The Sis­ters of the Win­ter Wood

  • Review
By – March 29, 2018

A fairy tale set in the for­est, at the edge of a city on the bor­der between Ukraine and Moldo­va, The Sis­ters of the Win­ter Wood is the sto­ry of two very dif­fer­ent sis­ters. Embed­ded with Russ­ian folk­lore and inter­twined with the very real pogroms of Rus­sia, Ross­ner cre­ates a fan­tas­ti­cal world filled with mag­ic, yet deeply root­ed in history.

This com­ing-of-age nov­el, which fea­tures a bear-man father and a swan-woman moth­er, is told from the per­spec­tive of the sis­ters Liba and Laya. The two are on the verge of becom­ing adults and are left to fend for them­selves as their par­ents set out on a jour­ney. Through mat­u­ra­tion, the sis­ters come to under­stand how dif­fer­ent and alike they real­ly are.

The for­est is filled with all the dan­gers, heroes, and hero­ines one would expect from a prop­er fairy tale, inter­wo­ven with the his­tor­i­cal dan­gers fac­ing the Jews of Dubossary. And like every good fairy tale, secrets abound. With­out their par­ents’ pro­tec­tion, each sis­ter is forced to dis­cov­er her own strength.

As the book pro­gress­es, Ross­ner changes more than the per­spec­tive of the pro­tag­o­nists: she alters the writ­ing style itself for each sis­ter, mas­ter­ful­ly reveal­ing famil­ial char­ac­ter in the nar­ra­tive of Liba’s prose and Laya’s light poet­ry. The beau­ti­ful writ­ing makes each girl’s voice very com­pelling, but this is more than a com­ing-of-age sto­ry. It is also a tale of love between a bear-man-Jew and a swan-woman-con­vert. Set in the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty of Dubossary dur­ing the pogroms of Rus­sia, its themes are loy­al­ty, accep­tance, for­give­ness, and community.

Rossner’s book blends his­to­ry, folk­lore, and fan­ta­sy to cre­ate a world in which noth­ing is as it seems. A sto­ry of redemp­tion and tragedy, dan­ger and decep­tion, it is very much worth the read.

Cathy Sussman’s pas­sion is books. She grad­u­at­ed magna cum laude with a B.A. in Eng­lish from the Col­lege of St. Thomas in St. Paul Min­neso­ta. She lives in Min­neapo­lis with her hus­band, chil­dren, dog and cat. For her day job, she spe­cial­izes in rein­sur­ance and is a prin­ci­pal at Dubras­ki & Associates.

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