The Nightingale – 5/5
Winter Garden – 3.5/5
I don’t know if it is just a mere coincidence or Kristin Hannah’s books actually are exhausting. Both – The Nightingale and now Winter Garden – left me utterly drained and tired to the bone. I have decided to write about both books in one single post.
Kristin Hannah says that she loves exploring complex women-to-women relationships. While “The Nightingale” was about two sisters and their father, “Winter Garden’ was about two sisters and their mother.
How many of us try to understand the pasts of our parents? Do we realize that those might be affecting our present? Do we think how our past might affect the present of our children? A simple “I love you” sometimes is a daunting task. While both the books ruminate on this theme of past of parents and present of children, it is more prominently handled in Winter Garden.
While “The Nightingale” was fast-paced post first few pages, “Winter Garden” dragged till a good 50%. It started becoming quick and harrowing after that. Till then it was only a jumbled mess of feelings bordering on exasperation. While “The Nightingale” explored the horrors of German Occupation of France, “Winter Garden” explored the Siege of Leningrad, regarded as one of the longest and most destructive sieges in history that claimed around 10 million civilian casualties, during World War II.
Kristin Hannah has a way of describing physical and emotional struggle. She manages to figuratively smother the reader by accentuating the exact points. The hunger, the brutalities, the poverty, the filth, the longing, the silence, the noise – everything is described with disquieting precision.
“She doesn’t know how it is possible to believe simultaneously that her situation will improve and that she will die, but there it is.”
“I think maybe love can just…dissolve.”
“No, it does not,” her mother said.
“So how do–“
“You hang on,” her mother said. “Until your hands are bleeding, and still you do not let go.”
Isabelle and Vianne in “The Nightingale” and Meredith, Nina, Vera, Olga and Anya in “Winter Garden” are such embodiments of feminine strength – these unsung war heroes create a charismatic narrative that rescinds the rigid notion that only armies have soldiers.
Like I said earlier, “The Nightingale” catches momentum almost after the first 5-6 pages; “Winter Garden” takes time. The characters in the latter are far more annoying than I actually expected. Yes, all the characters are flawed, but it is simply infuriating how they never make any efforts to overcome them. It is only in the later part of the story that one realizes why they are who they are. The climax of both the books is intense and had me sobbing hard.
In both the books, Hannah has used different styles of story-telling. “The Nightingale” has a linear flow and focusses more on the war. “Winter Garden” goes back and forth, in past and present, spanning 50 years and three generations. The technique employed in “Winter Garden” is a story within a story – in which a fairy-tale told by a mother to her girls earns a deeper significance at a later point. While the former book is about grit and determination, the latter deals more with the psychological repercussions of the aforementioned bravado.
My grievance with “Winter Garden” is that too much time is spent on describing the clothes and appearances of the characters. The first half could have easily been controlled. Some things about the unclear emotions are monotonous in nature and fail to hold interest. Having an entire 1st half of the book averagely written is a risky and expensive drawback, because there are times readers may not have patience to get through it. I am glad I stuck through, but I cannot really recommend it to all the readers because not all may like the slogging.
“The Nightingale” on the other hand is a brilliant read, and I sure can recommend it to all.
If you have read these or any other of Kristin Hannah’s books, would love you hear from you.
A few quotes –
“If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: in love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”
“Men tell stories. Women get on with it. For us it was a shadow war. There were no parades for us when it was over, no medals or mentions in history books. We did what we had to during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over.”
“But love has to be stronger than hate, or there is no future for us”
“I am a mother and mothers don’t have the luxury of falling apart in front of their children, even when they are afraid, even when their children are adults.”
“Tante Isabelle says it’s better to be bold than meek. She says if you jump off a cliff at least you’ll fly before you fall.”
“She wanted to bottle how safe she felt in this moment, so she could drink of it later when loneliness and fear left her parched.”
Winter Garden –
“They would always be a family, but if she’d learned anything in the past few weeks it was that a family wasn’t a static thing. There were always changes going on. Like with continents, sometimes the changes were invisible and underground, and sometimes they were explosive and deadly. The trick was to keep your balance. You couldn’t control the direction of your family any more than you could stop the continental shelf from breaking apart. All you could do was hold on for the ride.”
“Nina knew the power of black and white images. Sometimes a thing was its truest self when the colors were stripped away.”