I’ve read some OK books lately (“Gap Creek”), some very interesting books (“In the Garden of Beasts“) and some really good books (“The Forgotten Garden”) lately. But I’ve finally found a GREAT book.
Ever since my self-imposed temporary Kindle ban, I’ve been hitting the library for new reading material. That usually means I have to go with something that’s not a brand-new release or super popular, since those books always have long waiting lists … and I’m impatient.
So I’ve been looking for every reading list out there and lately I’ve been using Eat, Live Run’s extensive reading list as my own personal Dewey Decimal System.
I got the “Gap Creek” recommendation from her and sadly I didn’t share her love of it. I did enjoy the Laura Ingalls Wilder-ness of it but I thought the storyline of the main character was seriously lacking. I kept waiting for some big payoff. It was a nice, simple and probably very authentic story of the time and place (the North Carolina mountains at the turn of the 20th century) but it was a rather dull.
I was worried that maybe we didn’t have the same taste in books (although I agreed with her reviews of books I’d already read) so I thought I’d try again and I picked this up last week:
Friends, I think life-changing may be too strong of a phrase, but I’m certainly haunted by this book. I’ve been obsessed with other books over the past few years (Harry Potter, the Twilight saga, Hunger Games — dang, I got to stop reading just YA! — The Help, to name a few), but I can’t remember the last time a book moved me like this.
Here’s a brief description of Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah from Publisher’s Weekly:
Female bonding is always good for a good cry, as Hannah (True Colors ) proves in her latest. Pacific Northwest apple country provides a beautiful, chilly setting for this family drama ignited by the death of a loving father whose two daughters have grown apart from each other and from their acid-tongued, Russian-born mother. After assuming responsibility for the family business, 40-year-old empty-nester Meredith finds it difficult to carry out her father’s dying wish that she take care of her mother; Meredith’s troubled marriage, her troubled relationship with her mother and her mother’s increasingly troubled mind get in the way. Nina, Meredith’s younger sister, takes a break from her globe-trotting photojournalism career to return home to do her share for their mother. How these three women find each other and themselves with the help of vodka and a trip to Alaska competes for emotional attention with the story within a story of WWII Leningrad. Readers will find it hard not to laugh a little and cry a little more as mother and daughters reach out to each other just in the nick of time.
Although I really enjoyed the story of the two sisters and their cold, distant mother, what really drew me in was Anya’s story about Stalinist Russia and the early days of World War II.
Much like how I felt when I read “Shanghai Sisters” and “Secret Daughter,” I once again realized how blessed I am to be a mother in the 21st century in the West. I can’t imagine the horror of watching your children starve to death. I know that we have serious hunger issues in this country, and I’m not trying to minimize that in any way. But when you read a story about a mother watching her children slowly starve and freeze to death because of war-time blockades and the awful choices a family must make to merely survive the day, it can’t help but make you feel even more grateful for what we take for granted on a daily basis.
On a day when the entire country is freaking out (and rightly so) about the stunning losses on Wall Street, it’s a good reminder that tough times are nothing new in human history. And the things that we think are so, so, SO bad today pale when you look back at our recent history.
In World War II Russia, there were no soup kitchens. There were no supplies — period. The mother had to strip the wallpaper off the walls and boil them for food because they had once been hung with flour and water. They ate dirt from the outside of a bombed out sugar factory for its tiny nutritional value. I cried and cried reading these sections.
I remember after I read “The Red Tent,” I went through a phase where I searched for more historical fiction about Biblical times. I have a feeling I’m about to go on Russia tear. I know shockingly little about the years leading up to World War II and the fear that gripped the people. I thought I knew a little bit about wartime U.S.S.R. but I don’t know that I realized the extent of the devastation.
The 872-day siege of Leningrad killed an estimated 1.5 million people. Think about that. In just over two years, 1.5 million people — mostly women and children — gone. And, for the most part, they died long, slow, painful deaths due to starvation, disease and freezing conditions and no fuel.
I know this sounds really heavy, but I promise the story surrounding this horrific chapter in history is inspirational and a testament to the perseverance of the human spirit.
In many ways, this book reminds me of “Sarah’s Key,” another book that detailed a period of history I knew little about.
So, do yourself a favor and read another example of a story that illustrates how powerful women are and our amazing ability to survive the unsurvivable.
As soon as I read the last page last night, I went into E’s bed, where she was fast asleep, and hugged her for a few minutes and just thanked God again for our blessings.
And if you have read it or when you do, leave me a comment because I’m dying to talk to someone about it!
OK, I should probably lighten things up a bit, huh? What should I read next?