Not my usual read. This book took me to hell and back. More so since I knew it followed historical events quite closely, however the characters are fictitious. This beautifully written story exposes the torturous time in history for White Russians living in Harbin, China during the latter part of WWII. Escaping once from Russia wasn’t enough. They were again being pursued. The story is written by a woman who has ties to the events that unfold, therefore her passion for the story shines clear. Riveting, riveting, riveting.
Title: White Gardenia
Author: Belinda Alexandra
Genre: Historical Fiction, final days of WW II and following
Story Setting: Begins in Harbin, China, then Shanghai, Tubabao*
Published By: Gallery Books; Reprint edition
Published Date: February 17, 2015
Official Description of Story: From internationally bestselling author Belinda Alexandra comes a sweeping, emotional journey that “depicts vividly the powerful lifelong bond between mothers and daughters” (Paullina Simons, author of The Bronze Horseman).
In a district of the city of Harbin, a haven for White Russian families since Russia’s Communist Revolution, Alina Kozlova must make a heartbreaking decision if her only child, Anya, is to survive the final days of World War II.
White Gardenia sweeps across cultures and continents, from the glamorous nightclubs of Shanghai to the austerity of Cold War Soviet Russia in the 1960s, from a desolate island in the Pacific Ocean to a new life in post-war Australia. Both mother and daughter must make sacrifices, but is the price too high? Most importantly of all, will they ever find each other again?
Rich in historical detail and reminiscent of stories by Kate Morton and Lucinda Riley, White Gardenia is a compelling and beautifully written tale about yearning, longing, and the lengths a mother will go to protect her child.
My Thoughts: This was a thunderous story, deeply emotional and one I couldn’t put down. The author put so much detail in the telling with an eloquent flow of words describing the area and cultures Anja lived. She made it closer to the heart by have the tale told in first person by the main character of the story, Anja.
The story begins when Anja is only 13 years old. She loses her father and shares her memories of him while filling in the type of culture and condition these people lived. The Japanese had invaded that part of China and were hard task masters. We are not spared the cruel conditions and incidents that occurred and the fear people suffered. They just tried to survive.
Her mother is taken from her back to Russia, leaving Anja in Harbin. Better that than have her go to Russia to toil and most probably die. How hard is that? To leave your daughter so that she has a chance at life and you are expecting to never see her again? And what of her daughter’s feelings? This scene pained me.
As the story moves forward, Anja’s world shifts, always searching for the best way to survive, with the underlying necessity to find her mother. But first she must save herself. She has help along the way. Anja makes choices in her life for love of friends and lovers who help her as she journeys to her future. Her path follows the same path of many who fled Harbin.
I can’t say enough about how this book made me feel. I read little during this time period. As well written as it is, it provided a great understanding of the passionate struggle displaced people endure. It had me edgy each time I saw Anja failing and yet she survived and with her intelligence and determined spirit, became whole.
A personal comment here: Displacement of people continues throughout the world. Look at what is occurring in the Middle East as a case in point. Personally, I know people displaced from Iraq and Syria. Being a refugee and trying to restart your life is a grueling task. It takes a strong, determined person to succeed. I have much sadness in my heart for what happens to the innocent when battles rage.
* Tubabao, an island of the Philipines was used by the International Refugee Organization in 1949 and 1950 to provide temporary accommodations for 5,000 Russians who escaped from China.
About the Author: Belinda Alexandra has been published to wide acclaim in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Holland, Poland, Norway and Russia. She is the daughter of a Russian mother and an Australian father and has been an intrepid traveler since her youth.
Her love of other cultures is matched by her passion for her home country, Australia, where she is a volunteer rescuer and carer for the NSW Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES).
Belinda is also an ambassador for the World League for Protection of Animals (Australia) and lives in Sydney with her husband, Mauro, and a menagerie of adored pets