Belinda Alexandra’s Wild Lavender was one of my favorite sweeping epic novels, and the highlight of the year in which I read it. White Gardenia promised something similar with its premise of also being a multinational, multigenerational epic with heartrending moments. It follows a daughter’s harrowing journey to reunite with the mother who saved her life as a child during the final days of World War II. We follow Anya Kozlova, a White Russian survivor of the Communist takeover of Harbin, as she makes her way from the glamorous nightclubs of Shanghai to a desolate island in the Pacific, post-war Australia, and the Soviet Union in the 1960s.
The intention to create an epic is apparent through palpable descriptions of wartime angst and displacement, and the feel of the time period. Unfortunately, the plot didn’t flow smoothly, and the pacing was off – some parts were rushed through; others, like the ending, were painfully drawn out. Events seemed to be slowly inflated to a crescendo and then drawn down to a quick conclusion. At times, “coincidences” in the story were a bit contrived, as though the author were attempting to make connections where there were few. Despite these issues, this is an enjoyable book, although another round of developmental edits would have made a huge difference.