Book Review :
The Sisters of the Winter Wood
By Rena Rossner
ARC received in return for an honest review.
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. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)
Adult Point of View
An acquaintance recommended The Sisters of the Winter Wood to me, and I’m so glad she did. I was mesmerized from the beginning with the fairytale quality of the world and their problems.
I found three major fairytales that served as the inspiration, The Goblin Market, men who turn into bears (at the moment I can’t come up with a name, but it’s familiar) and women who turn into swans (think of Odette). These story roots were accompanied by Jewish history, scripture, and Yiddish (with translations). It sounds like a lot to juggle, but the author does a beautiful job of intertwining all these elements.
The format of the story is from a dual POV. Liba’s voice is in traditional prose with dialogue. We go on the journey with her, feeling every emotion, knowing what she’s thinking and exactly what she’s doing. She has always felt less valuable than her sister and needs to come to appreciate her own qualities.
Laya’s voice is sparse and poetic – organized on the page with only a few words on a line and repetition of the important idea she’s experiencing. In ways, Laya seemed more foreign to me because of the way her portions were written and in part because she’s the sister who makes the poorer choices.
The heartbreak of choices is illustrated by the mother and father. She gave up her people to join her husband and converted to become a Jew. In their insular community, she’s never been accepted. The heartbreak continues in the community as misunderstandings arise between the Jews and the non-Jews. How can man be so cruel to man? More heartbreak occurs as the sisters find their way – losing each other and working to regain their relationship. Even so, by the end, I felt a sense of hope – a feeling of resiliency inherent to these characters and especially the Jewish community.
This is one of those books that I loved and will read again. The writing is poignant and the characters complex. In a way, the story is one of faith and hope – something we could all use.
4.5 out of 5 stars
If you liked The Sisters of the Winter Wood, I’d recommend Jennifer Nielsen’s The Traitor’s Game, The Hawkman A Fairy Tale of the Great War By Jane Rosenberg LaForge, and Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier – each of these has a different fairytale quality.