Book Review: Winter Garden (Kristin Hannah)

Last night, before I actually finished this amazing novel, my mother shared with me her thoughts about the true “story.”  She said,

Rachael, this is more than a story about the relationships between mothers and daughters, lovers, friends and spouses. It’s about the fact that parents are not perfect. We make mistakes. We carry baggage from our childhood and our pre-parental lives into our parenting, and that baggage – those experiences – impact how we relate as parents; how we parent.

And she is right.

Winter Garden (Kristin Hannah) is a collection of stories within a story. On the surface, it is but one story – the fairytale that Anya tells her daughters, unraveling “chapter” by grueling chapter, throughout the novel. When you dig deeper, you see that each character has her own story – the story of her own baggage. Anya has her past life in Russia: growing, loving, learning and surviving throughout one of the toughest times in recent Russian history. Meredith (Anya and Evan’s eldest) has her current life: her own daughters are grown and she still doesn’t know who she is – who she loves? how she got here. Nina (Anya and Evan’s youngest) has her future lie: why is she always chasing what she doesn’t have? why can’t she embrace her life and those in them? Where is she running? Digging even deeper, you have the stories of Anya’s mother and her first born – the daughter in born in Russia – and her son.

What’s truly remarkable about this book, though, is the emotion evoked in every word; on every page, from start to finish. I said it last week, when I pre-Reviewed this book, I found myself choking back tears in every sentence. The story was a melody that I couldn’t stop humming.

Maybe it resonated so much with me because of the relational aspects of it. Maybe, and this is more likely the case, it is because in every page I understood more about how my mother’s own past (and, for what it’s worth, my father’s) has shaped who I am and who I will be. I now understand that my own upbringing will shape my children and their children and their grandchildren. Our past defines our perspective – not who we are.

Hannah shows us that, while we may have had experiences that shape us – no matter how horrid those may have been; no matter how terrible we may have been – forgiveness is possible and love is triumphant. Meredith and Nina learn that their mother, as cold or un-loving as she may have been throughout their childhood, was doing what she thought she must to survive. She didn’t know any better. She was afraid; sad; lonely – she’d grown up too fast and, yet, had not grown at all. She did her best.

Mom, I know you did your best. I love you for it and hope that my best, when it’s time, is as good as yours.

Rachael’s Grade:

Writing: A+

Character Development: A+

Plot: A+

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