A Ukrainian Rebel Finds Sunflowers Beneath The Snow

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A Conversation with Teri M Brown

Award-Winning Author

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In this episode, Rich has a conversation with Teri M Brown.

Born in Athens, Greece as an Air Force brat, Teri M Brown came into this world with an imagination full of stories to tell. She now calls the North Carolina coast home, and the peaceful nature of the sea has been a great source of inspiration for her creativity.

Not letting 2020 get the best of her, Teri chose to go on an adventure that changed her outlook on life. 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. She learned she is stronger than she realized and capable of anything she sets her mind to.

Teri graduated from UNC Greensboro with a multitude of degrees – majors in Elementary Education and Psychology and minors in Math and Sociology – she just couldn’t settle on one thing! While homeschooling her four children, she began her writing career by focusing on small businesses, writing articles, blog posts, and website content.

During this time, Teri published five nonfiction self-help books dealing with real estate and finance, receiving “First Runner Up” in the Eric Hoffman Book Awards for 301 Simple Things You Can Do To Sell Your Home Now, finalist in the USA Best Books Awards for How To Open and Operate a Financially Successful Redesign, Redecorate, and Real Estate Staging Business and for 301 Simple Things You Can Do To Sell Your Home Now, and Honorable Mention in Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year Award for Private Mortgage Investing.

In 2017, after finally getting out of an emotionally abusive 14-year marriage, Teri began dabbling in fiction, a lifelong dream. Upon winning the First Annual Anita Bloom Ornoff Award for Inspirational Short Story for a piece about her grandfather, she began writing in earnest, and has recently published her debut novel, Sunflowers Beneath the Snow, a historical fiction set in Ukraine.

Teri is a wife, mother, grandmother, and author who loves word games, reading, bumming on the beach, taking photos, singing in the shower, hunting for bargains, ballroom dancing, playing bridge, and mentoring others – especially youth and women who are having trouble discovering their worth. Learn more at www.terimbrown.com.

Thank you to Teri M Brown for the conversation. Here are some links for Teri:

Website: Teri M Brown, Author

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Book: Sunflowers Beneath the Snow

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 that 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.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Three Ukrainian women—a mother, daughter, and granddaughter—forge connections and evolve while the Soviet Union collapses around them.

Bitter cold permeates many of the scenes in this aptly titled novel. From harsh Soviet Ukrainian winters to icy weather abroad, the climate is an often hostile force that reflects the political and emotional drama that unfolds. The work offers a multigenerational family story. The father, Lyaksandro Hadeon Rosomakha, must leave his home, his wife, and his daughter after being caught spying for Ukrainian nationalists. He journeys to London, where he assumes a new identity in shame, far from his family. But this tale isn’t about Lyaksandro. Rather, Brown focuses on the women he left behind: Ivanna, his wife; and Yevtsye, his daughter. Moving from the 1970s to the present day, the story chronicles the women’s experiences, providing a rich overview of the end of the Soviet Union and the intellectual and social unrest that creates an independent Ukraine. The most intriguing moments explore the tensions between mother and daughter, who represent contrasting views of the Soviet Union and Ukrainian nationalism. Ivanna is a secular Communist Party loyalist, while her daughter is swept up by the appeals for Ukrainian autonomy and by the Orthodox Church. But through these women’s eyes, momentous events in history and economic and social policies become catalysts to explore a dynamic familial relationship and highlight how the duo survives in the face of outside pressures, including food shortages and political turbulence. Eventually, Yevtsye welcomes her own daughter, Ionna, into the family (which includes her husband, Danya). When Ionna’s birth leads to Yevtsye’s postpartum depression, the story offers a vivid, complementary series of glimpses of motherhood in which the complicated emotions of one mother-daughter pair are examined next to those of another. Ultimately, Ionna, who grows up craving to become a writer, brings the engrossing narrative forward from the end of the 20th century into the 21st. While there’s a great deal of improbability in her portion of the tale, with plenty of airport hijinks, Ionna’s story of her own struggle for survival (mirroring her mother’s and grandmother’s) brings the novel—and many of its threads—to a satisfying and resonant close.

A compassionate, balanced, and engaging look at generational conflict—and resolution—during social upheaval.

Historical Fiction Company

Sunflowers Beneath the Snow Review 

“They said, ‘These flowers understand the importance of looking heavenward to find hope and then spending time each day looking down to reflect upon their lives.’ Before long, you could find sunflowers everywhere, even in the winter!” 

An incredibly time-appropriate novel considering what is happening to Ukraine at this moment. This novel spans the time period from 1973 to 2014, another time in history when Soviet aggression shadowed over Ukraine, and the joyous time when the country sought independence from the Communist regime. 

When the story opens, we are introduced to Lyaksandro, whose name means ‘defender of men’, and his involvement in the underground rebellion against Soviet Russia; but as happened often during those days when spy against spy resulted in lives being threatened, Lyaksandro finds himself separated from his wife and daughter and sent to live a life of anonymity in a witness protection program after those under the KDB discover his treason. 

Left behind are his wife, Ivanna, and daughter, Yevtsye, in a country trying to find its own identity, struggling through the harsh winters of dependence on the Party and seeking a way to emerge, to bloom, from the snow. Lyaksandro’s decisions affect and echo throughout their lives, fanning out to even his granddaughter, Ionna, whose modern and independent spirit reflects the strong Ukrainian people after finding their own grounding after years of suppression. 

Each generation reveals another step towards Ukrainian independence, and each woman depicts the struggles the country, itself, faced in finding its own voice. 

First, we have Ivanna, whose life changes when Lyaksandro disappears. After presented with a ‘lie’ about what happened to him, his supposed ‘death’ and the sordid story the regime comes up with to tell her, she loses all hope and becomes a woman set to autopilot, mindlessly accepting the Party rules, and enduring starvation, cold, and the emptiness of betrayal. Still, every day, she trudges to her assigned job, lives in her assigned housing, and collects the meager rations handed out in the food lines – all without question. 

Second, we have Yevtsye, the young daughter of Lyaksandro, who remembers her father in a vague way since she was just a child when he disappeared from their lives. Growing up, she refuses to believe anything negative about him, but relegates him to her own desire for hope. His actions, and her mother’s actions, result in her blooming into a life she might have never known as she becomes a well revered scientist seeking the cure for cancer, and she meets the love of her life, Danya, who helps her find her faith amidst the atheistic world of Communism, and his character gives the needed historical and political element to explain what is happening in the world around them. 

“We did it,” he announced joyfully. “Ukraine has seceded from the Soviet Union and claimed its independence!” 

“Tension about our independence has existed every day from our declaration to the present because, fundamentally, Russia believes its role is one of protector over everyone else, and this protection comes at the expense of everyone else’s freedom. You can see this in how they have dealt with NATO over the years and with the EU.” a quote from Danya as he debates the issue with his daughter, Ionna. 

As their lives continue down their path, independence bursts through the melting snow like sunflower seedlings reaching for the sun when Ukraine declares its independence in 1994. Both Danya and Yevtsye are overjoyed with the sudden prospects, but the change is another harsh blow to Ivanna who spent her entire life believing in the rightness of the oppressive regime. A rift tears mother and daughter apart, leaving a vast canyon which appears irreparable and impassable. 

Third, we have Ionna, the granddaughter, who represents the full blooming sunflower reaching for the sun; and the one thing which bonds all three women back together. Ionna’s relationship with her babusya, Ivanna, is a beautiful and sweet part of the storyline – a linking of the old ways and the new and how special the bonds of a granddaughter and her grandmother can be. Even later, when Ionna suffers unbearable loss, it is her grandmother’s strength that helps her through and that courageous Ukrainian spirit which forges her new life in a new country. 

When Ionna seeks to make her own life, even taking on becoming a camp counselor in North Carolina in the US, suffering her own hardships of racial injustice and bullying, she discovers the connection to her heritage reaches out across the ocean, and she discovers family she never dreamed possible if she had stayed in Ukraine. When Russia comes against Ukraine for the first time in 2014, in the Crimea Peninsula, Ionna is restricted on returning to Ukraine and she finds her way to a Russian and Ukrainian community in Brighton Beach in New York. Here she rediscovers her identity and a family she never dreamed possible if she had stayed in Ukraine. Not only that, but all of the answers about her grandfather’s disappearance in the 1970s comes full circle, giving incredible closure to her mother, Yevtsye, and meaning to her own life. 

Ms Brown does a brilliant job in depicting the strength of these Ukrainian women under the most trying of circumstances, and how hope emerges in the midst of war. This is a time-appropriate story of compassion, love, perseverance, family, resilience, faith, and how the actions and decisions of oppressive governments, or any government, can have life-altering consequences for the ordinary citizens who are just trying to live their lives. The theme that things always change, that nothing ever stays the same, is a powerful message, with the main characters showing how perseverance and courage help us all as human beings to brave the next morning. 

“Life has a way of turning out the right way. I always say that everything turns out okay in the end. If it isn’t okay, it isn’t the end.” 

***** 

Sunflowers Beneath the Snow” receives five stars from The Historical Fiction Company and the “Highly Recommended” award

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.

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