Book Review: Sunflowers Beneath the Snow by Teri M. Brown

  • Title: Sunflowers Beneath the Snow
  • Author: Teri M. Brown
  • Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Genre: Historical Fiction, Political Fiction
  • Would I recommend: Definitely! This is a wonderful work of historical fiction (and based on a true story!).

Synopsis:

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.

My review:

Sunflowers Beneath the Snow follows the story of Lyaksandro and Ivanna from 1973 to 2021. Lyaksandro is in an untenable situation. His cover as a spy for Ukraine has been blown. He is considering ending his own life to protect his wife, Ivanna and daughter, Yevtsye (Yevt) from the Russians. A way out is offered, but he must cut ties with his family completely and leave them thinking he has betrayed them in the most painful way possible.

Ivanna finds the strength to move forward, to provide for Yevt and herself under the harsh conditions of Soviet rule. In spite of their difficulties, though, Ivanna is a believer in the Communist system. As Yevt grows, she doesn’t always agree with her mother, and she marries a man who shares her subversive beliefs. They have a daughter, Ionna, who shares a wonderful bond with her babusya Ivanna even as she grows into beliefs of her own and goes out into the wider world.

But this is not only the story of three women and the efforts they make to maintain family and some kind of stability in difficult times. It is the story of the Ukrainian people, fighting to throw off oppressive Soviet rule and bloom as an independent country. Ivanna clings to her belief in the Soviet system. Yevtsye insists that there is a better way, that Ukrainian independence is the path forward. Ionna actually leaves her country and sees for herself that there is more than the harsh reality of life under the shadow of the USSR.

And though they didn’t share the same beliefs and sometimes fought over their differences, Ivanna, Yevt, and Ionna are all strong women who care deeply for their family. They adapt to difficult circumstances, find ways to keep their relationship in good order even when they disagree, and do what is necessary to keep moving forward.

Brown has clearly done her research, and the story she shares here resonates with today’s headlines of war between Russia and Ukraine. I knew that Russia had previously invaded Ukraine, but I didn’t know any of the details. I learned about it reading this story. I suspect there are people like Ionna, who were out of their country and now find themselves stranded, far from loved ones, unable to return. I can’t imagine what a struggle that is, and Brown writes her characters in such a way that you feel the hurt they feel. The true story on which this book is based must be remarkably compelling.

Brown’s writing style is easy to read, too. The pages flowed, and I stayed up reading until I dropped my Kindle on my face on more than one occasion. She covers sensitive political and personal topics – the reality of Soviet control, family members who disagree with each other, racism – with grace and flashes of humor, too.

The story portrays struggles, but also has a beautiful ending. I won’t spoil it for you here. Go support the author – buy her book and find out for yourself! But it had me reaching for the Kleenex, I’ll say that. I wouldn’t say this is strongly Christian fiction, but faith in God definitely plays a role.

Five stars for a story that both packs an emotional punch and educates the reader about historical events. Well done, Teri Brown! I look forward to reading more of your books.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy from the author. All opinions are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.

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