The story of Winter Garden is something that builds up bit by bit. It is a story within a story and is pretty slow at first. It’s about two sisters, Meredith and Nina, and their mom, Anya who has been very cold to them all her life, and they couldn’t understand the reason for the same. When their father is on the deathbed, he takes a promise from the daughters that they will listen to Anya’s fairy tale in detail and try to know more about their mom.
After his death, Nina cajoles Anya to tell them the story and slowly but surely they uncover that their mom is actually Vera and has a past that they know nothing about. Vera’s family and her kids had witnessed pretty hostile situation during the Second World War. They come to know how Vera dealt with the war situation and lost her sister, mother, and son under extreme circumstances. I got very emotional at one point when the story turns very gloomy when Vera details out how they went through life without food and how she even fed her own blood from her finger to her son, whom she couldn’t save from the clutches of death. That’s the reason why later in life she was very interested in cooking and always used to cook much more than what was required. She had seen very bad days in life.
This book beautifully illustrates why it is important to know your mother’s past to be able to understand your own bearings in this world. Indeed, I felt that Vera was a very strong woman who did her level best to tide over the disturbing war conditions but sadly the impact of that experience on her life was so profound that she could not get involved and participate in her daughter’s childhood. The mother daughter relationship though is presented in a warm manner and one does feel that Vera should have disclosed the secret much before to her daughters. But it all comes together towards the end.
The latter part of the book is actually a sad account of the extreme living conditions that Vera had to face during the war. Later in the story she does come out of her shell and starts interacting with her daughters in a friendly and open manner. I would say it was a beautiful read towards the end. In real life, some moms are very communicative with their children while others just go through the chores without much thought. But a healthy mom-daughter relationship is required to be successful in life in general. This book drives home this point as well.