By Shira Nayman
From Shanghai to England to Long Island, the lives of three characters, all restless and tortured in their own way, are intricately meshed together and their souls laid bare in A Mind of Winter by Shira Nayman. The book begins with a brief introduction from Oscar, who tells the reader he is accused of war crimes. We don’t know why or by whom or when this happened or if he’s guilty—and we won’t know until the last pages of the book—but this compelling introduction pulls the reader into this haunting tale immediately. Oscar, a mysterious Gatsby-like Englishman lives in a North Shore mansion and hosts glamorous parties every weekend, but little else is known about him. Christine is an opium addict who hits rock bottom and ends up on the fringes of society in Shanghai. Marilyn, a photographer who spent the 1940s in England, moves into Oscar’s mansion to work on a book of wartime photography, sorting through her inner demons by carrying on an extramarital affair and developing haunting photos. Divided into three parts, the narratives of these characters weave three seemingly separate stories into one complex whole, each one filling in the others’ blanks. The stories, bouncing from past to present and back to past again, intertwine seamlessly. Maybe it’s because Brooklyn author Shira Nayman has a background in clinical psychology or maybe it’s because she grew up in Australia in a community of Holocaust survivors, but this novel touches upon the innermost depths of its character’s souls, those dark and shadowy corners that many writers stop just before reaching. Resounding with the beauty and elegance of a Victorian novel, this page-turner touches on everything from the horrors of war to prostitution and addiction. This is a book that will make you think deeply. It may even make you uncomfortable at times. While some may be turned off by some violent scenes, they serve a purpose. They aren’t merely put there for shock value but lead the reader to a deeper understanding of the character experiencing them. These characters, and the darkest moments of their lives, are crafted with such tender care it seems Nayman has been molding them for decades. There is a lot of darkness in these pages, but there is also light. By the last page of the novel, you realize that one can’t exist without the other, and together they make a beautiful shade of gray…or winter.
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