Book Review: Sunflowers Beneath the Snow
Reviewed by Madeline Barbush
A resounding novel that delves into the past and present of three generations of women who all have their own stories to tell
Sunflowers Beneath the Snow tells the story of a Ukrainian rebel and the impact of his decisions on the lives of three generations of women: his wife, their daughter, and their granddaughter.
Author Teri M. Brown shows, through the lens of family, the power of storytelling and the effect it can have on shaping a child’s life. At once heartbreaking and uplifting, this novel presents a simple story about complicated subject: holding onto one’s identity in a nation that changes drastically in a lifetime. Brown portrays what unconditional love is for a home country despite what it once was or what it has grown to be.
The story begins in 1973 when Lyaksandro, a university employee, is faced with the decision to either flee to London to save his life or die in his country of the Ukraine as an informant. He cannot relay to his wife (Ivanna) or their daughter (Yevtsye) where he has gone. And for all he knows, they are already dead.
Ivanna and Yevstye, however, are alive and made to believe that this man who was once their protector is now their betrayer. The two women are lied to and told that Lyaksandro was killed in a fire set by his lover’s husband.
As the years go by we follow these two women and their conflicting ideas of what their country should look like and what their roles in it should be. Yevtsye is saddened by her mother’s meager way of life and horrified that she should be so content with her job at a fish market that pays so little. She and her husband, Danya, take Ivanna into their home, and Ivanna naturally forms a bond with her granddaughter, Ionna. We follow Ionna all the way to the United States in the present day, where she lives with the stories of her grandmother and those of her mother, to form a new life and write stories of her own.
Brown’s story is one in which we can all recognize. Each character has had something precious ripped from them, and they are left to live as best they can without. We are influenced by the stories we are told when we are young, and Brown shows our nature to replace what is missing with stories of what once was and perhaps could be again. We romanticize and we yearn for those memories to resurface in our own reality, but Brown shows us the pain that living and yearning for the past can cause.
Lyaksandro’s father would tell him fairytale-like stories about Ukraine before communism and the USSR, and it felt as real to him as his own present. His father died trying to take back his Ukraine, one which flourished in art and culture, and Lyaksandro became a spy in an effort to pick up where his father left off. Surely we can fight for our right to live how we once did, but at what cost? How much influence do the stories we tell our children have on their lives, present and future?
I’d recommend Sunflowers Beneath the Snow to anyone who seeks to better understand a different generation. Anyone who wishes they were born in a different time will cling to the family at the core of this novel. I’d recommend it to anyone who could recount stories told to them by their parents or grandparents as if they were their own experiences and memories. Brown will make you recall feelings of nostalgia for a time that you never experienced, a reminder that if your elders lived it, in a sense, you have lived it too.
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Genre: Historical Fiction / Family Life
Print Length: 332 pages
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