The Sisters of the Winter Wood

Hachette Book Group/Redhook  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.

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