There is a surprising sweetness to these stories of redemption and reconciliation. They carry a slight pleasant aftertaste, a lingering hint of delight. The central characters, all women, get more than they deserve or ironically get more than they understand, often by giving more than they know. Their consolations, transformations, unintended gifts, are rewards for them and for a reader as well.
In the title story, women political prisoners in Stalin’s Gulag create a gift of love for their daughters that, in its domestic simplicity, expresses their love and eloquently begs for their forgiveness. Rich, pampered, utterly self-centered “Wanda Winnepeg’’ finds an ingenious and anonymous way to repay her earliest benefactor. Helene, in “A Fine Rainy Day’’ cherishes her beloved dead husband by incorporating his sunny disposition into her own critical nature. By translating him into herself, she holds on to him and at the same time ironically opens herself up to someone new. “Odette Toulemonde,’’ a simple shop assistant with a talent for joy, worships a famous Parisian writer. When he is attacked by critics, she offers her support. By accepting her lessons in happiness, he redeems himself and her.