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in Kristin Hannah’s Winter Garden, we find three women - a mother and two daughters by blood, but strangers in their hearts - reeling from the loss of the man who held their fragile family together. Emptiness pervades this story - hollowing out what is left of the Whitson family and creeping into the space between narrator Susan Erickson’s words.

Anya and her daughters Meredith and Nina have already lost their husband and father to death - and risk losing each other to pride. Evan Whitson knew of this risk, and on his deathbed asked his wife to tell their daughters her “fairy tale” from start to finish. And so we find the Whitson women gathered in the dark at their family home, Belye Nochi, night after night.

Meredith is the older daughter who stayed home to take care of the family business, and her marriage is falling apart. Younger sister Nina, meanwhile, has traveled the globe as a renowned photographer, but refuses to marry the love of her life. Neither sister has much of a relationship with the other - much less with their cold and distant mother, Anya, whose mysterious past in Russia haunts them all.

Erickson’s Anya is resolute, her Nina bold, and her Meredith lost. Effortlessly, it seems, Erickson captures in one moment the decades of sorrow in Anya’s voice and in the next the ready spirit in Nina’s. Always we hear the sheer exhaustion in Meredith’s. Erickson’s voice is at times empty and full, icy and warm, sharp and soft. Throughout the book all three women are alternately devastated with loss, isolated by bitterness, and joyous for the love of family, and Erickson lets us hear it all with her honest and gentle delivery.

Winter Garden is a story best listened to - it is after all a testament to the power of storytelling. What Meredith and Nina hear in their mother’s story will cause them to face their grief head on and just might make them a family once again. --Sarah Evans Hogeboom

Publisher's Summary

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.

©2010 by Kristin Hannah. (P)2009 Brilliance Audio, all rights reserved.

Critic Reviews

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

“This tearjerker weaves a convincing historical novel and contemporary family drama.” --Library Journal

“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.” --Publishers Weekly 

What listeners say about Winter Garden

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  • A. Musser
  • 29-11-17

I thought I made a mistake

After listening to another work by this author that was just outstanding (The Nightingale), I grabbed this one without much research. I thought for the first several hours that I made a mistake. The story starts so slowly and initially felt almost a bit like an immature romance novel trying to masquerade as literature. But then the story came to life much further in than I had anticipated and it became all-consuming. It did a complete 180 and morphed into one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful stories I've ever read. So if you have the patience to suffer through a somewhat monotonous buildup, the effort will pay off in the end. I eventually felt like my entire day became about when I could get back to it. I longed for the story when I wasn't listening. It's a beautiful and emotional story that will make your heart break over and over but it will also come around to an ending that is a precious treasure.

A word of warning: since becoming a mother, stories where children suffer have become exponentially more upsetting to me and this story had some elements that were so far over that line of discomfort that there were times I wanted to stop. I wouldn't recommend this to a new mother or someone struggling with PPD or someone who was in mourning. The story comes around to a beautiful place but it trudges through some of the most painful hardships to get there. Ultimately I'm glad I stuck through it but my daughter is about to turn 2 and if I'd tried to listen to this in my earlier, super-hormonal, new mom days, I don't think I could have finished it. Don't forego it completely, just wait until you can handle it if you're feeling emotionally delicate.

692 people found this helpful

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  • Donna A
  • 14-12-12

A journey of discovery

"Winter Garden" has to one of my most favorite books by Kristin Hannah. The book is about 3 women and their journey of discovery of who they are, of family history, of sacrifices made, of sisterhood and family secrets.

The book opens up when sisters Meredith and Nina are putting on a family play of a ‘fairy tale’ their mother Anya often tells them at night – of a Russian Prince and peasant girl. The acting out of this play angers Anya and the play is stopped. This is when they, as sisters become distant with each other and believe their cold, distant mother doesn’t love them. Fast forward to current day – when the 2 sisters; Meredith, the nurturer who runs the family apple orchard but living in a troubled marriage - Nina, prize-winning and world-renowned photojournalist, someone who avoids coming home and committing to a relationship, and Anya, their mother. They are forced to deal with their father’s death and promises each has made to him on his death bed. These promises force the 3 women to open up about their lives to each other and discover who they are as women and what they want. As Anya finally tells the full fairy tale of the prince and peasant girl - Meredith and Nina discover who their mother really is, of her strength, endurance and regrets.

There are moments in this books that are sad, heartbreaking, yet captivating – I so enjoyed the story within a story although not always a happy or feel good type of read. I did feel the beginning of the book was a little slow to take off but well worth hanging in there - so I would give the book more of a 4 1/2 stars. There were some surprises and some parts that were very predictable. This actually was an audiobook which was narrated by Susan Ericksen. I felt she did an excellent job and made the book very enjoyable to listen to, her Irish and Russian accents were right on for me.

127 people found this helpful

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  • John Gilmartin
  • 30-03-18

Dysfunctional & Frustrating

So disappointed! Loved The Nightingale by this author and The Winter Garden was also a “must read.” Wrong! Monotonous storyline, annoying and frustrating to listen to. Could not finish - actually got a migraine! TERRIBLE!!!

21 people found this helpful

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  • magnoliamudpie
  • 23-01-18

Slow start, strong finish, distracting narration

It took me several weeks to get through the first seven chapters of this book. The characters were whiny, the plot repetitive, and the narration took the whining, angry dialogue to a cringing level. I was resolved to just stop listening altogether, but after reading reviews that claimed it got better in the second half, I pressed on.

The storyline from there could have stood on it’s own, and I enjoyed reading a story set in a WWII but in a different country—Russia—than most authors choose as a setting for the horrendous event. While I mostly appreciated the narrator’s Russian accent when voicing the mother, she sometimes lapsed out of that accent when the mother went into lengthy storytelling.

The part of the story that was most profound to me is the author’s teasing out of how we judge others based on certain behavior or words, but we don’t necessarily know their story and how they became the person they are today.

Not my favorite Kristin Hannah work, but worth hanging in there if you find the first part close to awful.

19 people found this helpful

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  • Terri
  • 28-02-10

Best of 100

I have downloaded over 100 Audible titles and this has proven to be the absolute best for story and narration. Susan Ericksen did a phenomenal job on this narration and the story moved me beyond belief.
Excellent! Excellent!
Thank you.

92 people found this helpful

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  • Alysa
  • 17-10-10

Gut wrenching....but well done.

It's actually 2 stories ....the mother's tale of Stalin's Russia/ Siege of Leningrad and the daughters' tale of being raised by this survivor....both were very interesting. I was drawn into the history and learned so much about Soviet Russia. The truth of it is very hard and sad, making it a difficult read at times. I must mention the narration. This is the first book I have purchased with truly EXCELLENT narration! I can't stress enough what a difference this made to the overall enjoyment of this book. Every emotion, every character and every accent was delivered with the obvious gift of an actress. I will never purchase another book again without rave reviews for the narration. What a difference! Bravo!

76 people found this helpful

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  • Clothing Fan
  • 19-12-19

Read only if you enjoy family misery

Four hours in and very little had happened except a family making each other miserable over and over. Just awful slogging writing and narration. Didn’t care what happened to these people and nothing did.

14 people found this helpful

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  • Kathryn @theBookDate
  • 11-04-10

Excellent writing, excellent narrating.

Powerful story. I listened to the audio of this, very well done. It is not an easy story to listen to, but beautiful all the same. The way Kristin Hannah tells the story both in the present day and back to Stalin's time works seamlessly. In the telling of the story love and redemption eventually are born. But before that great pain and loss. Sometimes almost too unbearable to hear. Recommend the listen.

51 people found this helpful

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  • Vicki
  • 25-07-10

Slow to start and unbelievable characters

In the end I am glad that I decided to finish the book. The Mother's story is extremely interesting and well told although the ending is ridiculous.

However, getting to that point was like enduring Spring allergy fog. I just wanted to go to sleep and skip over the self-inflicted and over-dramatized pain of these women. The two daughters are obnoxious, self-absorbed and, well, silly characters. I never liked them and, frankly, they were hardly necessary to the good part of the story.
While, I know the story is fiction, I do expect my fiction to have some sense of reality. There is no way that a father (especially one portrayed as being as insightful as this one was) would have let that kind of animosity build up between a mother and daughters knowing that he knew why. The author tried to portray the father as the hero of all 3 women when I think he was the root cause of all of their problems. One long conversation with the daughters and half of that book would have been unnecessary.
I read True Colors and liked it but I'm not sure I will read any others by this author.
I really enjoyed the narrator.

59 people found this helpful

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  • Nicole K.
  • 29-11-17

Awesome!

My parents made me promise I’d read this. For the first few pages, I couldn’t tell why they were so enthusiastic about this book, but then, whoosh! The story took off and I was carried away. Like my 83 year old parents, I love, love, loved it!

47 people found this helpful

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  • "missdipsycalling"
  • 12-04-18

phenominal

absolutely phenomenal storyline. it has me gripped from the start and I was in floods of tears at the end. can't rate this title high enough. amazing.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Rosie @ 36
  • 07-08-20

A story within a story

At first, while listening to this, I did not like it as much as Kristin Hannah’s other books. It took until I was well into ‘the fairy story’ before I really began to get engrossed with the way it was told. As with The Nightingale and The Great Alone the story carried you along, you became close to the characters and each one had me in tears at the end. I was sorry to leave each family when it was over.
Kristin Hannah has a nice writing style and I like the way her characters evolve.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 19-07-20

Stick with it!

As others have said in reviews the beginning is a little slow and repetitive and must admit to nearly giving up. SO glad I didn’t though this book is well worth the listening time! The details of the Seige of Leningrad and the suffering it caused are harrowing and so sad .. the way the story pans out is well written and I enjoyed the unfolding.

Stick with it and you will not be disappointed but have your handkerchief ready!

My only gripe was the narration Irish accent .. made me cringe a bit!! However only a small part of an otherwise brilliant story

Highly recommend.. a great book for book clubs to read and discuss

2 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Susanna
  • 27-12-11

Winter Garden

I chose this audibook after reading many good reviews about the novel. It tells the story about the relationship between two sisters and their mother who has always been very cold and distant to them. When the father (who was the strengh of the family) dies, following a promise that the 3 women made to him, the mother explains to her daughers the truth of her earlier life in Leningrad during the war. This story helps the daughters understand their mother better and changes completety their relationship. For me the story is an example of how important it is to talk about emotions and feelings to the people you love, and how misunderstandings can spoil relationships. I would recommend this book as I really enjoyed it.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Sarah Bland
  • 25-04-21

Dammit she can write a good story

Never been disappointed with a Kristen Hannah novel. Always learn lots, and want them to go on longer. That's the whole point isn't it?

1 person found this helpful

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  • AndreaK
  • 27-04-19

Amazing description of the siege of Leningrad

I really enjoyed this book overall. The descriptions of family relations were very perceptive, though I got a bit bored by the repetition of these at about chapter 7/8. It is worth persevering though, as the later chapters are incredible, with their heart-breaking description of the siege of Leningrad. I cried a lot in those chapters. The coincidence that occurs towards the end of the story, when the family is in Alaska, is a bit hard to credit, but it makes a good story. It is a hard book to narrate, with the Russian accent and the Irish one. The former slipped from time to time but the latter was a travesty - it could have been many accents, but Irish was rarely detectable. That's why I have given the performance 3 stars. Kristin Hannah is an excellent storyteller.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Mrs Wilma P
  • 20-04-21

Overly sentimental

I have enjoyed other novels by Kristin Hannah, but found this one overly sentimental, contrived and stilted. I just couldn’t persevere beyond the first half. The narrator was excellent, but couldn’t save the book for me.

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  • Caroline Munday
  • 08-04-21

Stunningly Epic Tale

I've listened to a number of books by Kristin Hannah and have to say I very nearly gave up on this one BUT I'm so very honoured to have read this story of the harshness and trials faced by Russians in the seige of Leningrad and the story of the emotional weight carried by survivors. In all, this story of love is outstanding. I was in floods if tears at the end through the beauty of it all.

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  • Sharon Wolf
  • 07-04-21

Mindnumbingly BORING!

I persevered to chapter 6 but it was all the same old drivel. I suggest you don’t bother

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 11-03-21

Very slow boring first half, editor asleep at the wheel!

Nearly gave up on this book so many times but only stuck as it was a KH book. Loved The Great Alone and The Nightingale so this was a major disappointment. The storyline was poor and took so long to get going. Very repetitive. Virtually nothing happens in the first half. Editor asleep I think. Also catastrophic Irish accent. So bad. No Dubliner ever spoke like that. Enjoyed last third of book but all very predictable. Leningrad during the war was best part of the story. Shocking and interesting. But overall the book was not up to KH standards.

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  • samantha bryant
  • 24-03-21

Hard to be believe this is from Kristin Hannah

Having read so many incredible books by this author, I was bitterly disappointed with this book. Firstly, the narrator was really, really bad so I suppose the book could never make up for that. She actually did an Irish accent..of a male...that was incredibly bad..I hope an Irish person never has to listen to that. Thankfully she used a Russian accent for most of it and that was a brave attempt but the American voices...no, no, no. Everyone sounded the same...bored, miserable and unhappy..as I was listening to it drone on and on. Amazingly, I managed to get to the end but I was not rewarded. I kept thinking that surely the book would get better but for me, it did not.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 03-06-21

A haunting fairytale of the siege at Leningrad.

Excellently narrated.
A beautiful and moving story of loss and love. I couldn't stop listening, finding myself waking to listen early hours of the morning. A fantastically written book.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 14-04-21

Enthralling

I cannot describe the emotions that this story evoked.
I felt like I was there for every step.
Now I have to find another book to take me on my escape.
Definitely a five star read and narration.

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  • Pia Horan-Gross
  • 27-03-21

A historical novel at its best!

Superbly written, thoroughly researched and masterfully performed; the account of an individual family, surviving the unimaginable horrors experienced by the inhabitants of the then Leningrad and its siege by the German Army (now St. Petersburg) during The Second World War, where 700,000 people are said to have starved to death, and a further 300,000 were killed in daily, nightly bombing raids! It also describes life in The Soviet Union, under the oppressive rule of Stalin.

This tragedy is the backdrop of a beautiful, lasting love between two people from very different backgrounds, torn asunder by the insanity of war. Anya, the main character, appears cold and aloof to her daughters but gradually, her story is revealed through the telling of a beautiful fairytale.

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  • Carolyn Christophersen
  • 30-12-20

Beautiful story

I loved this book, well written with so much detail. It captures you and you feel part of the characters lives. It will stir up many emotions and you think of the story long aftet finishing it.

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  • Lyn Bender
  • 19-07-18

The glittering white nights

Myths meet stark reality. The untold story emerges and the siege of Leningrad emerges from its darkest hour into the light. Part fantasy joins searingly harsh night and the death of a million . A story of hope and love emerging fro locked in suffering, finally liberated.