Recently, I unintentionally picked up two books from the library that had to do with World War II. The first one was Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah.
image courtesy KristinHannah.com
The story is of a family — a mother (Anya), a father (Evan), and two daughters (Meredith and Nina). Anya, while showing love to her husband, has always been distant from the daughters. The only time they felt connected to her was when she told her Russian fairy tale. The daughters, now adults, have given up on trying to get to know their mother. But as Evan lies on his death bed after a heart attack, he gives his daughters each a task: Meredith to take care of Anya and Nina to make her tell the fairy tale — the whole thing this time. It’s not easy, and as Anya begins to show signs of dementia, and Nina is rarely around since she travels the world as a photo journalist. Meredith feels the pressure of take care of Anya as well as managing the family business and keeping her crumbling marriage intact. But when Nina returns and begins to prod Anya into telling the fairy tale, they learn that their mother experienced some terrible things during World War II which have impacted her ability to connect with people.
The characters and relationships are well-drawn, and the fairy tale provides suspense. Although not what I expected, this book is worth reading.
The second book I read was When the Elephants Dance by Tess Uriza Holthe.
image courtesy bookdragon.si.edu
Again, this book was not what I expected. By reading the book jacket, I thought it would have a lot of magical realism, but I was mistaken. The story takes place in the Philippines during the Japanese occupation. So right there I learned something — I didn’t know the Philippines were at all involved in WWII. A family and their neighbors hide in a basement to try to keep safe from Japanese soldiers. Told from the points of view of three characters — a young boy, a teenage girl, and a guerrilla rebel — the novel weaves in stories with moral lessons, told by the characters, along with the events that are happening currently to the characters themselves.
I found this book a little confusing, but this may be because I was expecting something completely different. Also, since I had just finished reading Winter Garden which had some upsetting descriptions of WWII conditions, reading another such novel so closely on its heels was probably not the best idea. The characters were believable, if not altogether likeable (though the unlikeable characters seemed drawn this way on purpose) and, assuming Holthe did her research and presented things accurately, I gained some knowledge about the history of the Philippines and its role in World War II.