Reading Group Guide
1. This novel explores a complicated and strained relationship between two sisters. Do you think Meredith is justified in being so angry with Nina? In what ways are the sisters different and in what ways are they alike?
2. Meredith and Nina are both reluctant to let the men in their lives help them through a difficult time, yet both are suffering from the grief caused by the death of their father. Do you think this is something they’ve inherited from their mother? In what other ways are they similar to their mother? Do you think it’s impossible to avoid becoming like the people who raised you?
3. Anya Whitson is color blind and cannot see the colors in her winter garden. Why do you think the author gave the character this particular trait? In what ways is it a metaphor for what Anya has gone through in her life? Do you believe it is a physiological blindness or a psychological one?
4. One of the themes in this book is female solidarity and strength during hard times. Nina witnesses women in Namibia, Africa holding hands and laughing, even though their country has been ravaged by famine and warfare. Their bond impenetrable. Why do you think she’s so interested in this theme? How else does this theme play out throughout the novel? How does understanding her mother’s life inform Nina’s view of her work?
5. Memory is an important theme in Winter Garden. Meredith often regrets --- when looking at old family photos taken without her --- that she was often off organizing or obsessing over details, while everyone else was living in the moment, creating memories. How common is this for women and mothers? What memories keep your family together?
6. As a child in Leningrad, Anya learned that it was dangerous to express emotions. That in doing so she would be putting what was left of her family at risk with the secret police. But now, with Meredith and Nina, her inability to express emotion is driving them apart, destroying the family she has now. How has Anya passed down this legacy to her daughters? How has it harmed their own relationships?
7. Food is an important element in this novel. Obviously, Anya loves to cook. Why doesn’t she teach this to her daughters?
8. Jeff tells Meredith that “words matter.” What are some examples of this throughout the story? How have words saved and harmed each of these characters’ lives? How has silence saved and harmed each of these characters’ lives? How do words --- the telling of the fairy tale --- change their individual and collective perceptions of who they are?
9. When Anya, Meredith and Nina watch the man carving the totem pole in Alaska in memory of his deceased son, Meredith realizes that Anya’s fairytale has served the same function as this man’s sculpture. It is a symbol of loss, a way to sublimate the pain of grief, to heal. In what other ways did Anya heal by telling her daughters the fairy tale? In what ways did Meredith and Anya heal?
10. Anya is an unsympathetic character throughout much of the book. How did your perception of her change as the fairy tale unfolded? Did you end up sympathizing with her, or even liking her? Or do you feel that her treatment of her daughters was inexcusable, regardless of the hardships she had faced in her life? How do you think you would have fared in Leningrad under the siege? Was Anya heroic in Leningrad, or a failure?
11. It isn’t until Nina and Meredith discover who their mother is that they are able to discover who they are. What do they find out about themselves? How do you think their perception of their own childhoods will change now that they know the truth behind their mother’s story?
12. Winter Garden teaches us that it is never too late to say “I love you.” Meredith and Nina waited all of their lives to hear it from their mother. Sasha waited until his death for Anya to return. What has this novel taught us about the bonds of family and the strength of love?
13. How did you feel about the ending?
- Publication Date: January 4, 2011
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 448 pages
- Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
- ISBN-10: 0312663153
- ISBN-13: 9780312663155