and she sucks you in right from the beginning. Her descriptions of the apple orchards (the family business) left me smelling hints of sweetness around my house. For reals. She's that good. Scenery literally leaps off the page and sets up camp in your living room (which is why it gets so intense later on).
Meredith, daughter #1, struggles to carry her heavy emotional baggage while her younger sister, Nina, has kept hers checked back in coach for a while. The first several chapters examine their childhood relationship with their mother, Anya, and to say that Anya's detached from her daughters would be an understatement. I found it VERY challenging to sympathize with Anya. By 'very challenging' I mean, I didn't have any. Even though I knew there was a story behind her indifference, Ms. Hannah created a character that I didn't like AT ALL. The story moves along though, from the perspective of Anya's daughters, and that's what kept me going.
By the time their father dies, I wasn't as psyched to get to the end as I was in the beginning. There was quite a bit of repetition and although I knew it was setting up what was to come, it waned for me.
When I finally got to the meat of the story, it was intense. I guess that because I picked up a novel, I mistakenly assumed I'd be reading fiction. Although I know it's important to learn about atrocities that happened in other countries, it wasn't what I was expecting. If you read Little Bee, then you'll have an idea of what I'm talking about. And when I got to the end, things were wrapped up WAY too neatly for me. It felt a little forced, to be honest. Like a saving grace for the emotional roller-coaster of a plot.
So, although I was impressed with Kristin Hannah's writing ability, which makes perfect sense as she's written eighteen novels, I feel that Winter Garden should come with a disclaimer.
CAUTION: This book is haunting and may cause you a few nights of bad dreams.
So if you're brave enough to risk multiple fits of weeping and days spent pondering the world's injustices, then Winter Garden is for you.
If you're looking for a somewhat-standard mother-daughter story, this one isn't really it.