Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

Historical Fiction, 448 pages, published in 2010

Meredith and Nina have never had a close relationship with their mother, believing that she hates them, but when their father, the glue of their family, falls ill, they have to actually connect with their mother. They draw out the Russian fairy tale that their mother Anya used to tell them when they were kids, and soon they discover that their mother has been keeping many secrets from them and those secrets will change the way they see their mother.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I wasn’t expecting this to be a joy ride, especially after how emotionally damaged I was after The Nightingale, but oh man, this was a depressing book. It started out pretty sad, with the father’s illness and eventual death, but it got even more sad by the end. I definitely wept at one point during this book, which kind of made it hard to pick up, because I knew it was going keep being heavy, but I did really want to know what happened.

My big issue with this book was that it felt like it took so long to be set up. We get to see a lot into Meredith’s life and a fair amount into Nina’s. I didn’t necessarily care about their individual problems, so the beginning of the book was slow to me. Meredith has two daughters in college, her relationship with her husband is strained, and she is kind of a workaholic in order to avoid any issues she doesn’t want to deal with. Nina definitely sees her as a perfect working mother and wife who always has everything figured out, which is why I didn’t really relate to her at all. Nina, on the other hand, travels the world taking photographs of troubled times as a photojournalist. She doesn’t ever want to settle down and always needs to be traveling and chasing her dream, which I didn’t really relate to either.

The sisters don’t really have a close relationship because Nina is always gone, which Meredith holds against her, and Nina is jealous of certain things Meredith has. I did really enjoy seeing them come together and figure out how to work together in order to get their mother to tell her story. They also kind of had to realize that even though their lives were so different, they are both valid. I was reminded of The Nightingale because both sets of sisters have an older, family-oriented sister and a younger sister who wants to make a difference in the world.

In the beginning, I didn’t really know if there was anything that could excuse Anya, the mother’s, actions towards her children. She was very cold to them and to them, it felt like she didn’t really make an effort to get to know them. Meredith and Nina always thought that they did something to their mother in order for her to hate them, so they carried that burden for a long time. After finding out what Anya went through though, I can totally understand why she acted how she did, though I was frustrated that she didn’t tell them long before she did. Her story was so difficult for her to tell, but Meredith and Nina are in their early 40’s and late 30’s, so they had been carrying the burden of thinking their mother hated them for a very long time.

Anya’s story was absolutely heart wrenching. I can’t read stories like this often, because they affect me so much, especially with everything going on in the world right now. I didn’t think it was going to get as heavy as it did when I went into it, so I wasn’t prepared for it. It definitely made it hard to keep reading (well, listening) because I knew it was going to be rough. I did kind of enjoy trying to figure out what happened in the middle of her story, since since she’s telling it from the beginning and she obviously survived.

I heard that the ending was heartwarming, but I don’t think I agree. There are certain parts that are heartwarming, but other aspects that are still just so sad.

Overall, I think this book is just really powerful. Seeing Meredith and Nina connect with each other and begin to understand their mother was so nice to see. Anya’s story was of an event I didn’t really have any knowledge of, so I appreciated learning about that through this book.

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2 thoughts on “Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

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