Reviewed by Anne Parent
A timely historical fiction wonder following 3 generations of Ukrainian women as they navigate their lives in the midst of enormous change.
Rarely does a novel fall into such a relevant spot in history so immediately after publication. With the current events in Ukraine, Sunflowers Beneath the Snow speaks to readers on a personal level and gives the story even greater emotional salience. Brown weaves an invisible thread of strength and courage through grandmother, mother, and daughter, that leads to a resilient family in the face of national crisis.
The characters were developed naturally and Brown's writing style flows consistently throughout the book. It feels easy to root for the three women at the heart of the novel, as they are so genuine, yet human, in how they approach their struggles. Specifically, Brown writes honestly from the perspective of Yevtsye as she struggles with very common postpartum mood and hormone shifts.
In both conscious and unconscious ways, the novel reflects on ways in which life continues as normal even in the midst of global crisis (women have babies, children go to school, etc.). You, as the reader, are able to both zoom in to Ivanna, Yevtsye, and Ionna's life as well as see the widespread effects of the fall of the Soviet Union and subsequent invasions of Russia.
Brown's writing is straightforward and moves fast along the page. At times, more description could have been added to allow the reader to fully enter the world of the characters, but the writing style felt consistent and set a great pace that leaves readers moving swiftly. The ending feels organic as well, and leaves the reader with a sense of closure.
Ukrainian culture is also a main character in the novel and it was commendable how well-researched Brown appeared to be in her use of Ukrainian language and food throughout the book. You will find yourself wanting to taste the kutia, borscht, or varenyky as she describes it.
Sunflowers Beneath the Snow takes the reader on a journey through thirty years of Ukrainian history in the eyes of three resilient women. Readers will laugh, cry, and everything in between as they are taken into the heart of this family. Reading this novel will grant you access to a world that is so important to understand now.
Teri M Brown, author of An Enemy Like Me and Sunflowers Beneath the Snow connects readers with characters they'd love to invite to lunch.