Monday, May 30, 2011

Close to Home and Far Away

As I started reading Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah, I was quick to criticize.  The story began with a woman, Meredith, who works with her father in their family business (just like me!), who lives 1/4 mile from her parents (my parents just moved, so they are at least a mile from me now), whose sister has a more glamorous life (duh!) and who is married with two children (ditto).  It is true - there are authors who develop fuller characters than Hannah and who are more convincing with their dialogue.  But some of my initial resistance to Winter Garden may have been more about how closely Meredith's life mirrors mine, and the challenges that she faces, which I could have to face in the (hopefully distant) future.

Winter Garden is actually two stories, one in the modern day, and one in the form of a fairy tale that may touch on some facts from a character's past.  In this sense, it is not unlike Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, but it reads more like something by Jodi Picoult.   The fairy tale is amazing.  I kept promising myself that I would only read to the end of the chapter, then I would go to bed.  But if the next chapter started with or continued part of the fairy tale, I couldn't stop reading.  The ending was a little predictable, but still a welcome resolution.

The fairy tale, while not at first giving dates, soon reveals itself to be the story of a family's struggle to survive the siege of Leningrad.  The Seige of Leningrad lasted from September of 1941 through January of 1944, during which period over a million civilians from Leningrad died. A million.  If you've read other posts, you know that the stories of the civilians of World War II is my favorite genre, and this one fits right in. 

The modern day tale is a story of learning about family members who you thought you knew.  To say that it is about communication within a family is way too simplistic in this case, but it absolutely is about that too.  Some of the blurbs I read about the book mentioned it being about how it is not possible to know one's self until one knows one's mother.  In this case, the daughters do know their mother in the sense that she raised them and they have regular contact with her, but they don't know her thoughts, motives or regrets. 

I never would have read this book if it hadn't been picked for The Friends Book Group.  This is reason #32 why I love book groups - discovering a great book that would have otherwise been missed.

Next up:  The Furies - Book 4 in the Kent Family Chronicles by John Jakes.  I've been putting this one off for a long time, since I wasn't too excited to pick up the story where Book 3 left off - with a 10 year old girl who had already been raped, kidnapped, sold to Indians, and was now married.  But, like Meredith, I will face some challenges to get to know my family better as well.  It will all make more sense soon.

Still Listening to:  The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory - I'm loving it!  No surprise there.

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