Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff

I decided to pick this up since I had enjoyed The Orphan's Tale, and I was not disappointed.  Again Jenoff tells a somewhat different Holocaust story which was inspired by real events.

Here we follow 18 year old identical twins, Helena and Ruth, who are caring for their 3 younger siblings after the death of their father and the institutionalization of their mother who is suffering from both cancer and some form of dementia.  Helena and Ruth are doing their best to keep the family together in a small town outside of Krakow during the Second World War.  At the start of the book the war has not really reached their town (though the food shortages have), but slowly their lives are more and more impacted by it.

Helena finds an American paratrooper who is stranded outside their village and as she nurses him back to health she falls in love with him.  She is also the "brave" sister who ventures to Krakow to visit their mother (and learns long buried secrets about her), witnessing the black market, the Polish underground and the liquidation of Krakow's Jewish quarter while she is there.  Ruth has always been the "pretty" and "maternal" sister so when she eventually discovers Helena has a man in her life she becomes very jealous.

This jealousy leads to a rift between the sisters which ultimately has catastrophic consequences for the family and the American soldier.  The book is ultimately interesting because of the relationships between Helena and Ruth, Helena and the soldier and both twins and the younger siblings.  It also shows how different personality traits become strengths in times of war.

While this was not the best book I've ever read, it was enjoyable and suspenseful such that I really wanted to finish it.

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