I was drawn to this book because of current events in Ukraine. My family take a dim view of me reading or watching anything related to wartime, as I was brought up being very aware of the consequences of war by my parents who lived through WWII. In particular, my dad pulled no punches when describing the full horrors. As a result, I cry, a lot, when exposed to any graphic imagery. Naturally, I didn’t tell anyone what I was reading and spent a couple of nights melting into tears.
I am grateful to Rachel’s Random Resources and Boldwood Books for gifting me a digital ARC, via Netgalley, in exchange for my honest review. You can read my thoughts below.
In the 1930s, Stalin’s activists marched through the Soviet Union, espousing the greatness of collective farming. It was the first step in creating a man-made famine that, in Ukraine, stole almost 4 million lives. Inspired by the history the world forgot, and the Russian government denies, Erin Litteken reimagines their story.
In 1929, Katya is 16 years old, surrounded by family and in love with the boy next door. When Stalin’s activists arrive in her village, it’s just a few, a little pressure to join the collective. But soon neighbors disappear, those who speak out are never seen again and every new day is uncertain.
Resistance has a price, and as desperate hunger grips the countryside, survival seems more a dream than a possibility. But, even in the darkest times, love beckons.
Seventy years later, a young widow discovers her grandmother’s journal, one that will reveal the long-buried secrets of her family’s haunted past.
This is a story of the resilience of the human spirit, the love that sees us through our darkest hours and the true horror of what happened during the Holodomor.
May we never forget, lest history repeat itself.
A share of proceeds will be donated to DEC’s Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.
Considering that this is a debut novel, I must commend Erin Litteken for creating this tragic, haunting, and yet uplifting story. I was immediately pulled into Katya’s tragic world and learned about an element of history that I had been oblivious to. 1930s Ukraine sounds like the hell on earth that my dad described to me, and I found the descriptions of the dreadful treatment of the Ukrainian farming families abhorrent.
This book works in a dual timeline format. We hear from Katya and her family and then switch to a more modern-day perspective from newly widowed Cassie in 2004. As the result of an horrendous car crash, which took her husband’s life, Cassie’s daughter, Birdie, has not uttered a word. Assured that there’s nothing physically wrong with her, Cassie knows that it’s just a case of waiting and hoping. She returns to stay with her grandmother, Bobby, to both bring Cassie nearer to her mother and to keep a watchful eye over her grandmother’s deteriorating health.
I found that the switching between timelines helped me reconcile what I was reading with how little I had known about the previous Ukrainian struggles. I followed Katya’s desperate story and then found respite in Cassie’s world. I then found myself eager to return to Katya and praying for some easier experiences for her and her family.
The connection between Bobby and Birdie is quite magical and I found their relationship to be completely uplifting. As Cassie works her way through her grandmother’s journal, the truths of the horrors that she witnessed are brought to the forefront and the revelations have a massive impact on their lives.
This is not an easy read, by any standards, but it is an essential read and I am grateful for the opportunity to be an advance reader and to help spread the word about this precious story.
Erin Litteken is a debut novelist with a degree in history and a passion for research. At a young age, she was enthralled by stories of her family’s harrowing experiences in Ukraine before, during and after World War II. Her first historical fiction title, drawing on those experiences, will be published by Boldwood in June 2022. She lives in Illinois, USA with her husband and children.
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