Where do I begin? This book was masterful. The story building in the beginning was a little slow but once that was established the book took off. Told in both the past and the present, the novel describes the relationships and hardships between family members amid the scars of war. The depth of strength, resilience, and compassion in people is amazing.
The novel begins with the death of Evan, the Whitson family patriarch and the glue that holds the tenuous bonds of family together. His dying wish is for his two daughters, Meredith the oldest and Nina, to take care of their mother Anya and listen to the fairy tale she has told them since they were children but in full this time. At first both are so overwhelmed by the task of trying to crack their mother’s cold exterior that they just retreat and protect themselves the only way they know how. For Meredith it’s working until everything else becomes and blur, and for Nina it’s running away to hide behind the lens of her camera. But it quickly becomes apparent that both sisters can no longer deny their father’s wish. Nina returns to listen to the fairy tale and prompt her mother to tell her more about her past. It’s through this fairy tale that the sisters learn the truth of their mother’s Russian past and begin to reestablish bonds that were broken by Evan’s death.
I won’t give anything away because this is a novel that you must experience first hand. The beauty and the tragedy of it are both heart breaking and breath taking. I honestly cried throughout the last 100 pages of the book. I was so mesmerized by the tale the author was weaving of war torn Leningrad and the reign of Stalin. Russia is a country with so many secrets. There are stories presented in this book that I’ve never heard about or learned in any history class. The deprivation and fear of the Russian people under Stalin was horrifying to read. The most heartbreaking scenes are the ones in Leningrad during WWII where the people had to scrounge for whatever food they could find, even boiling their own wall paper and leather belts. The human spirit and will to survive even the harshest environments is incredible.
This book really affected me in a way I didn’t anticipate. I think the older we get and the more experiences we have under our belt gives us more emotions to carry with us. The older I get the more emotional I become and perhaps this is the reason. You have a bigger well to draw empathy from than you do as a child.
Rating: 5/5 Go read this book immediately!
Stay tuned for the next installment in Book Battle 2015. Happy reading!