"In times of trouble, Meredith did chores, Nina took photos, and Mom cooked. The one thing the Whitson women never did was talk." Kristin Hannah's Winter Garden is the story of two daughters, struggling to understand their mother. They may never understand themselves, if they don't understand the woman who never seemed to love them.
Meredith did everything she could to impress her mother, but it took a play when she was twelve to disabuse her of any idea she would ever please her. She wrote a play, and performed it with her sister, Nina, and the neighbor, Jeff, basing it on one of her mother's Russian fairy tales. When her mother angrily interrupted, Meredith was humiliated, and unforgiving. She gave up on trying to win her mother's love. Nina continued to push a little longer, but she finally surrendered to the futility.
Twenty-eight years later, Meredith is married to Jeff, has two adult daughters, runs the family orchard, and lives down the road from her parents. Nina ran as far as she could, and keeps running, as a successful photographer in war zones and scenes of human crisis. And, she finds herself afraid to return the love of a good man, afraid to trust. It takes a family crisis to bring her home, the heart attack of their beloved father. Evan Whitson was the one who held the family together, loving his wife, and acting as the intermediary between Anya and her daughters. Evan was the only one who could actually communicate with his cold, Russian wife. And, despite his death bed request that his daughters try to understand her, and force her to tell that fairy tale of the peasant girl and the prince, Meredith and Nina don't know if they'll ever be a family again. They never understood their mother. When their father died, they realized, "He was home, the very heart of them. How would they stand life without him?"
It appears that Anya never will tell her daughters the truth, turning only to her winter garden, where she sits and mourns the man she loved. As Meredith's whole world falls apart around her, Nina is convinced that fairy tale might be the only thing that can save the family. If she has to push, in her usual style, she will. Neither woman understands the woman who raised them. Are there secrets to her life in that fairy tale, secrets that could save the Whitson women?
The author of Firefly Lane and True Colors has written another powerful story of misunderstanding, family love, and strong women. It's a story of women trying to discover who they are, when they don't know their own family stories. And, it's a fascinating story that weaves fairy tales into reality, fairy tales that don't always have the expected endings.
Kristin Hannah is a master at creating worlds and characters. Anya's winter garden is as cold and unforgiving as the story she eventually tells her family. Hannah prepares readers for it with the opening paragraph. "On the banks of the mighty Columbia River, in this icy season when every breath became visible, the orchard called Belye Nochi was quiet....As temperatures plummeted and color drained from land and sky, the whitened landscape caused a kind of winter blindness, one day became indistinguishable from the next. Everything froze, turned fragile." That paragraph beautifully illustrates the Whitson family story - frozen, fragile, with the color drained. Winter Garden is Kristin Hannah's family fairy tale, a gift to readers.
Kristin Hannah's website is www.kristinhannah.com
Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah. St. Martin's Press, ©2010. ISBN 9780312364120 (hardcover), 400p.
FTC Full Disclosure - My review copy was sent by the publicist in hopes I would review the book.