What happens to an author whose historical fiction novel collides violently with the present? This is the question posed by Teri Brown following news of the recent shocking conflict in Ukraine. Teri Brown published her debut novel, Sunflowers Beneath the Snow, on January 25th, 2022. It is the story of ‘a Ukrainian rebel, three generations of women bearing the consequences and a journey that changes everything’.
Teri has written a guest post expressing her feelings about the tragic events unfolding right now and about how, when she wrote her novel, she had no idea that she would be watching such harrowing scenes play out in front of her eyes. A very timely piece and I would like to thank Teri for sharing her thoughts with us all here today.
Historical Fiction Ripped from the Headlines
What happens to an author whose historical fiction novel collides violently with the present? When the author has grown close to a country and its people and now finds them at war? I found out, firsthand, this past Thursday morning when I woke to the news that Russia had invaded Ukraine.
It wasn’t as if I didn’t know it was coming – or that any of us didn’t see that it was coming. But I just couldn’t conceive of it. With each news story that talked of the buildup of troops along the border, I hoped and prayed that it was a bluff. A cry for attention. A pawn to get what was really wanted.
For reasons that made no sense, what happened in Ukraine mattered to me far more than others around me. I have no relatives there. I’ve never visited the country. I don’t speak the language. Yet, these were my people. I had spent the last two years researching and writing to create my debut novel Sunflowers Beneath the Snow.
When I saw the story of the Ukrainian woman who told a Russian soldier to put sunflower seeds in his pocket so they would grow when he died, I cheered her on. How fitting that she snubbed the invader with the sunflower, the national symbol of Ukraine that always follows the light. When a man stopped next to a tank that had run out of gas offered to tow the tank back to Russia, I felt my characters, Yevt and Danya, burst with pride. No one was going to take away their Ukraine again. No one.
Then, just as quickly, another character, Ivanna, who had grown up under Soviet rule and was an ardent supporter of the Party, whispered in my ear. “I told you that independence was not the answer. I always knew we’d be part of Russia again.” And immediately, I wondered how many citizens in Ukraine were happy to see Russian control, but sad to see the destruction.
Finally, I thought of those fighting in the war – on both sides. Like my second novel, An Enemy Like Me to be released later this year, explores, governments start wars and let regular men and women do the fighting. The soldier who was offered seeds and the one driving the tank are not the enemies at all. They have families and lives and hopes and dreams. They fight to preserve their way of life. In any other circumstance, they could easily be a guest for dinner.
Today, I stand with Ukraine to remain sovereign. Just as Lyaksandro did. Just as Yevtzye did. Just as Ionna still does. You see, Ionna, though a character in my book, is loosely based on a friend who lives in the United States because while here on a Visa, Russia invaded her hometown and never left. She hasn’t seen her family since 2014.
On the day of the invasion, her social media bore her words of grief and pain. “Sleepless night, full of tears and fear. We need your support. We need your prayers. God, how could something like this happen in 21st century. This is WAR. AND IT’S HERE RIGHT NOW. RIGHT HERE. UKRAINE I’M WITH YOU. UKRAINE YOU ARE STRONG AND I BELIEVE IN YOU. WE CAN DO IT!!! PLEASE PLEASE HELP US!”
I am but a fiction author caught up in a war because I understand the people of Ukraine. I care because I understand. My hope is that reading Sunflowers Beneath the Snow will, as in the words of one of my readers, help others ‘develop empathy’ because the combination of empathy and compassion is the cure for war and hatred.
[ About the Book ]
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 the cold, starvation, and 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 who 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.
Purchase Link ~ Sunflowers Beneath the Snow
[ Bio ]
Born in Athens, Greece as an Air Force brat, Teri M. Brown now calls the North Carolina coast home. In 2020, she and her husband, Bruce, rode a tandem bicycle across the United States from Astoria, Oregon to Washington DC, successfully raising money for Toys for Tots. Teri’s debut novel, Sunflowers Beneath the Snow, is a historical fiction set in Ukraine.
Website ~ www.terimbrown.com
Twitter ~ @TeriMBrown1