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Winter Garden
Cover of Winter Garden
Winter Garden
A Novel

Can a woman ever really know herself if she doesn't know her mother?

From the author of the smash-hit bestseller Firefly Lane and True Colors comes Kristin Hannah's powerful, heartbreaking novel that illuminates the intricate mother-daughter bond and explores the enduring links between the present and the past

Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family apple orchard; the other followed a dream and traveled the world to become a famous photojournalist. But when their beloved father falls ill, Meredith and Nina find themselves together again, standing alongside their cold, disapproving mother, Anya, who even now, offers no comfort to her daughters. As children, the only connection between them was the Russian fairy tale Anya sometimes told the girls at night. On his deathbed, their father extracts a promise from the women in his life: the fairy tale will be told one last time—and all the way to the end. Thus begins an unexpected journey into the truth of Anya's life in war-torn Leningrad, more than five decades ago. Alternating between the past and present, Meredith and Nina will finally hear the singular, harrowing story of their mother's life, and what they learn is a secret so terrible and terrifying that it will shake the very foundation of their family and change who they believe they are.

Can a woman ever really know herself if she doesn't know her mother?

From the author of the smash-hit bestseller Firefly Lane and True Colors comes Kristin Hannah's powerful, heartbreaking novel that illuminates the intricate mother-daughter bond and explores the enduring links between the present and the past

Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family apple orchard; the other followed a dream and traveled the world to become a famous photojournalist. But when their beloved father falls ill, Meredith and Nina find themselves together again, standing alongside their cold, disapproving mother, Anya, who even now, offers no comfort to her daughters. As children, the only connection between them was the Russian fairy tale Anya sometimes told the girls at night. On his deathbed, their father extracts a promise from the women in his life: the fairy tale will be told one last time—and all the way to the end. Thus begins an unexpected journey into the truth of Anya's life in war-torn Leningrad, more than five decades ago. Alternating between the past and present, Meredith and Nina will finally hear the singular, harrowing story of their mother's life, and what they learn is a secret so terrible and terrifying that it will shake the very foundation of their family and change who they believe they are.

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  • Copyright © 2010 by Kristin Hannah.
    Published in 2010 by St. Martin's Press.
    All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly...

    One
    2000

    Was this what forty looked like? Really? In the past year Meredith had gone from Miss to Ma'am. Just like that, with no transition. Even worse, her skin had begun to lose its elasticity. There were tiny pleats in places that used to be smooth. Her neck was fuller, there was no doubt about it. She hadn't gone gray yet; that was the one saving grace. Her chestnut-colored hair, cut in a no-nonsense shoulder-length bob, was still full and shiny. But her eyes gave her away. She looked tired. And not only at six in the morning.

    She turned away from the mirror and stripped out of her old T-shirt and into a pair of black sweats, anklet socks, and a long-sleeved black shirt. Pulling her hair into a stumpy ponytail, she left the bathroom and walked into her darkened bedroom, where the soft strains of her husband's snoring made her almost want to crawl back into bed. In the old days, she would have done just that, would have snuggled up against him.

    Leaving the room, she clicked the door shut behind her and headed down the hallway toward the stairs.

    In the pale glow of a pair of long-outdated night-lights, she passed the closed doors of her children's bedrooms. Not that they were children anymore. Jillian was nineteen now, a sophomore at UCLA who dreamed of being a doctor, and Maddy—Meredith's baby—was eighteen and a freshman at Vanderbilt. Without them, this house—and Meredith's life—felt emptier and quieter than she'd expected. For nearly twenty years, she had devoted herself to being the kind of mother she hadn't had, and it had worked. She and her daughters had become the best of friends. Their absence left her feeling adrift , a little purposeless. She knew it was silly. It wasn't as if she didn't have plenty to do. She just missed the girls; that was all.

    She kept moving. Lately that seemed to be the best way to handle things.

    Downstairs, she stopped in the living room just long enough to plug in the Christmas tree lights. In the mudroom, the dogs leaped up at her, yapping and wagging their tails.

    "Luke, Leia, no jumping," she scolded the huskies, scratching their ears as she led them to the back door. When she opened it, cold air rushed in. Snow had fallen again last night, and though it was still dark on this mid-December morning, she could make out the pale pearlescence of road and field. Her breath turned into vapory plumes.

    By the time they were all outside and on their way, it was 6:10 and the sky was a deep purplish gray.

    Right on time.

    Meredith ran slowly at first, acclimating herself to the cold. As she did every weekday morning, she ran along the gravel road that led from her house, down past her parents' house, and out to the old single-lane road that ended about a mile up the hill. From there, she followed the loop out to the golf course and back. Four miles exactly. It was a routine she rarely missed; she had no choice, really. Everything about Meredith was big by nature. She was tall, with broad shoulders, curvy hips, and big feet. Even her features seemed just a little too much for her pale, oval face—she had a big Julia Roberts– type mouth, huge brown eyes, full eyebrows, and thick hair. Only constant exercise, a vigilant diet, good hair products, and an industrial-sized pair of tweezers could keep her looking good.

    As she turned back onto her road, the rising sun illuminated the mountains, turned their snowcapped peaks lavender and pink.

    On either side of her, thousands of bare, spindly apple trees showed through the snow like brown stitches on white fabric. This fertile cleft of land had belonged to their family for fifty years, and there, in the center of it all, tall and proud,...

About the Author-
  • Kristin Hannah is the New York Times bestselling author of novels including Night Road, Firefly Lane, True Colors and Winter Garden. She was born in Southern California and moved to Western Washington when she was eight. A former lawyer, Hannah started writing when she was pregnant and on bed rest for five months. Writing soon became an obsession, and she has been at it ever since. She is the mother of one son and lives with her husband in the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 5, 2009
    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.

  • Kirkus

    November 15, 2009
    A Russian refugee's terrible secret overshadows her family life.

    Meredith, heir apparent to her family's thriving Washington State apple enterprises, and Nina, a globetrotting photojournalist, grew up feeling marginalized by their mother. Anya saw her daughters as merely incidental to her grateful love for their father Evan, who rescued her from a German prison camp. The girls know neither their mother's true age, nor the answers to several other mysteries: her color-blindness, her habit of hoarding food despite the family's prosperity and the significance of her"winter garden" with its odd Cyrillic-inscribed columns. The only thawing in Anya's mien occurs when she relates a fairy tale about a peasant girl who meets a prince and their struggles to live happily ever after during the reign of a tyrannical Black Knight. After Evan dies, the family comes unraveled: Anya shows signs of dementia; Nina and Meredith feud over whether to move Mom from her beloved dacha-style home, named Belye Nochi after the summer"white nights" of her native Leningrad (St. Petersburg). Anya, now elderly but of preternaturally youthful appearance—her white hair has been that way as long as the girls can remember—keeps babbling about leather belts boiled for soup, furniture broken up for firewood and other oddities. Prompted by her daughters' snooping and a few vodka-driven dinners, she grudgingly divulges her story. She is not Anya, but Vera, sole survivor of a Russian family; her father, grandmother, mother, sister, husband and two children were all lost either to Stalin's terror or during the German army's siege of Leningrad. Anya's chronicle of the 900-day siege, during which more than half a million civilians perished from hunger and cold, imparts new gravitas to the novel, easily overwhelming her daughters' more conventional"issues." The effect, however, is all but vitiated by a manipulative and contrived ending.

    Bestselling Hannah (True Colors, 2009, etc.) sabotages a worthy effort with an overly neat resolution.

    (COPYRIGHT (2009) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    November 1, 2009
    Middle-aged sisters Meredith and Nina have always felt distanced from their Russian-born mother, Anya. But when their beloved father dies, he leaves them with a wishfor them to become closer to their mother and for Anya to reveal the truth about her past. Meredith's and Nina's troubled relationship with their mother is mirrored in their relationships with men. Meredith has grown apart from Jeff, her childhood sweetheart and longtime husband. And Nina travels the world as a freelance photographer, meeting up occasionally with lover Danny. Things have to fall apart before they get better, so after Jeff leaves Meredith and Nina's work begins to suffer, the sisters spend more time with Anya, who finally reveals more of the fairy tale she had told her daughters in their childhood. It doesn't take long for Meredith and Nina to figure out that this is really the true story of their mother's life in Leningrad during World War II. VERDICT This tearjerker weaves a convincing historical novel and contemporary family drama with elements of romance. It is sure to please fans of Danielle Steel, Luanne Rice, and Nicholas Sparks. [See Prepub Alert, "LJ" 10/15/09; 400,000-copy first printing; library marketing campaign.]Karen Core, Detroit P.L.

    Copyright 2009 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • People magazine

    "It's a tearjerker, but the journey is as lovely--and haunting--as a snow filled winter's night."

  • Publishers Weekly "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."
  • The Huffington Post "Winter Garden is Kristin Hannah's best written and most deeply affecting novel yet."
  • Library Journal "This tearjerker weaves a convincing historical novel and contemporary family drama..."
  • The Seattle Times "A...searing story with a breathtaking, beautiful ending."
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A Novel
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