Winter Garden Summary & Study Guide

Kristin Hannah
This Study Guide consists of approximately 74 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Winter Garden.
This section contains 1,029 words
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Winter Garden Summary & Study Guide Description

Winter Garden Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah.

The following version of the novel was used to create this study guide: Hannah, Kristin. Winter Garden. St. Martin’s Press, February 2, 2010. Kindle.

The historical fiction novel Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah details how a fairy tale brings together Anya Whitson and her daughters Meredith Whitson Cooper and Nina Whitson. As young children, Meredith and Nina had decided that their mother did not love them. They assumed it was because of some failing on their part. It was only after their father died and they followed through with the promise they made to him to listen to their mother's story all the way through that they understood that their mother did not hate them. She seemed cold and distant because she believed she was unworthy of the life she was living.

When Meredith was only twelve, she believed that she could earn her mother’s love and attention if she acted out the fairy tale that Anya told them frequently. Instead, Anya became angry with Meredith and criticized her in front of their family and friends.

Twenty-eight years later, Meredith and Nina’s father (Evan Whitson) suffered a fatal heart attack. He made Meredith promise him that she would take care of Anya. He made Nina promise that she would get Anya to tell them the complete fairy tale. Meredith tried to take care of her mother’s physical needs while Nina attempted to ignore her grief by going back to work as a photojournalist.

Anya began suffering what Meredith believed were breaks with reality. She would tell Meredith that they needed to take their money out of the bank. One day Meredith came home to find Anya looking through her jewelry for something she could trade for food. She was talking about a butterfly. Meredith decided that her mother had to go into the nursing home for her safety when she came home to find her standing on the counter with a roll of duct tape and newspaper. She had peeled the wallpaper from the walls in the dining room and was boiling it in a pot. The tips of her fingers were bleeding because she had slit them open with an X-Acto knife.

When Nina returned home from her photo-shoot, she was angry when she discovered that her mother was in the nursing home. She took Anya back home and began trying to get her to tell the fairy tale, like she had promised her father. Nina wore their mother down, and she agreed to tell the story on her terms. The sisters began to notice that as their mother’s story developed, it was more detailed and included references to real places and people in Leningrad, Russia, the place where her mother had grown up. They finally realize that their mother is telling them the story of her life.

While cleaning out drawers in Evan’s study, Meredith found a letter from a professor at the University at Alaska telling Anya that he respected her decision not to share her Leningrad story, but he believed it would be a valuable addition to a research project on which he was working. After Meredith shared this letter with Nina, Nina booked reservations for the three of them on an Alaskan cruise. The cruise included a stop in Juneau, where the professor lived in a nursing home.

During the cruise and later in the professor’s room, Anya told the remainder of the story of her life in Leningrad during Stalin’s Communist reign. Her father was among the artists killed during the purges. She met and fell in love with Prince Aleksandr “Sasha” Andreyevich Marchenko. They married after Anya, who was then known as Vera, turned seventeen. They had two children, Anastasia and Leo. When the children were five and four, the Germans began attacking Russia. Sasha went off the war, as he believed good Soviets should do. Meanwhile, Leningrad was cut off from getting supplies. Food rations were cut. In the winter, people froze to death in the streets.

Vera and her children were slowly starving to death. By the time Sasha was able to get evacuation papers for them, Leo was fatally sick. He was unable to board the train to Vologda because he was dying. Vera put Anastasia on the train with instructions that her father would meet her in Vologda. Vera stayed with Leo until he died later that day. When she arrived at the train station in Vologda, Anastasia and Sasha were waiting for her. Just before she reached them, a bomb exploded. Vera was told they were killed.

In the present in Alaska, the professor sent Anya, Meredith, and Nina to the house of a former colleague to deliver interview tapes. The professor, who had suffered a stroke and had difficulty speaking, seemed agitated because he could not make it clear why he wanted the women to visit that home. Nina promised him they would make the visit.

At the house, the man who opened the door said that he was not working on any projects with the professor. He called for his wife, Stacey, when he learned that the professor had sent them. It turned out that Stacey had waited on them at a restaurant earlier in the week. As they visited, Anya studied a picture included in the family’s holy corner. Stacey told her it was a picture of her parents on their wedding day. Anya had already recognized the photo as her wedding photo. She had given it to Sasha to take with him into war. Stacey told Anya that she and her father had awakened up on a medical train after the bomb blast. They had gone back to Vologda after Sasha recovered from his injuries, but were not able to locate her. Sasha had waited for Anya, but had died just a year prior.

The novel ends with Anya’s death ten years after she was reunited with her oldest daughter. She imagines seeing Sasha and Leo’s ghosts as they ask her to join them. Anya knows that her daughters will be okay without her because they have become a family.

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