Friday, October 24, 2014

The Winter Guest

Title:  The Winter Guest
Author:  Pam Jenoff
Publication Information:  Harlequin MIRA. 2014. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0778315967 / 978-0778315964

Book Source:  I received this book through a publisher's giveaway free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "Mine is not the story of the ghettos and the camps, but of a small village in the hills, a chapel in the darkness of the night. I should write it down, I suppose. The younger ones do not remember, and when I am gone there will be no one else ... But I cannot ... I cannot find the words to do justice to the people that lived, and the things that transpired among us."

Eighteen year old Helena and Ruth are twins trying to care for three young siblings in rural Poland during World War II. Their father has died, and their mother is in a hospital, with no hope of recovery in sight. Ruth takes on the motherly role in the family; she is described as the gentler one to whom the younger children turn for nurturing. Helena is described as the strong, sturdy one. She takes on the role her father had, making herself responsible for providing for the family, taking care of the home, and making the trek to the city to check on their mother.

On one of her city trips. Helena discovers a soldier in the woods. Sam's plane has crashed, and he is injured. She decides to hide him and help him survive and accomplish his mission. Two sisters, one soldier, war, spies, friends, lovers, enemies - that becomes the story of this book.

This book is set in a war. It has all the makings of a historical story about World War II, the plight of the Polish people, the plight of the Jews, and the role of the United States. What the book becomes, however, is a story of two sisters, their relationship, what binds them, and what tears them apart - decisions that are not truly about the war going on around them. The story of their relationship overshadows the story of the war.

The premise of this book is one that should evoke sympathy and caring. Here are two young women whose father has died and whose mother is in a hospital fighting for her life. They live in a war zone. They are trying to hold on to life and keep life bearable for three younger siblings. They sound like young women dealing with adverse circumstances with courage and strength. However, the characterization does not create that image at all. What comes across most clearly, unfortunately, is the sibling rivalry and the resentment between the two sisters.

This book is also historically inaccurate. Chapter 1 begins with a statement of time and place, "Poland, 1940." The story is set in a small Polish village, and one character is an American soldier. The issue with that is one of timing. The Nazi Germany attack on Poland occurred in September 1939. However, the United States did not enter the war until after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. An American soldier would not have been in Poland in 1940.

The ending ties the entire book up in a neat package. The book reveals what happens to all the characters but not how. Some of those resolutions, like the unlikely scenario of finding someone in a concentration camp, seem far-fetched. No explanation is given; just that it happened. So, the answer of "what happened" is not a satisfactory one because it does not explain how.

This is the first book I have read by Pam Jenoff. While this is not the book for me, I am a fan of historical fiction. I will perhaps try another one of her works.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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