My 5th book read in 2011, toward my goal of at least 36 books this year!
And this one held some unexpected surprises for me, seemingly proof that you can’t always judge a book by its cover…
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Winter Garden was a sumptuous return to historical fiction for me; I hadn’t realized how much I missed reading it, and as I write this, I fondly remember how history was always my favorite subject in school, from my elementary years through college, as I took history electives which had nothing to do with my business major. Eventually Winter Garden became hidden treasure: I bought this book intrigued by the mother/daughter/sister relationships the jacket copy previewed, unaware of the other discoveries I’d make once my reading was complete.
Though I easily finished it within 4 short evenings, the book started slowly for me, and didn’t really get compelling until I was about two thirds through it, though I started to make some discoveries. Then it became almost eerie, for certain parallels to my own family history became unmistakable, in both story and certain characterizations, and before reaching the end I had to do a bit more Russian research on my own” My grandmother would have been 9 years older than Vera, and never told us the complete story of why, or exactly when, she and part of her family emigrated to Hawai‘i from Russia, though it would have been much earlier, likely in the mid to late 1920’s. Within the pages of this book is painted a picture of what her life would have been like if she stayed. It explains why she’d say she couldn’t possibly hope to find any relatives they had left behind when we asked about them. Like Vera she was secretive (we’ve never learned her Russian birth names), and always saddened when we asked her about Russia, so we learned not to pry. And as happened for Vera, a soldier snatched her from the bleakness of one life and tried to give her joy in another. Their only child, my father, was her sunshine and redemption.
I was very grateful to find that this paperback edition I’d purchased had an interview with the author and an essay she wrote about her historical research in the back matter pages. When buying it I had no idea they’d be so important to me: By the time I ended the book, I wanted Hannah’s reassurance her research had been thorough, or at least as thorough as would be possible for the context accuracy of her novel. My own further research is sure to continue, and I’m thankful for the recommendations she shares for further reading.
I feel my 4-star rating is honest for my first-time read, however I do feel I will have a greater appreciation for the author’s effort if and when I read Winter Garden again, knowing how difficult this weaving was, to blend a historical memory with its contemporary and complex family portrayals. I will recommend it to others for different reasons, such as the encouragement to deepen family relationships so you can shed any regret: The Russian connection I discovered for myself was a bonus.
View all my reviews (Goodreads link)
My favorite book of the 5 read so far: Pictures of You, by Caroline Leavitt (Goodreads link)
Or read more here on Talking Story: Book Reviews & Reading category