(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In The Winter Garden, Johanna Verweerd relates the story of Ika Boerema’s personal growth, juxtaposing events of the past and present to highlight significant events. Ika’s life has been shaped by her memories of a narrow sphere of childhood circumscribed by her mother and stepfather’s bitterness toward and resentment of her, an illegitimate child; Grandfather Boerema’s oft-repeated references to his fallen daughter; and the villagers’ collective antipathy toward Ika, the evidence of Nelly Boerema’s youthful indiscretion.

It has been fifteen years since Ika Boerema left her family and hometown. During that time, she and her younger sister Nelly have corresponded sporadically through letters. Ika’s stepfather died some time ago, but Ika did not attend the funeral. Nelly has married and has two sons, Abe and Dirk-Willem. Ika is living in the city and has been working as a landscape designer for some time. Into her well-ordered life comes a letter from Nelly, bearing the news that their mother is terminally ill with lung cancer and dragging the past back to envelop Ika in an almost paralyzing cloud of anxiety.

To begin dealing with the situation and her own complicated relationship with her family, Ika turns to her friend and employer, Simone Berger, owner of Berger’s Landscape Design. Although Simone says that Ika’s family members do not deserve her friend’s sympathy, she does suggest that Ika contact Dr. Spaan, her mother’s doctor. When Ika does, the doctor uses her given name, Ikabod, which means “shame,” and reminds her that her mother had chosen this name for her.

Ika begins designing a winter garden for the Promenade Hotel, a project that will sustain her as she struggles to reconcile the past with the present and to forge a new personal understanding. She remembers the baby turtledove she rescued years ago and suddenly needs to know if the dove still lives at her mother’s house; its presence seems to assure her of a comforting link with the past and a promise for the future. A secret visit to see her mother, the refuge Ika takes in creating the plans for the winter garden, and the dove’s presence at her mother’s house enable Ika to commit to reconnecting with her family and staying with her mother to the end. Of increasing importance is the possibility that...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

“Joke Verweerd.” Gale Literary Databases: Contemporary Authors. 2002. Provides biographical information and discusses her two novels, A Winter Garden and Paradiso (2001). Highlights are excerpted from an interview with the author on attaining forgiveness and the parallel growth of the author and her characters.

Mort, John. Review of The Winter Garden. Booklist 97, no. 22 (August, 2001): 2088. A brief review of the work that finds it a “fine, subtle story.”

Zaleski, Jeff. Review of The Winter Garden. Publishers Weekly 248, no. 14 (April 21, 2001): 38-40. Zaleski’s brief review effectively evaluates the book and provides a thoughtful consideration of the way it negotiates the impact of the past through flashbacks.