My thanks go out to the lovely Noelle, representing publisher Bookouture, for securing me a spot on this ‘Books On Tour’ journey.
As ever, additional thanks go out to NetGalley, for their excellent download and review service.
THE CHILD OF UKRAINE
Ukraine, 1940. She cups her daughter’s face with her trembling hands, imprinting it on her mind. ‘I love you. Be brave,’ she whispers through her tears, her heart breaking into a thousand pieces. Sending her child away is the only way to keep her safe. But will she ever see her again?
When war rips their country apart, Julia is sent away by her tearful parents in the dead of night, clutching her mother’s necklace and longing for one last embrace. But soon she is captured by Nazi soldiers and forced into a German labour camp, where behind a tall fence topped with cruel barbed wire, she has never felt more alone.
Just as she begins to give up on all hope, Julia meets Henry, a young man from her village who shares her heart full of dreams. And when she feels a fluttering in her belly that grows and grows, she longs to escape the camp and begin a new life with their child. But then Julia is forced to make a terrible choice. A choice no mother should have to make.
New York, 2011. With her heart shattered and her life changed forever by the shadows of war, as the years go by Julia thinks she will never be whole again. For decades she has been carrying a terrible secret with her, her every moment tainted by tragedy and loss since those dark days of the war.
But when she receives a phone call in the middle of the night, far away from the home and family she lost in the war, will Julia finally be reunited with the missing piece of her heart? Or is it too late for her wounds to heal?
Based on the incredible true story of the author’s grandparents, The Child of Ukraine is a breathtakingly powerful tale of love, loss and family secrets.
This novel was previously published under the name Motherland.
Tetyana Denford is a Ukrainian-American author and freelance writer. She is also a translator for Frontline News, has written and edited articles for magazines in NY and the UK, is featured in The Telegraph and The New York Times, and speaks several languages.
She grew up with her Ukrainian heritage at the forefront of her childhood, and it led to her being fascinated with how storytellers in various cultures passed down their lives to future generations; life stories are where we learn about ourselves, each other, and are the things that matter most, in a world where things move so quickly.
Her novel, Motherland (now being relaunched as The Child of Ukraine), is based on an incredible family secret that was revealed by her maternal grandmother, Yulia, only recently, and has been described by people as ‘haunting’, ‘powerful’, and ‘a fragile and hopeful story of an immigrant family’. It was longlisted for the Readers Digest Self-Published Book Awards, and has been met with critical global acclaim.
Her ‘conversation books’ were published in 2021-2022 and are a series of three themed, handbag-sized books of poetry and prose, designed to help the reader reframe subjects in a way that can help them find hope, magic, empowerment, and love.
Tetyana grew up in a small town in New York, has lived in Italy and the UK, and currently lives in New York with her husband and three children.
“Julia. There will always be tragedy and sadness. You cannot spend time thinking about what might happen. You must make choices and sacrifices for the ones you love. It is part of life. It is part of being a woman, and a mother”
“When she was alone, it felt better. Important things are sometimes better accomplished alone, her mother use to say”
“The past can harm or heal, but the truth always heals a broken heart”
“In the weeks ahead, Julia would find time for quiet moments where she was alone. The pages of her life had been scattered, but she felt that someday she would find the missing ones and stitch the story back together again – there was still hope”
“The night makes years out of mere moments, and that night stretched like a dream with no end and no beginning”
“Truth is always a necessary pain”
“Russia is full of soulless people ready to kill their own mother to gain victory. They will not stop until Ukraine does not exist”
“A wartime sacrifice. A mother’s love. A hope that never dies”
In a personal message at the end of the book, but which I felt was more relevant for me to have read first, author Tetyana Denford, lets the reader know that the story surrounding her main protagonists, Julia and Henry, was inspired by that of her own grandparents, Yulia and Hironimus Rudnyckyj (Babchya and Dido), with parts of the book being fictionalized to link together certain big events, which were true.
These really are the bare, almost ‘spoiler free’ details of this story…
In a war ravaged Ukraine of 1941, it was almost impossible for me to relate to the fact that Julia and Maria’s parents, along with so many of their fellow countrymen, decide that evacuating their children (particularly their daughters), from their homeland, west across the border into the unknown of a Nazi German State, was more preferable than to have them remain, as the impending threat of occupation from the east by Russian forces, became a harsh reality. Both of their sons are already missing, presumed dead, so the need to protect their daughters, becomes even more urgent, despite Maria’s (the eldest of the two) frail and deteriorating health, as their family farm is a prime target for Stalin’s ruthless new regime.
At a stop-off in an Austrian refugee camp, Maria’s condition worsens, and she dies in her sister’s arms. A distraught, teenaged Julia is forced to grow-up quickly, if she is going to survive and when she reaches the German border camp at Neumarkt, whilst she is housed in conditions little better than those of the prisoners, she is set to work as a bookkeeper.
It is here that she meets Hironimus ‘Henry’ Rudnick, himself a Ukrainian refugee, now a German officer, who immediately recognises Julia as the sister of one of his friends. Although from a much wealthier background and against the odds, the two find they have plenty of things in common, so when the inevitable happens, it is no surprise that the two marry in secret, just before their daughter is born.
When the war finally comes to an end and the labour camps are closed down, Henry persuades a reluctant Julia, that they are not going to be safe by trying to find their way back home, so they should move onwards and upwards with their lives and emigrate to Australia.
Life for new immigrants on the other side of the world, is not the ‘milk and honey’ it was advertised to be, so when Henry’s long hours of back-breaking and slave-like toil in the sugar cane fields, combines with the amorous attentions of their bad-boy neighbour Iliya, the perfect storm develops, which threatens everything in Julia’s life. Hell definitely hath no fury like a woman scorned, when Iliya’s wife Elina gets her claws out and a usually mild mannered Henry, shows Julia a whole new and very harsh side to his personality, when he lays her choices on the line and tells her to make her mind up.
The added dilemma of a natural disaster of epic proportions, means that Julia opts for self-preservation and keeping her daughter Slava, by her side. Then, just to turn the screw a little tighter, Henry announces that a better lifestyle awaits them in the USA, leaving Julia to abandon all hope for a future reconciliation of the second family, she must once again leave behind.
Life in America turns out to be the making of Henry and Julia, who settle into a new, much calmer and more caring way of life, resigned to Slava being their only child together. The ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ which still plague Julia from time to time, become softened and blurred with time, although she doesn’t forget what she was forced to leave behind and never stops blaming herself. However, when Henry is taken from Julia all too soon, a phone call from out of the blue and a voice which Julia never thought to hear again, stuns her, turning her world upside down all over again. When a terrible truth is told, she is forced to confront and confess a past to Slava, which her daughter cannot remember, and which has always been kept from her. Julia underestimates the acceptance and resilience of modern youth and matters are taken out of her hands by a daughter who loves her and strangers for whom the truth means the opening of a whole new chapter in their lives.
It is Slava’s daughter Lyuba, who decides to set Julia’s record straight, remove the stigma of shame from an act committed more than half a century ago, by highlighting her grandmother’s loyalty and love for all her family; and her ability to forgive those who had wronged her and deprived Henry and herself, of the one thing that could never be.
In such a monumentally important, character rich, epic family saga storyline such as this, where fact and fiction are so closely linked, I really worry about any comments I write sounding in any way disingenuous to the author or her family, particularly as Tetyana features extracts from her own story, towards the book’s finale. I think I worked out which were the ‘big things’ Tetyana referred to in her letter, however I had so many questions by the end that I would have treasured a chat with Julia (Yulia) herself, although I am certain that I would fall far short of her tremendous strength of character and resilience, her loyalty to her husband and family, and her determination to try and right the wrongs of the past, no matter how painful the consequences.
Add to that how the parallels of 1941, resonate so loudly with those of today’s 2022 war in Ukraine, with the atrocities heaped upon the portion of the population least able to resist and unable to evacuate the taken areas, and my moral dilemma is only multiplied exponentially.
In fairness, WWII was only the catalyst for much of this storyline, although the stories of immigrant displacement, secrets which were taken to the grave, love, loss, motherhood and most importantly, hope, were indelibly imprinted upon the very souls of so many future generations, with their lasting effects continuing to have repercussions into the present day.
This wonderfully evocative and tenderly poignant, multi-layered storyline, is highly textured and so very fluently written, presented in well-signposted chapters, which draws the story to its inexorable and cathartic conclusion.
The story has a large physical footprint, stretching from Ukraine to Germany, on to Australia ending up in the USA, with the vividly descriptive and beautifully nuanced quality of the dialogue, offering a continually genuine sense of the changing times and landscapes; enough to satisfy my most avid ‘armchair traveller’ tendencies.
There is quite a large cast of characters, all emotionally complex, raw and passionate, often a little unreliable and volatile. However, whilst they could be difficult to relate to or invest in, as often the family dynamics and synergy didn’t welcome outside intrusion, I found them all to be relatively genuine, believable and authentic. All the main players, who have been well developed in their roles, were given a loud and clear voice with which to tell their story, together with an inner strength and determination to fulfil their destinies and set the records straight for future generations.
What always makes reading such a wonderful experience for me, is that with each and every new book, I am taken on a unique and individual journey, by authors who fire my imagination, stir my emotions and stimulate my senses. This was another of those “one of a kind” stories, which had the power to evoke so many feelings, that I’m sure I won’t have felt the same way about it as the last reader, nor the next, so I can only recommend that you read The Child Of Ukraine for yourself and see where your journey leads you!
A complimentary kindle download of this book for review, was made available by the publisher and supplied by NetGalley.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 5 out of 5 stars!
Thank you for taking the time to read my review, I appreciate it!