Sunday, February 12, 2012

On the Bookshelf: Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

At the beginning of this year, I purposed not to buy any books until I read more of what waits on my overflowing bookshelf and Kindle. By the third week of January, I’d broken my resolution. Never one to miss perusing a bin of discounted books – and perhaps to console myself after an unsuccessful attempt to find a new HEPA filter for the vacuum – I stopped to take a quick look in the book bin. The cover of Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah caught my eye and after reading the book jacket, I realized it had been on my “nice to read someday” list. So for $5, I broke my resolution and took it home.

I read the book this weekend in front of the cozy fire. It was a well-written, engaging story of two daughters who had spent their lives seeking their mother’s love and attention, and a mother they never really knew steely compartmentalizing the pain of the past while allowing it to dictate how she lived her life. The story is told in the present, while the past is artfully revealed through the periodic telling of a Russian fairy tale.

The book grasped me on many levels. The references to historical St. Petersburg (Leningrad) intrigued me, having had the privilege to visit St. Petersburg while in college. While fiction, the story offered a first person account of what it might have been like to live in 1930s-40s Russia. The daughters’ struggled to understand their mother, coming to realize how their mother’s past impacted not only their relationships with her, but the choices they did or didn’t make as adult women.

My genre of choice is fiction. Some discount fiction as fluff, as escapism. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes I just want to read something that I don’t have to think about, to give my mind a break from demands and responsibilities of everyday living. But a good work of fiction can do so much more beyond offering respite from the everyday. Winter Garden personalized events only touched on in history books and also made me consider how a daughter’s story can never truly be separated from her mother’s.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


So here I am once more. In a hospital waiting room. Waiting for a friend who has cancer and it's time for her level of care to increase as the cancer appears to be forging ahead despite treatment.

Cancer is hard. My role this time is the same yet different as it was with Pam. Pam was my friend, my sister. She was family. J is our neighbor and until her diagnosis, we were the live-across-the-street, call how-are-you-doing, wave-hello kind of neighbors. She was busy with her job and kept close company. We were busy with family, our home, work, life demands, with ... .

Enter the C word. The game-changer. I became her friend, her house-tidier (housekeeper would be a stretch!), transporter, encourager, occasional meal provider. We began helping her with daily life. We became privileged to spend time with her, learn from her, hear her stories. She's lived all over the world, met many famous people, has a wonderful sense of humor, is smart and kind. We enjoyed time with her on Christmas night and New Year's Eve.

Cancer triggered our friendship. I am glad that our friendship was triggered, but I wish it wasn't by cancer. Walking this path with J has really made me think about what it means to love your neighbor. Your literal neighbor. There is joy, there is pain, it is wonderful, it is hard. Sometimes very hard.