"Before you, Bella, my life was like a moonless night. Very dark, but there were stars, points of light and reason. ...And then you shot across my sky like a meteor. Suddenly everything was on fire; there was brilliancy, there was beauty. When you were gone, when the meteor had fallen over the horizon, everything went black. Nothing had changed, but my eyes were blinded by the light. I couldn’t see the stars anymore. And there was no more reason, for anything."

~ Edward Cullen

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Review: Winter Garden

Title: Winter Garden
Author: Kristin Hannah
Pages: 391
Challenges:  Monthly Key Word, Mount TBR, Women Authors
Rating: 5/5

Summary from Goodreads:

From the author of the smash-hit bestseller Firefly Lane and True Colors comes a powerful, heartbreaking novel that illuminates the intricate mother-daughter bond and explores the enduring links between the present and the past.

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.

A few years ago, I discovered and read Firefly Lane, also by Kristin Hannah.  I was amazed at the raw emotion that was evoked through the writing, and I immediately started to seek out other titles by her.  It was at this time that I obtained a copy of the Winter Garden.  When I pulled it off the shelf this past week, I saw that at the time I must have started it, but didn't get further than 20 pages or so and never went any further.  I'm not sure why, but I started it over, hoping that I would enjoy Winter Garden as much as I had enjoyed Firefly Lane.  My expectations were thoroughly met and exceeded.  Winter Garden is probably one of the best books I have read in years.

Once I started, I couldn't turn the pages fast enough, but often found myself pausing and letting the story sink in.  It is a very emotional read, and I soon found myself in need of many, many tissues. 

Meredith and Nina Whitson have always felt distant and unloved from their mother.  Upon the death of their father, this distance is even more evident.  However, on his deathbed, their father had made them promise to hear the rest of the fairy tale, and to let it be told in its entirety one last time.  With much coaxing, Anya, the girl's mother, slowly begins to tell her fairytale.  And it is through this fairytale, that Anya not only finds herself, but her children find a love and understanding that they never expected to have.  As the story alternates between past and present, it's like a flower slowly unfurling.  We begin to see the layers of Anya's life, and understand why she is the way she is.  And slowly, her daughters begin to see their mother in a different and much more distinct light. 

Kristin Hannah has a way with words and written that is unbelievable.  Never has an author's novel's touched me so deeply as do hers.  As I finished the last sentence of Winter Garden, I found myself in awe and wonderment of the feelings that Hannah had touched so deeply within me.  But even besides that, the history that this novel brings to life, and the story that it tells, even beyond the story of Anya and her daughters is unbelievable. 

In many years, I have not closed a book and felt this emotionally moved - to the point where I had to take a few minutes to myself to reflect on the journey I'd just been through.  I think it will be a long time before another novel touches me as deeply as Winter Garden, and I do believe this is a one that I will return to again.

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