Rossner’s debut is the fantastical coming-of-age story of two sisters, combining historical events, religious strife, and Russian folklore. Alternating chapters of regular prose and ballad-like stanzas emphasize the difference between two loving daughters, products of an unusual, mystical union between two shape-shifters—a Jewish bear and a gentile swan ... First-love conflicts, fear, and prejudice may trigger transformations neither Liba nor Laya will be able to control.
At first glance, the town of Dubossary might appear to be a simple Jewish town at the edge of the woods. Pious and cheerful villagers bustle about in the snow, going to market and celebrating shabbas together. But for sisters Liba and Laya, who live in the forest outside of town, things aren’t quite as idyllic as they seem. Odd noises and rumors of wandering strangers suddenly make life in the woods a little less welcoming. Maybe the folk tales are true after all? ... Rossner’s The Sisters of the Winter Wood is a dreamlike ode to sisterhood, mythology and family that you won’t be able to put down.
The Sisters of the Winter Wood has a promising premise and a compelling setting. I wish I could have enjoyed it more. Unfortunately, a couple of things stood in the way of my wholehearted enjoyment. The novel’s viewpoint alternates between the two sisters, with a narrative recounted in the first person, but while Liba’s section of the book is recounted in prose, Laya’s is told in … honestly, I don’t know? I suspect the author believes it to be prose poetry of approximately six to eight words per line with randomly inserted mid-sentence line-breaks ... It induced in me first teeth-grinding impatience, then growing snark, then a throbbing headache, and finally overwhelming despair.
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...world filled with magic, yet deeply rooted in history.
Sisters Laya and Liba are different as night and day. In their family’s cottage, nestled in the Kodari forest surrounding the town of Dubossary, they adhere in different degrees to their family’s Orthodox Judaism. Dark-haired Liba—ungainly and dogged by a persistent hunger for meat—revels in Jewish study with her father, while Laya, who possesses the preternatural ability to communicate with the Kodari forest itself, is a free spirit animated by wanderlust, eager to break with the strictures of their insular community. Though held at arm’s length by the local Jews because their mother is a convert, the sisters live a relatively peaceful life till an unexpected visit from their father’s brother Yankl brings news of their grandfather’s illness in a nearby town. Yankl implores their father to return, and before their parents embark on the journey, Liba witnesses them transform into animals—her father into a bear, her mother into a swan—forcing them to expose a long-hidden truth ... Though the narrative is dragged down by stilted dialogue and a clichéd romance for Liba, the sensitive depiction of the sisters' bond and surprising mythological elements will keep readers’ interest piqued.
Rossner’s intricately crafted, gorgeously rendered debut alternates perspectives between teenage sisters Liba and Laya Leib, who narrate in prose and verse, respectively. They are left to fend for themselves in the mysterious woods that border the town of Dubossary while their parents are away on urgent business. Before their parents leave, the sisters learn the family secret: their father can transform into a bear, a gift Liba will inherit, and their mother into a swan, as Laya will ... People are going missing from the town, there are rumors of a bear in the woods, and anti-Semitic sentiment is on the rise. All of these strange occurrences coincide with the arrival of the Hovlins, a seductive band of fruit-peddling brothers whose otherworldly appeal Laya cannot resist ... Rossner’s fairy tale is creepy and moving by turn, full of heart, history, and enchantment.