Three women. A mother and two sisters. Became a triangle after the husband/father passed away. How would they manage their life from that moment?
This first chapter about the play hung in my mind when I am reading the book. I was more than eager to know what its implication was.
On the bright side, the use of names from Star Wars was a surprise. Lei and Luke already made me smile. "Thank you, Yoda" brought me laughter!
Vera's "fairy tale" started brightly. But it turned out to be a very sad one. To an extent that I only glanced through the last part of the story. I just can't bear the sorrow.
There was something that would reveal Meredith and Nina's mother.
There had to be. What woman didn’t have some memento hidden far from prying eyes?
For years they had tried to love their mother in the same unconditional way they had loved their father. That desire to love and be loved was the cornerstone of their youth, and its first true failure.
Nothing they had done had ever been right in their mother’s eyes, and for two girl who desperately wanted to please, this failure had left scars.
They longed for their family to be like those they saw on television, where everything looked perfect and everyone got along. No one, not even their beloved father, understood how alone they often felt within those four walls, how invisible.
To her daughters' eyes, Anya Whitson was a cold woman; any warmth she had was directed at her husband. Precious little of it reached her daughters. When they were younger, Dad had tried to pretend it was otherwise, to redirect their attention like a magician, mesmerizing them with the brightness of his affection, but as with all illusions, the truth ultimately appeared behind it.
If there was one thing her mother loved, it was a fairy tale about a reckless peasant girl who dared to fall in love with a prince
Meredith and Nina had heard this fairy tale for years.
The story had always been something they had taken for granted; like a picture you saw so often you never wondered who it was that had taken it, or who that was standing in the background. But once you’d noticed the oddity, it threw everything else into question.
For years, Meredith and Nina had seen their mother without really looking at her, just as they had heard the fairy tale without really listening. They had taken for granted that it was a lovely bit of fiction; they’d listened only to hear their mother’s voice.
But everything was different now.
To fulfill the promise they had made to their father, Nina and Meredith would have to do better: they’d have to really see and really listen to her mother. Every word.
It seemed impossible that something you’d heard all your life and deemed irrelevant could actually be of value; it was like finding out that the painting above your fireplace was an early Van Gogh.
But it was true; they had heard the words and simply accepted them at face value, never questioning, never looking deeper. Maybe all kids did that with family stories. The more you heard something, the less you questioned the veracity of it.
This telling of the fairy tale was changing their perceptions of everything, of each other most of all. With that thought came another: what was it about the play—and about the fairy tale—that had upset Mom so much all those years ago?
“We know the fairy tale takes place in Leningrad and that some of it is real. Who is Vera, Mom?” Nina asked. “And who are these children?”
Mom shook her head. “Do not ask me.”
“We’re your daughters,” Meredith said gently, trying to soften the questions her sister had asked. “We just want to know you.”
“It was what Dad wanted, too,” Nina said.
Their father had spent his life trying to create love where none existed—between his wife and his daughters—and he couldn’t give up even now. All he could do was hand his need to her and hope she could accomplish what he wanted.
He was a man who valued laughter and joy.
Meredith had followed her Mom like an eager puppy, begging to be noticed. If anything, the distance between them had grown. Nina had handled it differently. She’d given up on the hope of intimacy earlier and chosen to accept her mother’s solitude. In many ways they were alike, she and Mom. They didn’t need anyone except Dad.
“He is my home,” their mother said, shaking her head. “How will I live without him?”
She was right. He was home, the very heart of them. How would they stand life without him?
It should have been an impossible combination, but her mother had always been a woman of contradictions. She’d worried acutely about letting her children leave the yard, but hardly looked at them when they were in the house; she’d claimed that there was no God even as she decorated her holy corner and kept its lamp lit; she ate only enough food to keep her body moving, but wanted her children to eat more than they could stand.
Dad was right: the fairy tale was changing everything.” “To lose love is a terrible thing,” Mom said softly. “But to turn away from it is unbearable.
It was all connected; Meredith knew that now. Her life and her mother’s. They were joined, and not only by blood. By inclination, perhaps even by temperament. She was more and more sure that whatever loss had finally broken her mother—turned Vera into Anya—would have ruined Meredith, too. And she was afraid of hearing it.
Anya carried her pain with you in life.
“I am eighty-one years old, telling my life story to my daughters. Every year, I thought it was too late to start, that I’d waited too long." Anya said.
“I am not Anya Petrovna Whitson. This is the name I took, the woman I became.” “I am Veronika Petrovna Marchenko Whitson.
Sometimes a name is all you have left and Leningrad is my city. It is a part of me. Long ago, I knew those streets like I know the soles of my feet or the palms of my hands. But it is not my youth you are interested in. Not that I had much of one, when I look back on it. I started to grow up at fifteen when they took my father away, and by the end of the war, I was old. . . .
There was only Vera, first as a young woman, falling in love and having her babies . . . and then as a woman afraid, digging on the Luga line and walking through bombed-out landscapes. “
“My fairy tale is the only thing that keeps us all sane. Without it, I think I might begin crying or screaming and never stop. “
Anya/Vera knew she should have told their daughter this long ago, but she let their father be both their voices. It was yet another of her wrong choices.
"You shine a light on hard times. This is what your pictures do. You do not let people look away from that which hurts. I am so, so proud of what you do. You saved us.” Anya went on.
For all of their life, when Nina and Meredith had looked at her seen sharp bones and hard eyes and a mother’s beautiful face, she’d mouth that never smiled. Now Nina and Meredith saw past that. The hard lines were fought for, imposed; a mask over the softness that lay beneath.
They knew it would change their life, this understanding of love; they couldn’t imagine living without it again.
Evan, their beloved husband and father was
the one who so often told Any that forgiveness could be hers if she would reach out.
This was his gift. This was what the story gave them, and in the past ten years, they have loved enough for a lifetime.
At first I did not know if I was going to enjoy this book. In the beginning it started to remind me of a V.C. Andrews book in that the mother was so detached and mean to her children (like the grandmother in Flowers In The Attic, almost). It took a bit for me to get settled into the sisters characters, but eventually I understood why the author had to delve into their personalities so much; to explain how being so detached from their mother had affected them.
Without giving any spoilers away, I was quite upset that the father did not seek help for his wife because he knew that the mother shutting out their daughters was not healthy for any of them. He tried to make up for the relationship his daughters did not have with their mother by trying to be extra loving toward them.
This story does eventually get down to the nitty gritty of why the mother is so distant towards her daughters. It is a touch of a historical novel as well as being contemporary. The way the stories intertwine is wonderful. It had me crying and was very moving. I highly recommend reading this book.
It took me a while to get into the book because I did not find the characters believable but after having read about a 35% of it, I kind of got interested in the 'fairy tale' and wanted to see how it ended. I gave it 4 stars because I liked it more than I disliked it!...Continua