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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Sunflowers Beneath the Snow by Teri M. Brown is a touchingly poignant novel about the devastating effect on one Ukrainian family, of one man’s small battle against the might of the Soviet Union, and in support of the struggle for Ukrainian independence. Lyaksandro Hedeon Rosomakha, a simple university librarian, had risked everything to pass on information to the Ukrainian rebels. Although the information seemed quite innocuous to Lyaksandro, he knew full well that if the Soviet Secret police were to find out, he would be tried as a traitor and he and his family would face, at best, years of deprivation in an infamous Soviet gulag. When faced with imminent discovery and offered a way out of Ukraine, Lyaksandro took what seemed to him to be the coward’s way out and accepted the offer of safe passage to England, leaving his wife and young daughter all alone to potentially face the wrath of the Soviet authorities. His wife Ivanna and his beloved daughter Yevtsye would be left behind to struggle to survive in the Soviet Union that was crumbling around itself, mired in corruption, incompetence, and economic hardship. Ivanna, a true acolyte of Soviet communism, and her educated daughter Yevtsye, a true believer of Ukrainian nationhood, would face the coming future together emotionally but ideologically poles apart.
Sunflowers Beneath the Snow is a wonderful read that looks at Ukrainian life in the latter years of the twentieth century and the simple realities of living in a managed economy where lining up for hours just to receive food to survive was an everyday occurrence. Author Teri M. Brown has created three female characters who are bound by love, as only a mother, daughter and granddaughter can be, yet are so very far apart in their views of the world. Ivanna was steadfast in her belief in the Soviet system; it was all she had ever known. Their life was never easy but, for her, it was bearable and she was resigned to her life of hard work with little reward, which contrasted brilliantly with her daughter’s independent spirit and desire to live in a free, capitalistic, and prosperous Ukraine. What I particularly loved was the incredibly close relationship that developed between Ivanna and her granddaughter, Ionna, despite the generation gap. Ionna’s journey into the world in the U.S. and her discovery that she was not as prepared for this western immersion as she had thought was definitely a highlight of the story. This novel is deeply character-driven and the author has done a superb job in developing the principal players in the story and inviting the reader to identify with and root for them, which is ultimately most authors' aim, so kudos to her for that. I thoroughly enjoyed this read and can highly recommend it.