Life is a constant struggle for the eighteen-year-old Nowak twins as they raise their three younger siblings in rural Poland under the shadow of the Nazi occupation. The constant threat of arrest has made everyone in their village a spy, and turned neighbor against neighbor. Though rugged, independent Helena and pretty, gentle Ruth couldn't be more different, they are staunch allies in protecting their family from the threats the war brings closer to their doorstep with each passing day.
Then Helena discovers an American paratrooper stranded outside their small mountain village, wounded, but alive. Risking the safety of herself and her family, she hides Sam—a Jew—but Helena's concern for the American grows into something much deeper. Defying the perils that render a future together all but impossible, Sam and Helena make plans for the family to flee. But Helena is forced to contend with the jealousy her choices have sparked in Ruth, culminating in a singular act of betrayal that endangers them all—and setting in motion a chain of events that will reverberate across continents and decades.
Twin sisters living in Poland are stuck in a world dictated and torn apart by the Nazi. Ruth and Helena may be twins but they are completely different and when Helena finds herself stumbling upon an American solider their lives change instantly.
I had very different and conflicted feelings about Helena and Ruth--mostly my conflicted feelings were about Ruth and not Helena. I typically have a hard time with third person. I have always found it hard to connect to the characters. For this book that wasn't the case and it had a lot to do with how Pam Jenoff wrote. It didn't take me long to fall into Helena's narration. I felt like I could understand Helena and her need for something to change in her life. If I had to live the life she was living I know a part of me would desire the same things Helena did. I mostly definitely would not have been as strong as she was.
Of the two sisters Ruth was my least favorite, but by the end of the book I found myself realizing I didn't really dislike Ruth as much as I thought I did. At first my feelings towards Ruth were not so cool. I felt she was selfish, a bit annoying, and unkind towards Helena. Helena had her own moments of being selfish it wasn't all on Ruth. There was just something about Ruth that oozed jealousy which she was. As the chapters progressed I started to understand Ruth a little bit better and by the end I was sad by how everything turned out for her and Helena. Ruth was strong in a different way from Helena. She held the family together in different ways that I was blind to at first.
The core of this story is family and what is most important during a time of war and grief. Despite Sam being a foreigner he plays a big role in this families life. He brings Helena the excitement she always sought along with something she never expected. But most of all he brings a little bit of chaos and an enlightenment the family needed to survive. I loved Sam and felt he brought a spark to this story. He was so selfless and caring and optimistic when the life they are living is anything but.
While reading this book I had the sense of doom as each chapter went by. It never went away until I finally read the end. This story ends in an unexpected way--at least for me. I was expecting complete and utter sadness after reading this book. Trust me you feel that bittersweet sadness with the final chapters. It makes you glad to have not lived during a time when you could be killed simply for the blood in your veins.
The Winter Guest was nothing I expected it would be. It was beautifully written and makes you ponder why such a thing happened in our history. I loved, loved, loved this book which is why it's getting 4.5 out of 5 birds from me! Read it and you will cherish what you have and your family more. Such a beautiful story!