Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah (2011. St. Martin’s. ISBN 978-0312663155. This review is of the Audible version of the novel.)

It’s a long way from Duluth, Minnesota to Williston, North Dakota. So, when my wife Rene’ and I decided to change things up and not “do” Thanksgiving at home but travel to our son’s home in the Bakken, bringing my 89 year old mom with to visit her great granddaughter, I knew the only way we’d survive 10-11 hours (one way) in the Jeep was to have a good audio book ready to go. Having thoroughly enjoyed The Nightingale, a fabulous portrayal of conflict, love, and the French resistance during WW II, when I saw this title, saw that it was by Ms. Hannah, and read a few blurbs, I guessed it’d be a story my wife, my mother, and I would all enjoy. I’m glad I trusted my instincts.

Set in present day Washington State and WW II Leningrad (St. Petersburg), this tale is a complex family saga, historical novel, and contemporary love story (or actually, love stories) chronicling the lives of two sisters, Meredith and Nina as they slowly uncover, while mourning the loss of their father, the truth of their mother’s heritage and the reasons behind her stern, Russian demeanor. While the contemporary sections of the story were, as is always the case with Ms. Hannah’s expert narration, dialogue, and word craft, well paced and cleanly drawn, it is the “story within the story” (actually, at one point, this novel includes a story within a story within a story as well!), Anya Whitson’s (the mother’s) recalling of her survival of the siege of Leningrad by the Germans (for more on the siege see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Leningrad) that is both riveting and heart-wrenching. In the details of Anya’s life during the war, Hannah hits on all cylinders, compelling readers (or in our case, the listeners) to fear and dread and hope as each scene slowly unfolds. In a word, the Leningrad segements are masterful; expositions of fine prose by a writer at the peak of her craft.

My only criticism of the novel is that the ending (no spoiler here) is a bit too convenient, a bit too coincidental for my taste. But the two females on that long ride to and from Williston do not seem to share my concerns in this regard. Perhaps I’m too engaged in my own craft as a writer to allow for suspension of disbelief to the degree Ms. Hannah requires at the end of a very, very satisfying tale. The truth is, even with my slight critique of the book’s conclusion, this novel is a well-written generational tale that both men, who like action and warfare and history, and women, who are more partial to cerebral tales of familial conflict, can enjoy.

4 and 1/2 stars out of 5. A page turner and a marvelous read.

Peace.

Mark

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