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Book Review: The Summer Garden: A Love Story by Paullina Simons

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Bestselling author Paullina Simons closes the epic love story of Tatiana and Alexander in The Summer Garden, a richly drawn novel, slower paced than the earlier volumes, to be published June 21, 2011. Having survived the devastation war heaped upon them, Tatiana, Alexander and their son, Anthony, now reunited, rebuild their lives in America amidst the backdrop of the 1950’s Cold War.

The intensity and passion of the first two novels, The Bronze Horseman and Tatiana and Alexander, is shifted as Tatia and Shura, forever changed by years of war-torn separation, relearn who they are as a couple. They survived terrible upheavals in The Bronze Horseman, distance and loss in Tatiana and Alexander. Now, two very changed people doggedly renew their enduring love, seize the happiness they once knew, and forge ahead in America to reclaim their life together.

Sound like a fairy tale? It is not, because the adjustments necessary to rekindle their lost love are heart-wrenching and difficult. Their commitment to each other, however, is unfailing. Their young son, Anthony, captures the irony of his parents’ transitions early on when he says, “My dad was a major (in the war), but now he’s a lobsterman.”

They first live in Maine. Shortly later, they move to a houseboat in Miami. San Antonio, Texas. New Mexico. The Napa Valley of California. Each move brings excruciatingly slow healing. Alexander recovers from PTSD. Tatiana strives to soothe him and reignite their former passion. Their son, Anthony, tries to make sense of the emotional rollercoaster his parents ride.

Their lives are rife with conflict, compassion and compromise. Freedom in their new home is impeded by the political complications of a US citizen who served as a Russian officer living in Communist-wary America. Finally, they settle in Arizona on the land Tatiana wisely purchased in the previous book. Can they ever carve out a normal life after what they have been through?

Born in Leningrad, USSR in 1963, Paullina Simons dreamed of being a writer. After her family came to the United States, she put her dream on hold as she learned a second language and adopted a new culture as her own. She is the author of nine internationally acclaimed novels and has a devoted following. Ms. Simons says of The Summer Garden, “It has abundance and it has abject poverty. It has happiness and the lowest depths of misery.” She explains that she knows no one, including her husband and best friend as well as her characters, Tatiana and Alexander. Clearly the love she feels for her characters has infected the readers of her books.

Although part of a trilogy, the book stands on its own. Flashbacks from the two preceding novels fill in the story for the reader. Within its pages lie hate, happiness, intimacy, betrayal, struggle, war, peace, the joy and pain of children. Simons concentrates on the two main characters. Even if you haven’t read the first two books, you will care about Tatiana and Alexander deeply. Although stubborn, passionate and wounded, they simply do not give up on their love for each other.

Cast aside is the development of secondary characters except for the son, Anthony. At age five, he learns to sing in Russian and English — and to change the magazine cartridge in his father’s Colt M 1911 in six seconds. He eventually makes his way to West Point, Vietnam and into the presence of President Reagan.

Despite its unique emotional and suspenseful qualities, the book’s focus on unnecessary minutiae dulls its impact. The incessant love-making scenes, although perhaps a metaphor for the healing in the marriage, became tiresome. The emphasis on the education and marriages of grandchildren seemed a digression. An editor’s pen could have condensed the rambling wordiness of this book into a fast-paced epic.

The book is highly recommended to devotees of the first two novels. If you haven’t read the first books, but love an unpredictable romantic melodrama which yanks your emotions to and fro, you will enjoy The Summer Garden.

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About Holly Weiss

  • I’m putting this one on my must read list. Sounds wonderful!
    Natalie :0)