Kristin Hannah’s “Winter Garden” is a mesmerizing novel that tells the story of two estranged sisters, Meredith and Nina, who are brought together by their dying father’s last wish. The novel is set in the lush and serene landscape of the Pacific Northwest during the winter season, and it is rich in symbolism, metaphor, and emotional complexity.
At the heart of the novel is the relationship between Meredith and Nina, which has been strained for years due to their different personalities, priorities, and life experiences. Meredith, the older sister, is a pragmatic and no-nonsense type, who is married to a successful businessman and has two teenage girls. Nina, on the other hand, is an artistic and idealistic type, who has never settled down and has traveled the world as a photographer and adventurer.
Their father, Ivan, is a Russian immigrant who has built a thriving orchard and winery in their hometown of Wenatchee, but whose past is shrouded in secrecy and pain. He has always been distant from his daughters, especially Nina, whom he named after a Russian fairy tale character, but who has never understood his emotional coldness or his obsession with his homeland. When Ivan falls ill with cancer, he asks his daughters to fulfill his last wish: for them to listen to the story of their mother’s life and then to write it down in their own words.
The story of their mother, Anya, is a haunting and heartbreaking one, which takes place during the siege of Leningrad in World War II. Anya was a young girl who fell in love with a soldier, and who experienced unimaginable horrors during the siege, including hunger, cold, violence, and loss. Her love for her family, her country, and her traditions sustained her during the darkest times, but also shattered her soul in ways that she could never fully heal.
As Meredith and Nina delve deeper into their mother’s story, they also confront their own unresolved issues and conflicts. Meredith realizes that she has been living a life of safety and conformity, and that she has lost touch with her own dreams and desires. Nina realizes that she has been running away from her pain and loneliness, and that she has never allowed herself to trust and love anyone fully. Together, they discover that their mother’s story is not just a tale of survival and sacrifice, but also a testament to love, hope, and forgiveness.
“Winter Garden” is a beautifully written and deeply moving novel that explores the themes of family, identity, memory, and legacy. It offers a gripping plot, vivid characters, and a lyrical prose that captures the magic and mystery of nature, food, and art. It also offers a timeless message of how the power of storytelling and the courage to face one’s past can heal even the deepest wounds and bring redemption to those who have lost their way.