Middle aged sisters Meredith and Nina have had a very unhappy and unsatisfying relationship with their cold and reserved Russian mother, Anya. They both have spent years trying to reach her and to earn her love, but neither has been able to breech the barrier that has kept her estranged from them. They know nothing about her past, which seems to limit them in their own ability to fully live their lives and to develop good relationships with those they care about. Meredith is the super obsessive older sister who stayed behind to help her parents run their orchard; she uses chores and activities to avoid thinking about why she has never done what she wanted. Nina left the family behind to become a globetrotting photojournalist with no permanent ties and no need to settle down anywhere with anyone. The girls reunite at the family home when their beloved father, Evan, dies and leaves them devastated and alone with the stranger who is their mother.
Through a series of stories told to the girls by their mother -- at first in fairy-tale fashion -- Meredith and Nina discover that their mother has a past that she has tried to escape by never speaking of it. She tells of the horrors of living and trying to survive in war-torn Leningrad during World War II and the subsequent sacrifices she had to make in order to live. The girls finally find out who their mother is and why she is the way she is.
This is a very touching but horrible story that will keep the reader turning the pages until the stunning revelation at the end. This is a book that does more than entertain - it will make the reader think and feel and want to go hug their loved ones. A book like this can change and affect a reader long after the last words have been read. I recommend it.