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Two sisters, Meredith and Nina, are struggling to come to terms both with their relationship with their cold, distant mother and the end of their father’s life. Meredith, the responsible daughter who helps run the family business and Nina, a world-renowned traveling photo-journalist, are both living through difficult seasons in their lives and grappling with how to move forward. Their father was the one who provided the warmth and love and as he lay dying, they make a promise to get to try to understand their mother better.
This was a nice story of family and how understanding someone’s past can help you see their perspective and will honestly shift your entire view of them. The bulk of the story is about Meredith and Nina during the present time, both struggling a bit to figure out what they really want from life and also dealing with the death of their father. They take their father’s dying wish, to get to know their mother and her past better, seriously, but it just takes a long time to get to that part. Once the story makes it to Russia and the atrocities inflicted on its people during World War 2, though, it really takes off.
It takes a long time to get to that point, though, and honestly, if I had not just abandoned a book after reading 200 pages, I might not have made it through this one. I did not feel very connected to the present time characters and I kept wishing for it to be more about the flashbacks to Leningrad, which Anya tells to her daughters as if it is a fairy tale, although early on they suspect it is a retelling of past events (which it is). This is the part of the story that holds much more suspense and meaning for me and where I felt it came alive.
The ending was also good, although heartbreaking. I am still interested to read more of Kristen Hannah’s earlier novels although I was a little disappointed in this one.