Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
August 4, 2020

Alumna Rena Rossner shares new novel

By EMMA SUN | November 8, 2018

I always feel a sense of escape and freedom when I read fantasies. Curious to discover the underlying secret of a book covered in embellished golden details of forests, fruits, villages, a swan and a bear, I attended the book reading event of The Sisters of the Winter Wood, held by the author Rena Rossner at Barnes & Noble on Thursday, Nov. 1.

The Sisters of the Winter Wood is a fantasy set on the border of Moldova and Ukraine, in a village surrounded by wild forests. The protagonists are sisters Liba and Laya, who have been raised by a loving family but then get taken into the woods by a group of mysterious men. 

Throughout the novel, the sisters find out about a family secret. As the dark force closes in on their village, Liba and Laya figure out that the old fairy tales they have grown up with are real and that they are the keys to saving the town from misfortune.

Rena Rossner is now working as a literary agent, but she’s been a writer her whole life. In the middle of her junior year of high school, Rossner was accepted into Hopkins early decision. Knowing that she would go on to pursue literature, she graduated high school as a junior. 

Although she is currently on a book tour for her first fantasy novel, Rossner had previously published a book, Eating The Bible, and has written two other stories that did not make it through the publishing house. 

During the book reading, Rossner discussed how she started writing The Sisters of the Winter Wood. She said she’d always wanted to retell Christina Rossetti’s poem “Goblin Market,” which is essentially a children’s fairy tale that tells a story between two sisters, Laura and Lizzie, and a goblin man. Rossner said she had always dreamed of creating a piece of fantasy. The Sisters of the Winter Wood is a resistance story focused around sisterly love.

Rossner shared stories about writing the novel with the audience. She woke her husband up in the middle of the night multiple times during the process, concerned with the fact that her book didn’t have a soul. Rossner looked for a new place to set her novel and tried something she had never done before — she dug into her family genealogy. 

Surprisingly, she learned that her grandfather’s family came from a town located on the border of Moldova and Ukraine. The city was influenced by the Kishinev pogrom of 1903, an event that led to the persecution of Jewish people. People in the town organized themselves into a defense force, surrounding the town to save the village. Miraculously, the men that went to attack them turned around and left. This significant discovery of Rossner’s roots became the soul of her creation. 

For me, the most fascinating quality of The Sisters of the Winter Wood is that, despite the discovery of her connection to this tragedy, the book is focused on life and not death. Rossner recalled her life in Israel, saying that she had a normal life there. She went to work every day despite the fact that there was a war happening about 45 minutes away from where she lived. Although threats arrived every day, people still got along with their ordinary lives as best as they could. Perhaps the strength of the characters in the fantasy comes from Rossner’s own positivity — she was enchanting when she told her story.

One particularly striking feature of The Sisters of the Winter Wood is the style of Rossner’s writing. Her book is written in two voices. The two girls in this book, Liba and Laya, each speak in a different voice — one speaks and writes in prose, the other speaks and writes in poetry. Rossner expressed her love for poetry to the audience and said that she is looking forward to discovering more amazing pieces written in this genre. 

The Sisters of the Winter Wood is available for sale at Barnes & Noble bookstore and on Amazon.

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