Simon & Schuster Publishing
This is an epic love story, not love as in the typical love between a hero and heroine, but rather the kind of love that binds us to the people in our lives throughout the darkest of days and the worst of times. Love is an emotion that is sometimes talked about frivolously and it sometimes can be diminished because of that. Our story begins in China right after World War 2, when a thirteen year old girl loses her father and her hometown is invaded by the Japanese. As a widow with a child, Alina Kozlova does what she think is best to protect them, even if it means giving in to the demands of a Japanese General who wants to rent one of her rooms. She needs the money and he does offer a certain amount of protection for them. This decision would affect them the rest of their lives.
Anya watches the General, his secretive movements, learning things from him and finds him to be kind and generous. Her townspeople aren't too happy with the arrangements, especially their family friends. When the Japanese are run out by the Russian Communists, they descend on Alina and Anya, and in a moment of motherly love, Alina sacrifices herself in place of her daughter, thereby tearing them apart. Alina must go to Russia, where she will undoubtedly live the rest of her life in hard labor, or be killed. Anya is hurried out of harms way to be sent to live in Shanghai where a family friend will take her in. This tragic event haunts Anya ever after.
In Shanghai, Sergei Nikolaievich, owns the prestigious Moscow-Shanghai club. Anya is sent to school over the next few years where she learns everything a good girl should know. At first, Amelia, Sergei's American wife, hovers over Anya, but she soon realizes that Amelia has only herself in mind. Anya doesn't trust Amelia, but she does trust Dmitri, a young man working in the club. Their friendship begins slowly, but as Anya blossoms into a young woman, Dmitri takes notice and their friendship turns to romance. As their romance grows, a tragedy prevents Anya from fully enjoying her new love. Circumstances and shattered illusions take hold of Anya, and it becomes clear that she must rely on everything she has to survive the next upheaval. Even as she struggles with betrayal, deception and upheaval, she must make a difficult choice as to where her life will take her: to America, the land of promise and hope; or Australia, the land of work indenture. Her decision will ultimately lead her to the answers she so desperately seeks. Throughout the years, friendships will be forged, love will be found and hopes are at the same time lost and restored. A beautiful story of the unwavering love and devotion between a mother and child that spans decades.
For those who love an epic adventure, WHITE GARDENIA covers the course of several decades as it follows Anya through her life. We see how a young girl, torn from her mother's arms and into an uncertain fate, must rely on herself, making wrong decisions, right decisions and trusting those around her to help her. She struggles valiantly most of the time, sometimes she is so distraught, she feels like giving up. Throughout it all, her link to her mother is never broken. I found the central characters very engaging, being a great sounding board for Anya and her circumstances. The key figures are well drawn out, each with their own personality, flaws and hidden motives. The bad people in this book are really bad. The good guys are not quite so easy to figure out, though. There is not much of an element of mystery, such as in other historical fiction I enjoy, but at the same time I couldn't put it down because I did want to find out what happens to Anya. Will she find what happened to her mother? Will she discover the true love she was meant to find? How often we make decisions without realizing the consequences and the choices we make can affect us the rest of our lives.
Thoroughly mesmerizing, from the nearly poetic prose of Ms. Alexander's writing, to the dramatic backdrops of China and beyond, WHITE GARDENIA is the kind of book that stays with you long after the end.
Reviewed by Jennifer Jones
Rating: 4 1/2