The Winter Guest

by Pam Jenoff

Book, 2014



Call number




USA Harlequin 2014


When Helena discovers an American paratrooper stranded outside their small mountain village, wounded, but alive, she risks the safety of herself and her family, to hide Sam--a Jew. Soon her concern for the American grows into something much deeper--an attraction that will culminate in a singular act of betrayal that endangers them all--and sets in motion a chain of events that will reverberate across continents and decades.

User reviews

LibraryThing member nbmars
This is a story about an 18-year-old Polish girl in 1940 who falls in love with an injured American Jewish intelligence officer. His plane had crash-landed in an attempt to rendezvous with the Polish Resistance. Helena finds Sam in the woods near her small cottage, and helps him to find shelter and
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safety in a nearby abandoned chapel.

Helena and her twin sister Ruth are the sole caretakers now of their three younger siblings. Their father is dead and their mother is in a hospital dying of cancer. Although they have hardly any food, Helena takes what she can to Sam. She keeps the relationship a secret, knowing Ruth would not approve.

Over time and through her discussions with Sam, Helena develops more sympathy for the plight of the Jews in Poland, while Ruth channels her own pain and fear into increasing resentment of the Jews.

When Helena learns something that could imperil all of their lives, she knows she has to convince Ruth they must leave. She tells Ruth about Sam, because he has offered to help them get out. But Ruth, jealous of Helena and resentful of Sam, takes a fateful step that may get all of them killed.

Discussion: The author nicely weaves a bit of background into the story about what happened in World War II to both Jews and non-Jews in Poland, as well as providing some insights into Polish anti-Semitism.

Some of the turns the plot took, however, just seemed to stretch the limits of believability, such as - to name just one, Helena’s ease in making contact with a prominent leader of the Resistance. But to me, the most improbable part of the book was the Epilogue. Obviously I can't say why I think it could not have happened, but the author didn't provide any information to counter my skepticism either. Nor was there an adequate explanation for whatever happened in the time gaps alluded to in the Epilogue.

Evaluation: I think this book is worth reading for the perspective it offers on the situation in Poland in 1940. The build-up to the dénouement has a terrific level of suspense - mostly, however, because the ending provided by the author was so unlikely that one wouldn't really have guessed it.
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LibraryThing member tmsaguid
I received this book through a Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for my honest review.

The Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff is part historical fiction during World War II, part romance. The story focuses on a family in Poland who lost their father and whose mother is in a hospital dying of Cancer. This
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leaves twins Ruth and Helena to take care of their three younger siblings with little money surviving on ration coupons. They also have no real knowledge of how bad the war has gotten and what it means for the survival of their family. Soon into the story, Helena comes across an injured American Paratrooper who happens to be Jewish and decides to aide him. You probably can see the complications this presents. Helping him could cost her everything. They eventually fall in love as she nurses him back to health all the while keeping his existence a secret from her twin and the rest of her family. Eventually the secret comes out and, WOW, do some twists and turns occur at this point that will shock you!

I will not tell you the ending as the second half of this book is just too good to miss! The writing was very well done minus a few typos that I am sure will be corrected before the book is published. I have never read anything by Pam Jenoff and I usually expect books published by Harlequin to have no real substance, but this was a pleasant surprise. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and I cared about the characters which resulted in staying up late to finish the book because I knew if I didn’t know how it ended I would not sleep.

I recommend this to lovers of Historical Fiction and/or Romance. Excellent Book!
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LibraryThing member booklovers2
I really enjoyed this book. The story begins in New York 2013 - bones found in the woods in Poland and the possible connection to a woman who had rescued a down American Airman more than a half a century earlier. Poland 1940 - Twin sisters caring for their 3 younger siblings during the occupation
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by the Germans. Their father recently killed, their mother sick with cancer and non responsive, placed in a Jewish hospital by their father stating that it was the only place they could afford. Sheltered in a rural cottage, isolated from the daily impact of the Germans, other than the lack of food and forced to use the ration cards. Ruth was in charge of the children and household chores, while Helena took on her father's role of taking care of the animals, wood chopping and trapping for their meals. Weekly Helena, took the treacherous trip through the forest, stealthily avoiding roadblocks and check points to get to the city to see their mother and provide some extra morsels of food to insure that she was being well cared for. On one of her trips she encounters a man who is wounded and near death. A downed American Airman, Sam whom she rescues and hides in an abandoned chapel in the woods. Not wanting to risk the safety of her family, as well as not wanting to share this with her twin (the pretty one) she continues to check in with soldier, tending to his recovery. She is awestruck by her physical attraction to him. Falling in love with him, risking her own safety and that of her siblings she embarks on a secret mission contacting the resistance to aid in his escape across the border. Betrayal of trust between the sisters, realization that the eminent invasion of Russian and the Germans aggressive assault on Poles who assist the resistance, her family is forced to leave the only home they know. Full of suspense, beautiful love story , sadness and grief as well as a great history lesson. Loved it and wished it wouldn't end.
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LibraryThing member landslide
*I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

The story begins in 2013, in the USA, where an old lady who has just moved into an assisted living residency gets a knock at the door and is given the news that bones were found in an abandoned chapel in Biekowice, Poland, her
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home town.

From there we go back to 1940 Nazi occupied Poland, where the Nowak twins are forced to assure their survival and the survival of their younger siblings, Michal, Dorie and Karolina, after the death of their father and the hospitalization of their mother. Poor and with no source of income, they try to survive as they can, in a time when the occupation meant scarcity for everyone.

Even though they are twins, Helena and Ruth are completely different. Ruth is more feminine so she was always considered the pretty twin and she assumes the role of mother, taking care of the house and of the younger siblings. Helena is pragmatic and has always helped their father so she handles the manual work, as well as the dangerous task of making the weekly trip to Krakow to visit their mother, hospitalized at the Jewish hospital because it was the only one they could afford.

And it is on one of her weekly trips to the city that Helena discovers a wounded soldier and, even though she knows she is putting herself and her siblings in danger, she’s incapable of not helping him, so she takes him to an abandoned chapel where she starts to visit him frequently, nursing and feeding him back to health. The soldier is Sam, an American Jewish who was incapable of staying home and doing nothing knowing the atrocities that were being committed by the Nazis against his people.

As they spend time together and get to know each other, the feelings between them turn to love and Helena decides to try to find a contact in the city that is capable of saving Sam and take him and her family to the USA. And here was where I had my main problem with the story because I thought that Helena’s approach of the contact was too fast and too easy to be believable. I mean, seriously, she didn't really know the city that well, she didn't really know where she was supposed to go but, all of a sudden, the person she was trying to find finds her?

But the changes in Helena don’t go unnoticed to Ruth, who finally leaves the world of illusion she had been taking refuge in since the family’s life changed and she was deprecated by her suitor who, after her father died and her mother was hospitalized, didn't want to assume the responsibility of taking care of all of her siblings. And when she discovers about Sam, the jealousy and resentment because he prefers Helena and not her, the pretty sister, motivate her to do a series of betrayals that will hopelessly change the destiny of them all.

Generally, I liked the story and the characters, especially Helena and Sam, and the evolution of their love story, branded by secrecy and fear, but also by hope, even when it seems impossible to hope. The only character I didn't like was Ruth, because she was shallow and jealous, and I can’t really say I regret what happened to her.

The author has more historical fiction books published and I would like to read them and to see them published in Portugal.
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LibraryThing member SamSattler
Pam Jenoff’s “The Winter Guest” was inspired by a bit of World War II history the author learned about while working at the Pentagon around the time that fiftieth anniversary dates were being reached for key events of the war. Embellishing on the true story of a female Slovak resistance
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fighter who worked with American intelligence officers in the fight, Jenoff gives the young woman a twin sister, young siblings for whom she and her sister are entirely responsible, and an American lover.

As the Nazis draw closer and closer to their family home, Ruth and Helena Nowak know that time is running out for them, and both girls are faced with near-impossible choices. Their village, although it has yet to be impacted by battle, is already under German occupation, an occupation during which neighbor commonly turns against neighbor in order to gain favor with the Germans. Ruth and Helena know very well the fine line they must walk if they are to feed their younger sisters and brother, and they depend on deceit and good luck in order to survive.

Helena, the more adventurous and strongest of the twins, is willing to take more risks than her sister, but she always puts her little family’s safety first. She surprises herself one day, however, by her immediate willingness to hide the badly wounded American paratrooper she discovers in the forest. Over time, as the American comes to trust Helena more and more and her infatuation with the soldier intensifies, the pair begins to plan a future together. All they have to do is survive the war. But when, in a moment of angry jealousy over her sister’s relationship, Ruth betrays the man, all of them are forced to run for the border –barely a step ahead of the approaching German army.

Although “The Winter Guest” begins and ends in 2013 New York, the bulk of its story takes place in World War II Poland. It is an interesting tale about a segment of the war whose heroic participants should never be forgotten, those men and women who defied the odds by resisting the German invaders from the shadows, knowing all the time that, at best, they could only slow them down, never defeat them. But rather disappointingly, “The Winter Guest” is, at heart, a romance novel that never quite reaches the level of realism that would have given it the greater impact its story deserves. Still, it’s worth a look.
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LibraryThing member Cherylk
Another fabulous read by Pam Jenoff. This author has a nice ease about her that just draws me in as a reader and wants to stay in the moment reading her stories. The world that the author built just came alive. I really felt like I was transported back in time. I felt that both sisters were equally
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strong in their own right. Helena was independent and fearless in regards to her risking her life for Sam. Their story was sad but sweet at the same time. I liked that their relationship felt real and natural. In a way I am glad that it was Helena that fell in love with Sam and not Ruth. Not that I had anything against Ruth but because she had her beauty and all of the children loved her the best I wanted Helena to have something of her own. The ending was a fitting one. If you read this book you will get what I mean by this. So what are you waiting for...check this book out.
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LibraryThing member SilversReviews
WWII was still going on, and Poland was suffering along with all the European countries as families struggled to survive.

Helena and Ruth were left in charge of their three younger siblings since their father was killed by a runaway wagon and their mother was put in the hospital. Both girls were
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hard workers but had different views about the war and safety as well as being jealous of each other for everything.​

As the book continued, something unforgivable happened between the two sisters that led to more jealousy even though the incident was not spoken about but felt by the sisters. ​

THE WINTER GUEST puts you right into the heart of the war with the fears and hardships the population was enduring. As Helena and Ruth struggle to keep themselves and their younger siblings fed and safe, Helena then finds something out about her mother's heritage that she had kept secret her entire life and a secret that puts their family in more danger because of their mother's secret.

As you follow the Nowak family through their daily routine, you learn what they had to go through worrying about the Germans storming into the town and knocking on the door or stealing what they had, worrying about hunger, worrying about the children, and worrying about staying alive.​

Ms. Jenoff has written yet another wonderful, heart wrenching account of WWI​I. The beginning pages grab your attention immediately, and the suspense and interest continues throughout the entire book.

​You will fall in love with the Norwak children. Ruth and Helena are a bit difficult to like, but they beautifully carry the story to the end with its intrigue and ​revelations. There is also a tender, sweet love story inside all of the pain and terror.

If you have never read a book by Ms. Jenoff, you need to. Ms. Jenoff perfectly depicts what happened in Europe during WWII in all of her books that I have read.

THE WINTER GUEST is no exception. Do not miss reading this book or any of her other books.

The only thing I don't understand is how the cover portrays "the winter guest" because I thought the guest was a male. :) 5/5

This book was given to me free of charge and without compensation by the publisher in return for an honest review.
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LibraryThing member Sarah_Gruwell
This book was a vast improvement for me than my previous experience with this author’s books. With one book finished that had some serious flaws for me and an abandoned work due to boredom, I felt like cheering after finishing this novel. It has tons going for it and only a few problems. I think
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it might have redeemed Jenoff for me.

First off, the author has done a fantastic job in fixing her ambiguity with timelines and historical facts. Previously, she was all over the place with vague timing phrases that left me confused and scratching my head. However, in Winter’s Guest, most of the action is concentrated within a few months’ time-frame. The author keeps her timing phrases tight so the reader is able to follow along with the action, both during the time-frame the novel is written and in past events. Her historical details are also similarly as solid; I actually learned a few things.

I loved the dramatic content in this novel and the skills in evidence in world-building. The author told a fantastic story of two sisters who view the world in such opposite ways and both caught up in the escalating events of WWII and the Holocaust. I could literally see the old family farmhouse, the isolated chapel, and the occupied streets of Krakow with this author’s skills in describing her story setting. The developing love between Sam and Helena, how that affected her family, and the overall events of WWII were also spell-binders. I give Pam Jenoff kudos for being able to tell a fantastic story; that’s always been something I can admire her for.

There were a few times I wished that Ruth wasn't as jaded and self-centered as she was portrayed. I can see why she might be the way she is, the pressures of acting as a mother when knowing she might never be able to have a home of her own was heartbreaking. Yet, her urge to always keep things the way they were and to never change felt very out of step with the events happening in her world and made me dislike her to a huge degree.

There were also times where I felt that Helena had way too easy a time in locating the Resistance and in walking through occupied Krakow unmolested. Ducking around corners and being told where roadblocks are to avoid them could have saved her sometimes. But she’s never stopped, questioned, nor threatened. There was an aura of danger throughout the novel overall, but Helena’s dealings with Alex and the Resistance were not a part of that. Too much of a cakewalk there…

Overall, this novel was a very enjoyable read about occupied-Poland and the beginnings of the Holocaust. I enjoyed the author’s skills at telling a dramatic story, setting her scene, and her improved skills at time-frame setting and historical details. Some of her characters got on my nerves and the aura of danger was lacking at times, but I think that can be said for most books sometimes. So definitely don’t let that detract you from looking into this novel. I can actually recommend this novel for lovers of WWII fiction. It’s redeemed this author personally for me, and I look forward to reading more from her.
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LibraryThing member HeatherLINC
"The Winter Guest" was a fabulous read and I was immersed in the story from the first page. The author has an easy style of narrative that draws the reader in, and I loved following Helena and Ruth's stories. Living in rural Poland during the Nazi occupation, the eighteen-year-old twins battled to
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keep their young siblings alive from starvation and the cold on a daily basis. Although totally different in personality, Rose and Helena complemented each other to provide a safe, loving family environment.

I loved Helena's courageous, daring nature and admired Rose's nurturing persona until she did something despicable to her twin, then I was disgusted with her. The relationship between the two sisters was fascinating. At times they were as close as only twins can be, then other times they were jealous, spiteful and quite hurtful to each other. Then there were the secrets they kept from each other and from their siblings. These secrets had dire consequences on the family but, ultimately, they also brought them redemption.

However, the novel was not without its faults. Despite adoring Sam, I found the romance between he and Helena too rushed to be believable, and Helena's contact with the resistance leader too easy to be realistic considering how protective the partisans were of their identity and safety. I was also shocked when I finished the last chapter. It came to an end so abruptly I thought I must have pages missing. Thankfully, the epilogue was beautifully written and a perfect conclusion - all my questions were answered.

Overall, I found "The Winter Guest" to be a moving, emotional read for lovers of historical fiction.
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LibraryThing member JCGirl
The Winter Guest by Pam Jennoff is rooted in Poland during the Nazi occupation of World War II and tells the anecdote of twin sisters, Helena and Ruth, as they are just trying to survive during a dim time in the world. Their situation becomes peril when Helena finds a Jewish-American soldier named
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Sam who is injured. Unafraid of the consequences that might fall her, she cares for the soldier and soon begins to fall in love with him. Has Helena let love and the possible future with this man cloud her judgment and what effects will her actions have on her sister Ruth? Will the sisters ever be the same or has Helena set into motion choices that will forever change Ruth? Author, Pam Jennoff brings the pain and devastation of the time to life through a dear love story of Helena and Sam set to the resentful feeling of sister Ruth. Over the course of the book, Pam Jennoff radiantly details the ramifications that will affect all involved for years to come during a dark time in history for all.
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LibraryThing member Smits
In the style of an elevated Harloquin romance. This novel just starts getting good at the end. Twin sisters who both make poor choices that put themselves and their family in danger.
LibraryThing member soosthemoose
Love WWII historical. Ending somewhat unrealistic but enjoyable reading.
LibraryThing member Alphawoman
Took me several days to read. the story dragged a bit with way too much description of forest and terrain. My impression of Poland during WWII is a frozen bloodless tundra overshadowed by the impending Nazi occupation. Any story about the hardships the innocent encountered and endured and in some
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cases overcame never fails to touch me in an emotional nonplussed wave of sadness. A chilling anger towards all who stood by doing nothing to halt the German madness leaves me speechless and heartbroken. this story was not anything spectacular. Just full of courage and love and a semi happy ending
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LibraryThing member tommi180744
It's a competently written novel of twin sisters' lives primarily during wartime in Poland under brutal Nazi occupation.
Unfortunately there is a huge improbability marring the whole thing: i.e. an American-Jewish soldier... supposedly wounded fighting in Poland... that's Poland invaded & conquered
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by Nazi Germany & Communist USSR in SEPTEMBER 1939!
The author never manages any sort of genuine explanation for this bit of hokum-fiction!
After the appearance of this character the suspension of disbelief became impossible!
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LibraryThing member lineells
As much as i love Jenoff as an author, this one book was a bit of a disappointment. The subject matter was incredible and interesting and i wish with all my heart that it could have been more realistic...there were too many bits and pieces missing. Some of it i understand WAS based on fact and that
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touched my soul. But overall, 3 stars is the best i can give and i hate that fact.
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