"Three people whose lives touched during WWII take turns narrating this haunting psychological thriller from Nayman." Publishers Weekly
"In the years following WWII, the horrors of that war reverberate in the lives of the intertwined characters in Nayman’s second novel, a story of guilt, mistaken identity, and love . . . Nayman's saga delves deeply into how even those not directly affected are forever changed by war." Booklist
"With insight and a dazzling imagination, Shira Nayman transports us into a web of post-World War II lives, from Shanghai, to London, to Long Island. As in her previous works, Nayman's characters show us the long shadow that war casts on memory, identity, and love."
Nancy Sherman, author of The Untold War
"The characters in this compelling novel continue to haunt me. Shira Nayman weaves their passions and betrayals in the wake of devastation into a beautiful and heartbreaking story about the impossibility of escaping the residue of war."
Julie Burstein, author of Spark: How Creativity Works
Shira Nayman writes with wisdom and courage."Ursula Hegi
"A marvelous book that sweeps across decades and around the world to reveal dark secrets locked tight within the human heart."
Jed Horne, author of Desire Street and Breach of Faith
"Shira Nayman's sentences have heft and spine and grace, and her vision is clear and generous."
Mary Gordon, author of Spending
Oscar is a mysterious Englishman who presides over Ellis Park, a sprawling mansion on Long Island's North Shore. It is 1951; as the jazz bands play and the ever-present houseguests waft into the ballroom, the war seems much farther away than a mere six years. However, Oscar is tormented by his own questionable wartime dealingsand embroiled in a drama involving late-night meetings with an official, with whom he speaks German. He is also haunted by memories of Christine, his great love who, after the war, sailed to Shanghai; he has no idea of the murky, moral depths into which she has fallen.
One of Oscar's frequent houseguests, Marilyn, a photographer who spent the war years in England, has moved in to Ellis Park for the summer and is working on a book of her wartime photography. Marilyn reminds Oscar of Christine; he finds refuge late at night sitting beside her in the pristine photographic studio he built in a basement area, deep beneath the sumptuous, brightly lit rooms above. Oscar suspects that Marilyn, married to Simon, has embarked on an affair with the adventurous Barnaby, a swashbuckling character whose far-flung wanderings included a long stint in Shanghai, where Barnaby himself had been involved with Christine.
The narrative unfolds through the three different points of view of Oscar, Christine, and Marilyn, in locations on three continentsLong Island, Shanghai, and London. A Mind of Winter is a complex, page-turning, literary psychological thriller, which takes up a rich array of themes: the ways in which we choose our beliefs and build our lives around them; the self-deceptive shadings that undulate within; the moral ambiguities of being an artist; and the ways in which socio-historical circumstances inevitably bite into and shape personal identity and destiny.
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About the Author
Shira Nayman: Shira Nayman is a clinical psychologist who works as a strategic brand marketer and has taught psychology, literature, narrative medicine, and creative writing at Columbia University, Rutgers University and Barnard College. She has published fiction and nonfiction in The Atlantic Monthly, The Georgia Review, New England Review, Confrontation, Boulevard, Cousin Corinne, and elsewhere, and is the author of two works of fiction, Awake in the Dark (novella and stories), and The Listener (a novel), both published by Scribner. She is the recipient of three grants from The Australia Council for the Arts Literature Board as well as the Cape Branch Award for an Emerging Woman Writer.
Read an Excerpt
A MIND OF WINTERa novel
By Shira Nayman
Akashic BooksCopyright © 2012 Shira Nayman
All right reserved.
The North Shore of Long Island. Late Summer, 1951.
I do not fail to see the irony in it—being taken, once again, for someone else. Of course, the circumstances this time could not be more different.
Anyone who has traveled much knows the curiosity of catching sight on a foreign street of someone you're certain you know, or knew long ago. It's not a vague similarity of features that seizes your attention but something specific: the exact angle of the protruding teeth, the way the lips pull back with the smile to reveal too much gum; or the elongation of a forehead, the hairline too even. Of all people, you wonder, what could your schoolteacher from decades ago, with his inimitable gait, be doing here? Though you know that by now the teacher, who was old then, must surely be dead. You conclude there must be a finite number of physicalities, of shapes of jaws and brows, of ways a limp can set in or a mouthful of teeth can crowd. You don't however imagine this to be true, too, of you—that your form is a composite of human parts that, meted out to an unknown individual somewhere else, have achieved a similar effect: that in a distant country you will never visit, a person you once knew will think that a stranger he sights on the street is you.
Or, as in my present troubling case, that the specifics of my own features would evoke so precisely, so insistently—in the eyes not of one person, if my visitor is to believed, but of several—the exact image of someone else. And for this to have happened not once in my life, fluke enough, but twice? In two far-flung countries, involving a likeness to two different people—and me, leading two wholly disconnected lives?
I could not begin to defend myself against the present accusation. I would not presume even to try. My visitor has not been unfriendly: on the contrary. He maintains a posture of respect, bows when he greets me and again when he leaves. He is careful to phrase things in the interrogative, and makes liberal use of the words alleged and supposed and perhaps. He keeps impulse and enthusiasm at bay, prides himself on reaching conclusions through careful compilation of fact. A thoughtful and diligent young man; I bear him no malice.
His office appears to be sparing no expense in the investigation.
He, too, is an immigrant. I cannot help noting how comfortable he seems; he carries himself as if he belongs.
Though I have not angled for such declarations, he has on several occasions assured me that no legal action will proceed unless they are absolutely certain—Beyond, as he put it, breaking into American idiom, the shadow of a doubt. I am impressed by the sense of security I have in being an American citizen.
Never once has he asked if the accusations are true. This makes me feel oddly safe—as if he were not a representative of the prosecutor but, rather, my lawyer. This is unfortunate. For one thing, it contributes to a sense of myself as a criminal. It is also likely to put me off guard.
It was clear from the moment I opened the door that evening, three weeks ago, to find Wallace standing there with the stranger, that something sinister was afoot. For Wallace to disturb me at that late hour—11:48 p.m., I checked my wristwatch when I heard the tap on the door—was unprecedented. And then, there was the grimness I sensed beneath Wallace's professional reserve, as if he could see some danger barreling toward me but was powerless to stop it.
When the young man, with his fastidious good looks and elegant attire, addressed me in German, I knew that Wallace's fear had not been misplaced. These people know what they are doing: the ambush, the trump card played first, before their subject is even aware that a high-stakes game is under way. Instinctively, I knew I didn't stand a chance; one cannot undo the reflexive indication of comprehension that surely shows in the face upon hearing one's mother tongue. Pretending I did not speak German would have been pointless; I had sense enough to realize that.
Sitting behind my desk, looking across at the tapestry of the fox hunt which I'd bought from my antique dealer in London a few months before setting sail for New York, the sound of the German issuing from my own lips seemed like a violation. It was a Tuesday night, so there were virtually no houseguests about, except for Marilyn, who had only lately accepted my invitation to move in for the rest of the summer, and Barnaby, at the tail end of his recuperation. I was aware, however, of the danger—that someone might hear us, that someone might hear us speaking German. When I could no longer tolerate the strain, I switched to English, attempting as much nonchalance as the situation would allow. Thankfully, my visitor followed suit, without a remark.
Since then, it has become, for me, a bit of a game. My visitor begins each meeting by addressing me in German; I wait until an apt moment presents itself and then slip into English. I have perhaps invested this aspect of our meetings with too much significance, as if I am in danger only while speaking German, regaining a return to safety the moment the world is again cast in the language of my adopted country, the only language I have spoken—until my visitor first appeared three long weeks before today—since alighting on American soil almost six years ago.
The fact is, there may never again be, for me, safe ground of any kind. This realization infuses everything; it is as if someone has placed before me a screen of acrid smoke, sickening my senses and tainting the world I have so carefully pieced together. When I walk, now, in the gardens, the flowers appear remote, closed to me, as if I had done them, too, some wrong. The halls of my beloved house seem either painfully empty or painfully crowded: when I am alone, they echo with isolation; on weekends, when the guests abound, I feel encroached upon. Even the woods, where I have always found peace, seem alive with disruption—the birdcalls too shrill, the leaf cover too dense, the occasional scuttlings underfoot now alive with threat. I feel ridiculous, and yet find myself creeping about in a state of diffuse fear, afraid that I will be bitten or stung, or else set upon by some official or artist I invited months ago from the vantage of my prior sportive, socializing self.
I have no intention, however, of canceling any of the planned festivities. It would likely draw attention, even suspicion. The only moments of equanimity I can still count on are my late-night visits to the basement studio where Marilyn is working on the catalog for her exhibition. I know it is a refuge for her too—from the goings-on of the house, from the strains of her marriage, and the affair I suspect she has embarked upon with Barnaby. As she works, I simply sit, and either read or think.
Marilyn reminded me of Christine from the moment we met—on the second-floor landing, I recall. Though opposite in coloring (Marilyn, dark; Christine, fair), there was something uncannily similar about their eyes: a distinctive quality of both vibrancy and distress, a vitality shot through with unease. Perhaps it was this likeness that made me feel immediately at home with Marilyn. I am not a person who readily makes attachments.
In any event, I find myself seeking Marilyn's company more and more. Her simultaneous presence and distance is calming; she is both absorbed in her work and also aware of my troubled state, concerned while showing a deep respect for my privacy. Bless her.
And yet, being with Marilyn also makes me more keenly aware of the span of years during which I have willed Christine from my consciousness. I have come to realize, through Marilyn, that despite my efforts to devote myself single-mindedly to my new life—which is to say, life without Christine—Christine has in fact been there all along, stored, with care, in the attic of my soul.
It was with Christine that I crossed from purgatory and rejoined the living. I do not know why she chose to flee; perhaps I never will. This no longer torments me as it once did. I soothe myself with thoughts of Christine's new life across the farthest ocean, in China: a culture that could not be more different from that of her native England. Surely she found the peace she was seeking—the peace that for some reason she was not able to find with me. I see her dressed in crisp cotton, engrossed in a book while sipping oolong tea in a stately, colonial club, relieved of the Shanghai heat by a giant wooden fan circling overhead. Her face, smoothed of its disquiet, now gives full play to her unusual beauty.
I dwell for long moments on such images: not to punish myself, but only that I might touch Christine protectively in my mind's eye, that I might whisper on her image a blessing. A paltry blessing, to be sure, given its source, one that begs forgiveness at the same time as it bestows whatever sorry sparks of hope I have left in this heavy chest. It is all I have to give.
Did I have to lose her, so that she might find herself and flourish? Is this to be the case, too, with Marilyn?
We could not be more different from one another—Christine, Marilyn, and I. And yet, I see us as three comparable figures, up against the same squall. Only this too: I may be battling alongside them, but I am also the eye of the storm, the terrible, still center. Not merely one of the hurricane's combatants, but somehow also its source, and therefore, as it happens, a void, which is to say, nothing at all.
That first meeting with the visitor seemed interminable, though it was probably no more than an hour. For the first half of it we were speaking at cross-purposes, a dark version of an Oscar Wilde comedy. All the time he was talking about "the accusation," I simply assumed that I had been found out, that the visitor had come to discuss the paintings. Why would I not? Harboring such a secret—one that cuts to the quick of your being—can turn the world to a parliament of watchful eyes, and fill every unexpected situation with the threat of discovery.
When I finally realized my mistake, that this meeting had nothing to do with the selling of the paintings—that my visitor in fact appeared to have no inkling of that sorry excursion of mine into more than murky waters—I felt a rush of relief. This lasted the merest flash of a second, followed, as it had to be, by the understanding that what I stand accused of makes child's play of those particular dealings of mine.
I stand accused of murder. A crime of war. A crime, to be precise, against Humanity.
Excerpted from A MIND OF WINTER by Shira Nayman Copyright © 2012 by Shira Nayman. Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I won this book through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.It's different, well-written, mysterious, full of heavy atmosphere. There's a line near the end that Oscar asks: "What crime is there in self-preservation?" that encapsulates the novel's exploration. Three characters, Oscar, Marilyn, and Christine (plus Barnaby in everyone's background), are searching for their own way to deal with the circumstances they have been given. Drugs, sex, the blackmarket, are some of the options they explore in London, Shanghai, and Long Island (pre, during, and post- world war II).The novel is deep and intense, and could certainly be re-read and studied deeply to mine it for all of its nuances and themes. I liked it because it was unexpected and original.
This book is about choices. Oscar, Christine, Marilyn and Barnaby are all affected by the choices they make. Oscar by putting on a Nazi uniform to escape persecution, Christine by stopping Robert(Oscar) from telling his story, Marilyn by taking the photograph and Barnaby by being a playboy.The book as a whole kept me reading to the end, although there were parts that bogged down and were a bit of a struggle to get through. I found myself anticipating outcomes that did not emerge which made me want to continue just to see what the actual outcome was. It was satisfying in the end to have all the different stories explained.Overall a good read .
"A Mind of Winter" is a story of a certain era (post WWII) as seen through the eyes of three main characters who have been touched by the war in some way: Oscar, a self-made man who became rich from the spoils of the war; Christine, Oscar's former lover who runs off to Shanghai and gets dragged down into drugs and prostitution; and Marilyn, an American war photographer who is still suffering the consequences of all she witnessed during the war. Another character, Barnaby, is also present throughout. He is Oscar's friend and a lover to both Christine and Marilyn at separate times.The story that ties these lives together is revealed only gradually, so gradually that at times the reader might get bored and just give up altogether. Also, although the author is a psychologist, her characters lack sufficient depth to make them sympathetic to the reader, and their actions are not easily understood. Barnaby in particular is a total cipher. Some answers and explanations are offered at the end of the book, but by that time I didn't really care what happened to anybody.Oscar's story is told with much more depth and detail. The story is really all about him and his mystery, and the other characters are just satellites that come into play to emphasize his centrality.In terms of the writing style, the author Shira Nayman clearly knows her way around words, but she seems just a bit too enamored of them. Much of her writing is too burdened down with dramatic coloring and a baroque profusion of ornamentation. The words seem to become more important than the story and its characters.
It is 1951. Oscar, a mysterious millionaire (whose one true love, Christine, inexplicably abandoned him during the London Blitz), holds court at Ellis Park, his estate on Long Island, where one of his semi-permanent guests is Marilyn, a war photographer. The novel is narrated from the point of view of each of these three characters.Christine's story is narrated from Shanghai where her life took many an unfortunate turn after she left Oscar. Marilyn, working on a book of war photographs while at Oscar's estate, is haunted by what she saw during the bombardment of London and also behaves recklessly. Oscar comes under suspicion for his war-time activities about which he remains silent. A number of questions are the source of much of the suspense in the novel. Who exactly is Oscar? What did he do during the war? Why did Christine leave him so abruptly? How will Marilyn and her photographs "[Tease] the truth out of things" (300)? Only at the end does all become clear.Obviously the characters are scarred by the war. Each of them is trying to escape from the long shadow of war. Each of them constructs a new identity and history. Although Oscar in particular has "an elliptical quality" (183) with "disconcertingly different auras" (184), in some way each of the main characters stakes a "claim to life in artifice and illusion" (303). At one point Christine concludes "that innocence is not something you're born to, it's something you must construct with the scraps life throws you" (80). In the end, one of the characters makes it a mission to teach others " to shape their own lives. Not to be at the mercy of their circumstances" (318).Their perception of events and the selectivity of their memories determine the lives of these people, often in tragic ways. Of course, "Things are not always what they seem" (120). By not providing immediate answers to all the questions, the author places the reader in a position to misinterpret actions and conversations, just like the characters do. This approach is an effective way of conveying theme.The book is not flawless. Parts of Christine and Marilyn's stories are somewhat tedious. I found myself becoming impatient with Christine's constant self-destructive behaviour, and I didn't find the motivations eventually given for it to be sufficient. Likewise, Marilyn's way of punishing herself seems out of keeping with her guilt. (Of course I've never been in either of their situations.) There is some reliance on plot manipulation; several characters send cryptic messages to each other just so they can be re-connected.Nonetheless, I would recommend the book to those who enjoy interpretive fiction.
Interesting premise and an enjoyable read but I agree with another reviewer when they said that this story could do with a better editor. I found the language to be a little too flowery and over the top for such a gritty story.
I've put off reviewing this book for quite a while, and the characters are still on my mind. To me that means a well written story, memorable in many ways. First, I love the cover with its intriquing picture. The prologue is wonderful - how a mistaken identity has led to an accusation of a war crime. Then the stories of the two women and Oscar swirl around, not really connecting but still influencing each other. Yes, in retrospect, this was a very good book, and I will put it on my 'read again' list.
I went into this book expecting (like apparently several others) it to be like Great Gatsby with some other things mixed in. It was similar, with drawn out characters and flowery language, but it didn't quite draw me in as much as I'd hoped. Kind of boring in parts, but not a terrible read overall.
A Mind of Winter is primarily about three main characters, Christine, Marilyn, and Oscar, and their lives in the years after World War II. Over 60 million people died in the war, and death plays an important role in the story. Oscar is haunted by the likely deaths of his family members at the hands of Nazis. Marilyn is haunted by the photo she has taken of a boy in London who has lost his entire family. Christine spends the first part of the book slowly killing herself, unsuccessfully, with opium addiction. The real story is about the connection between Oscar and Christine and how this story ties them all together. They had been lovers in London after Oscar went there to flee Nazi Germany. A chance discovery by Christine would lead to their separation and Oscar's meeting Marilyn. The nature of this discovery and what happened to Christine after she left Oscar is the ultimate payoff that keeps the reader interested in the novel. Overall, I enjoyed this novel. Most of the characters had some depth and most of the book was compelling enough to keep me reading. The middle section, however, did bog down a bit. The Barnaby character was very superficially drawn. I would have liked to have known more about his back story and how he fit into the lives of the characters outside of simply being someone who knew and loved them all and helped tie them together. Because of this, the middle section that focused almost entirely on Marilyn's relationship with him tended to bog down a bit. I got the sense that Nayman rushed through that section and didn't put as much time into it as the first and third sections of the book. She should have spent more time explaining why Barnaby was the way he was.
No, I don't think I liked this one, and could only give it a tepid recommendation.Here's why:* Of the main characters, Barnaby's story was not told.* Told first-person from three people, Marilyn and Christine had the same "voice." Thankfully, Oscar's voice was distinct.* Although set in 1951, the author seems to have rather placed it in the time period of Gatsby or today. (Did any Christmas tree lights have "tiny bulbs" in 1951?)* I didn't particularly like the characters. Having said that, Ms. Nayman does compose some beautiful sentences. It's too bad that so large a proportion of sentences had such a large proportion of adjectives. The "mystery" does keep the reader turning pages, but in the end disappoints.
Review based on ARC. I was initially intrigued by this book because its title and brief description made me think of reading a cozy psychological thriller. Fortunately, Nayman moves the reader seamlessly into an intriguing story. I say fortunately because there are portions of the book that don't move the reader along as effortlessly as others, but the initial intrigue of Oscar's situation drives the reader through those less exciting portions. You can read the basic description of the book in other reviews & on the book jacket, but very briefly, Nayman presents a story of mystery and intrigue through the perspectives of Oscar and two women in his life, Christine and Marilyn. Oscar may have committed some horrible crime and may be the victim of mistaken identities, or perhaps both. Christine is his love who has left upon discovery of his crime, and Marilyn is his companion, a war photographer who enjoys the life of his mansion and his parties (it is this part that seems to remind people of the Great Gatsby, though I find Nayman's portrayals more interesting). Oscar's incredibly brief introduction somewhat sets the stage for the reader to be pulled into the overall story. But the book truly starts with Christine, after she has left Oscar, after she has become addicted to Opium, and near her point of desperation. Nayman flits between past and present with ease, and I even thought at one point that the book, written by a lesser writer, would have left me confused and annoyed. Instead, Christine's tale is convincing and understood, artfully written and non-gratuitously told. I felt that Nayman was a little brilliant in her ability to present Christine so well, despite my discomfort with some of the subject matter (for you more sensitive readers, please know that this story involves various types of sexual assault, but Nayman does not gratuitously divulge the details). Then we are rather abruptly moved to Marilyn's main story. It is abrupt largely because it is so very different from where we are left at the end of Christine's "chapter." There is some darkness, but Marilyn is not currently staggering through the darkness, which is (essentially) where we left Christine. As others have stated, her portion is, overall, the least moving, but it serves its purpose in the book. I'm not yet sure if I would have preferred more depth into Marilyn's character, or a quicker foray... And we are finally reintroduced to Oscar. The discovery, the tied up loose ends, the conclusion... well I like satisfying ends. I know it's trendy to leave the reader frustrated, but I appreciate a writer who is willing to actually conclude a tale. It does not, of course, conclude the lives of the characters therein, but it leaves the reader with a sense of satisfaction. I appreciated Nayman's decision and felt she did a nice job of wrapping up this dark and anxious tale. Overall, a thoughtful read, a dark read. I recommend to people seeking something more challenging -- particularly more emotionally challenging. THREE AND A HALF of five stars.