Winter Garden,” by Kristin Hannah, is a novel about loss and redemption.
Anya has been a cold and distant mother for as long as Meredith and Nina, her daughters, can remember. The author explores the relationships of the women
in the family. Although their mother seemed to love their father, who always made excuses for her to the children, she showed almost no emotion with them.
The only time they felt any connection with her was when she would tell them her old Russian fairy tales – though she never told the endings.
The two girls grew up and went separate ways. Meredith married young but stayed close to home. She took over her father’s orchard business in Washington state. Nina left and became a photo-journalist, well-known for capturing poignant scenes in war zones and disaster areas.
When their father falls ill, the daughters return home. As he weakens, he makes the girls promise to take care of their mother, a woman they feel they barely know and hardly love. Their father makes Nina promise she will listen to her mother’s Russian fairy tale to the end. Through her “fairy tales” Anya communicates the tragedy of her past to her daughters in the only way she can.
What at first seems a fairy tale is in fact the true story of what happened to their mother growing up in Leningrad during the Stalin years, more than five decades earlier.
Anya’s tale is told through the voice of a young woman, “Vera,” who only wants to marry her prince and live happily ever after in the Snow Kingdom. Instead, she and all of Russia, especially Leningrad, suffered through harsh and tragic times.
Anya’s daughters had never heard their mother’s story, nor did they know the kind of deprivation and loss she had experienced. Learning about it, Meredith and Nina come to understand her coldness and why she was unable to express love. Their mother’s story gives the daughters the key, not only to understanding, but also to forgiveness.