Today’s team review is from Sue. She blogs here https://suelbavey.wordpress.com/
Sue has been reading Sunflowers Beneath The Snow by Teri M. Brown
Sunflowers Beneath the Snow is a historical fiction novel based on true events spanning three generations of Ukrainian women during the time period between 1973 and 2021. These incredibly strong women are family and we see the very real day to day struggles of differing political opinions, living in a harsh climate and surviving life under a communist regime, where such nutritional necessities such as milk or bread may or may not be available each day to those who can stand in line in the hopes that there may be some left when it is their turn:
“Today, for the third in a row, she had been unable to obtain bread or milk. Despite her ration coupon, the supply had run out long before the line. Her building suffered as well, having had no heat for a better part of the month. There was nothing left in her flat to burn. She supposed that was true of the entire city, so going out in search of fuel was futile, and potentially deadly, as thousands succumbed to hypothermia.”
We see first hand from Ivanna’s perspective how difficult it is to raise a child under such a harsh regime without a father to help put food on the table – she has been told her husband was having an affair and is now dead. In fact he was a political rebel who was discovered and had to make the hard choice between fleeing to London, leaving his beloved wife and daughter behind, or staying and being shot. In this way the scene is set for an uncompromising emotional roller coaster of a family story.
Ivanna’s daughter, Yevt sees herself as a nationalist – more traditionally Ukrainian than her stubborn, party line following mother – Yevt’s religious belief and desire for a traditional wedding put her at odds with the State and drive a wedge between her and Ivanna. Her husband Danya explains to her the difference between Western capitalism and President Gorbachev’s economic policies and we see the beginnings of revolution against the party line amongst the students at the university in which Danya works. This eventually spills over into independence for Ukraine and the collapse of the Soviet Union as a background to Yevt’s pregnancy, the difficult reunion between herself and her mother and her postpartum depression.
The third woman whose story is featured in this novel is Yevt’s daughter, Ionna. Following Ivanna’s death the relationship between headstrong Ionna and her mother Yevt becomes strained as she questions everything relating to religious faith, unfaithfulness in marriage and the history between Russia and Ukraine. A trip to the USA to work as a camp counselor helps her to get some perspective and think about her priorities, meanwhile tragedy strikes in the form of Russia invading Crimea with terrifying results which lead to a new life and amazing coincidence for Ionna!
In light of recent events in Ukraine, I found the background to the history of the relationship between the two nations very interesting:
“Russia hasn’t wanted Ukrainian sovereignty from the very beginning. They’ve been contesting our freedom since we claimed independence before you were born. The only reason, and I mean the ONLY reason Yeltsin agreed to our independence was the only way for him to defeat Gorbachev. Unless the 1922 Union Treaty was dissolved, Gorbachev would remain in power. Ukrainian President Kravchuk insisted the new treaty gave every state veto power rather than creating some kind of confederation. Yeltsin gave in, but he wasn’t happy.”
The sunflowers of the title are the national flower of Ukraine, beautiful flowers which somehow manage against all odds to survive the harsh winter and oppression of the snow, much as these women survive the harsh effects of living under communism.
“These flowers understand the importance of looking heavenward to find hope and then spending time each day looking down to reflect upon their lives.”
I would recommend this story to anyone curious about the relationship between Russia and Ukraine who enjoys strong female lead characters. It is often raw and eye opening and the relationships and characterisation are extremely well-written and really believable!
A Ukrainian rebel. Three generations of women bearing the consequences. A journey that changes everything.
When Ivanna opens the door to uniformed officers, her tranquil life is torn to pieces – leaving behind a broken woman who must learn to endure cold, starvation, and the memories of a man who died in the quintessential act of betrayal. Using her thrift, ingenuity, and a bit of luck, she finds a way to survive in Soviet Ukraine, along with her daughter, Yevtsye. But the question remains, will she be strong enough to withstand her daughter’s deceit and the eventual downfall of the nation she has devoted her life to? Or will the memories of her late husband act as a shadow haunting everyone and everything she loves, including Ionna, the granddaughter that never knew him?
In Sunflowers Beneath the Snow, Teri M. Brown explores the tenacity of women, showing that even in grueling circumstances, they can, and do, experience all the good things life has to offer – compassion, joy, love, faith, and wonder.