Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Sisters of the Winter Wood - Rena Rossner

Summary: Raised in a small village surrounded by vast forests, Liba and Laya have lived a peaceful sheltered life - even if they've heard of troubling times for Jews elsewhere. When their parents travel to visit their dying grandfather, the sisters are left behind in their home in the woods.

But before they leave, Liba discovers the secret that their Tati can transform into a bear, and their Mami into a swan. Perhaps, Liba realizes, the old fairy tales are true. She must guard this secret carefully, even from her beloved sister.

Soon a troupe of mysterious men appear in town and Laya falls under their spell-despite their mother's warning to be wary of strangers. And these are not the only dangers lurking in the woods...

The sisters will need each other if they are to become the women they need to be - and save their people from the dark forces that draw closer. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: This is just the kind of book that I‘ve really enjoyed lately. First off, I’m totally digging these fairytale retellings. This one is based on an old Russian fairytale, and I think it’s mixed with a few different fairytales including some cultural lore (according to the afterward), and I think it worked really well. The characters were interesting and mysterious, just as they should be in a good fairytale. I loved the magical realism as well, and I think that’s one of the things that made it really work. So many people who have lived throughout history, due to their lack of scientific knowledge and discovery, basically lived magical realism. Things that we are able to explain away today with science or with natural phenomena would have been magic to them, and I think that is the power behind fairytale—who knows where the natural phenomena or fairytale begins when everything is confusing and new? Some people died from a plague, some did not. Was this just magic or bewitching? Maybe. Fairytales just seem so authentic and real to people who have lived pretty much throughout history without the modern inventions and knowledge we have. And let’s face it—tons of things happen even now that we can’t explain. Is it magic? Is it science?

I enjoyed the writing in this book. Rossner is an adept storyteller and she has organized the book into being told first person by the two sisters. Each of the sisters has a very unique and telling style, and I enjoyed how the writing and the style of prose reflected each of the sisters.

The story is also very compelling. It is full of the age-old troubles of girls falling in love with boys they shouldn’t, family complications of all shapes and sizes, discovering oneself and embracing your destiny without losing sight of your own desires, and cultural strife between different ethnic groups living side by side. Really, this book encompassed a lot of themes and addressed them well. The fact that it was based on actual historical happenings gave it a feeling of authenticity, even though it was well within the realm of fantasy. I found it very interesting and enjoyable.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some cultural strife and mentioned violence.

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