Winter Garden is Kristin Hannah's best written and most deeply affecting novel yet. That is saying a lot since her career has produced such reader pleasing novels as On Mystic Lake, Between Sisters, Firefly Lane and True Colors. Still her latest novel is one of her most compelling stories yet and reaches deep into the reader's soul for compassion and understanding. It is a book that must be read for the detail and intensity of its story. Though it is not an easy book to read, it is one that is well worth the effort.
The book focuses on two sisters, Meredith and Nina Whitsen, and their mother Anya. The two sisters have spent most of their lives trying to communicate with their mother but to no avail. Anya is as remote as the Russian landscape from which she emigrated. The only time Anya seems able to communicate with her daughters is when she is telling them a fairy tale about a "snow princess."
Their "isolated" childhood affects the two women in their adult lives. Meredith finds her marriage falling apart as she withholds her emotions from her husband. Nina finds she is destined to live a solitary life as she can never seem to make the commitment a full relationship needs.
Through it all there is Anya, standing remote and resolute in her unflinching ability to never span the distance between herself and her children. It is only when they demand she tell them the full story of the "snow princess" that some degree of understanding begins to emerge.
Winter Garden is a slow starting book in the sense the reader is put off by the unlikeability of its main characters. Each is so flawed and unyielding that the reader loses interest in their stories. This goes hand in hand with the remoteness of Anya and to some degree the detachment of her two daughters. But as the story unfolds and Anya's story is told the relationships begin to build and so does the interest of the book. It is a gradual process but one that pays huge dividends in the end.
It would be easy to dismiss Winter Garden as an austere, remote adventure in storytelling. It would also be easy top put the book aside well before Hannah reaches her stride in the story. I urge you to stick with this one. The final half of the book is so engrossing that I would hate for anyone to miss out on the satisfaction that awaits.
This is Kristin Hannah's big book. It is a story that careens from one emotion to another. It explores relationships that don't want to be explored. It focuses on a woman caught up in "Sophie's choice" type situations and who bears the emotional scars forever.
This is a beautifully written novel, a meaningful novel, a satisfying novel - if you have the diligence and patience to stick with it from beginning to end. I hope you do. And once you have read it you will be compelled to recommend it to your friends.
Winter Garden starts out cold, beautiful and remote but thaws about halfway through to envelop you in a world of discovery. Some relationships are never easy but most are worth searching for their meaning. Anya and her daughters prove that to us in this excellent book.
Winter Garden is published by St Martin's Press. It contains 394 pages and sells for $26.99.
Jackie K. Cooper - www.jackiekcooper.com