Thursday, November 1, 2018

Review: The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner

The Sisters of the Winter Wood
The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner
Redhook, 2018
Hardcover. 464 pages.

About The Sisters of the Winter Wood:

"'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."

The Sisters of the Winter Wood is a lyrical, fairy tale-like story about two sisters, Liba and Laya, that is told in such a fluid manner that I breezed through it.

The story is told in the alternating perspectives of Liba and Laya, Liba's being told in prose format whereas Laya's are told in verse format. This could be hit or miss for many people, but fortunately I really liked this dual format, as I felt it really enhanced the personalities of both Liba and Laya. It also added an extra touch that made this book even more magical and captivating to read. 

Liba's prose was engaging and I found her to be a somewhat intense, yet loving character. She is someone who takes her responsibilities seriously and is generally sensible enough to stay focused on what she has to do, something that I found admirable and not a trait that is overly common in many books. Laya, on the other hand, is much more flighty in the sense that she is more wiling to follow her emotions and desires, even if that means disobeying her parents or her religion. She's a dreamer, and her verse narrative really reflects that.

One of the biggest overarching themes of this book is the Jewish element, as Liba, Laya, and much of their community are Jewish. I felt this was also one of the best parts of the book, as it not only showcased the different components of Jewish culture, but it also highlighted the strong anti-Antisemitism that permeated much of Europe throughout history--and even, as we unfortunately are all aware, in the present. In Rossner's brief 'about' section on Goodreads, it mentions that The Sisters of the Winter Wood was partly inspired by the lives of Rossner's great-grandparents who all escaped from pogroms in various areas of Europe to journey to America. This influence is so prevalent throughout the book and is something that I really appreciated and learned even more from, so this is easily one of the best executed aspects of this novel.

As much as I enjoyed the writing and many aspects of the plot, there were also quite a few times when it felt like there was almost too much filler. This book has a decent amount of important character development and I have no problems with a slow-paced book, but it just felt like there was a lot of running back and forth between places with no real forward-movement of the plot. 

In the same vein, there were also a lot of repetitive aspects of the plot that frustrated me. For instance, Laya being taken in by the magical fruit and how much she wants to spend time with Fedrir (and only Fedir), as well as Liba running back and forth looking for Laya or wanting to move Laya to another location or not being able to find her... it just got a bit old. There also seemed to be one too many things going on at once sometimes, which also bothered me, though to a slightly lesser extent than the other issues I've mentioned.

Despite the occasional pacing issues, I did still really enjoy this book. I love Rosetti's "Goblin Market" and stories inspired by it, so I did like that element. I also loved how this book flowed so effortlessly and allowed me to just keep reading and lose myself in it. The magical aspects, the imagery, the strong metaphors, the fairy tale quality--all were done really well and I thought Rossner did a great job of incorporating all of those elements into one coherent story.

Overall, I've give The Sisters of the Winter Wood four stars! If you like a magical book with strong cultural aspects and a heavy dose of mythology and metaphors, then this is the one for you.

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this too, but I felt the same way you did, lots of repetitive sections, and I got tired of Laya pining away for Fedir. I think a good 50 pages could have been trimmed and it would have been fine.