Meredith Cooper and her sister, Nina Whitson, were raised by an adoring father and a pretty dispassionate and cold mother. The absence of that maternal love impacted the sisters differently, one striving for perfection, leading an orderly and pleasing life and the other living a nomadic existence. Both were considered highly successful but also seeming to seek something that was just beyond their grasp. When their father died, both women were left to developed a relationship with their mother, who was compelled by her husband’s extraction of a deathbed promise to finally tell her story to her daughters.
I think this is almost a tale of two stories as the first and second halves couldn’t be more different. While I respected the sisters in the first half, I’m not sure I liked them that much. Their mother, Anya, was an enigma, confounding everyone with her seemingly lack of feeling for her children and I kept thinking her children should just move on. It moved rather slowly but all to lead up to an extraordinary second half where everything changed, including my opinions of all three characters. Anya’s story was spellbinding as well as educational since we get rare insights into Stalin’s Leningrad before and during the German invasion. It was at this point, I was reluctant to stop listening to this story.
I’ve heard so much about the talented Susan Ericksen for her narration of the In Death series so I was prepared for a good performance. However, her narration far exceeded my expectations and her delivery of Anya’s story was just incredible. I’m really, really happy I chose to listen to this book instead of reading.
I very much enjoyed this story, including the slow build of the first half as it created the perfect foundation to launch the second. The ending, though bittersweet, had a surprise I never saw coming. Anya’s story will stick with me for quite some time.