Reviewed: “The Winter Guest” by Pam Jenoff

The Winter GuestI just can’t with this book. I wanted to love it, I really did. Historical fiction is my thing and I’ll try anything centered around World War II. I also received a copy of this through the Goodreads FirstReads program so I really wanted to be able to like it and leave a review saying so.

But I can’t.

I can say that the story could have been absolutely amazing.

But it wasn’t.

To begin with, the first chapter (after the introduction) sets the story in 1940. And then Sam Rosen shows up. Sam is a downed American airman in the Polish countryside.

The trouble with this is simple… America was not involved in World War II in 1940. Pearl Harbor happened on December 7, 1941 and then, only then, did Americans start flying over Europe. And Sam’s story just snowballs out of control from there. He’s an airman, Jewish, trying to contact partisans in Czechoslovakia, an enlisted man because he killed his father with a baseball bat, and all important to the war effort.

No. It’s just too much.

I can’t help wondering why Jenoff didn’t make him an RAF airman and British, because they were involved in the war in 1940, instead. That would have gone a long way to getting the story off on the right foot for me.

I love history, I love facts. There were too many inconsistencies in historical fact for me. And it didn’t help that Jenoff says in the acknowledgments that she worked at the Pentagon. I can’t help but think someone at the Pentagon should a) know America’s role in the war in 1940 and/or b) do better research.

The heart of the story, though, is Helena Nowak. And even her story is too hard to believe.

She’s a daddy’s girl who discovers, completely by accident, that she’s got more in common with the Jewish Sam than she imagines. And I don’t mean just falling in love with him. She fights with her twin sister, Ruth, a lot. Mostly about Sam. Fighting between sisters is believable, absolutely.

But I gave up with a hundred pages left in the story when Ruth, ever the possibly jealous shrew, took advantage of the darkness in Sam’s hiding place and pretended to be Helena. It was too much. I tried reading the epilogue then, to get myself interested in the hundred remaining pages, but that only made it worse.

Were it not for this last head smacking moment, I’d give the book two stars.

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