Summary from GoodReads:
Can a woman ever really know herself if she doesn’t know her mother?
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.
The Winter Garden isn’t just about one love story but about all the love stories born from that one love story, making this an epic tale crossing generations and nations.
Winter Garden, though written beautifully, is not an easy breezy read. A large portion of the story is set in Leningrad, Soviet Union between 1941 and 1944, during The Siege.
The Siege of Leningrad is historically known as one of the worlds most deadliest and horrific attacks on civilians. During World War II, the Soviets were attacked by Finland, in hopes of regaining territory lost in years prior. Hitler took the opportunity to launch an attack on Leningrad, in hopes of turning it over to Finland and gaining an ally. The Germans were successful in surrounding Leningrad, eventually cutting it off from the rest of the country for 872 days. No food, no meds, no contact. Mainly women and children, as all of the able bodied men were on the frontlines. Nearly 1 million people either starved or froze, to death.
Our main character, Anya, survived the siege on Leningrad, but, we learn, it cost her everything. We meet Anya through her 2 daughters, Meredith and Nina, and her husband Evan. Anya and Evan live on the family’s apple farm in Washington State with Meredith and her family. Meredith works at the orchard and has made watching over her aging parents her responsibility. Nina, the other sister, is a photojournalist that travels the world, commitment free.
Nina and Meredith have never had a strong relationship with one another or their mother. She is generally described as cold, distant, and non-communicative. Early on, the father dies, but not before urging Nina to find out more about her mother. To learn her ‘story’. Anya doesn’t make this easy as she slips into a state of dementia after the father dies, becoming combative and delusional. Eventually, the girls get her to talk and they learn about their mothers time in Leningrad, her first husband, the children they had together, the fate of those children and ultimately the fate of their own intimate relationships.
Pros: A beautifully written, heartwarming and heart wrenching story. There are many touching scenes: the strength Anya shows in the stories set in Leningrad, protecting and loving her children, not wanting to leave them behind. During bombing of the city, she goes to the roof, while her family is in the basement. This is so, if a bomb drops on the roof, she can toss it off before it explodes! I cried when I learned the true meaning and connection Anya had to her Winter Garden. I true testament to life long love and respect.
Another aspect I loved about the story was watching the existence of and the dismantling of the curses Anya had passed down to her daughters. Both woman are struggling in their personal relationships, showing the same disconnection and inability to be warm and open as their mother.
I, a secret foodie, also LOVED the talk of food and the descriptions of how the family connected around food. Poverty in Leningrad and abundance, later in Washington. Im also a vodka drinker, so I loved that Anya only started talking under agreement of vodka shots! The descriptions of food are magnificent and my hardcopy book has recipes in the back that I will be trying.
Cons: None. Eh, some may say the ending is a bit ‘neat’. Those people are generally, miserable. #iSaidIt
Winter Garden is probably not your typical ‘historical fiction’ novel. But, I don’t typically go in for historical fiction so I wasn’t disappointed. Once upon a high school diploma, I did a paper on the Siege of Leningrad and found it fascinating. Probably because I do go in for horror and the tales from this time period were horrific. When food rations ran out, the government served, what was ultimately, sawdust to citizens. When that became too much for them to bare, cannibalism followed. Stories of people just sitting outside on park benches, wishing to freeze to death. All because Hitler deemed it so. He begin to understand that he could not take the city, he choose to starve its inhabitants, even after learning it was mostly women and children. #TheDevil
This was a great book filled with tons of quotes and meaningful tidbits. Im sure to read this again just to recapture parts of the story I may have missed while reading. Definitely, read this. #GoodBook Book 4 of 42.