Kelli Stuart's WWII novel LIKE A RIVER FROM ITS COURSE, set in the Ukraine as Germany invades and then occupies the Soviet country is drawn from hundreds of true stories of hardship, brutality, and suffering heard from survivors as she visited the Ukraine. Fifteen years of research and study went into this book. Over seventy years after the war, the stories, while painful to retell or hear, also tell of resilience, courage and kindness which can never be forgotten. I believe Stuart has done a remarkable job of blending the essence of those remembrances she was privy to into a powerful novel.
A river's course can be calm and peaceful, even sluggish, almost stagnant, but then a powerful, unexpected storm can transform the water into a dangerous flood of obstacles, dangers, and rapids. The 1941 Nazi invasion of the Ukraine changes the lives of Maria Ivanovna, her family, and others, just as a river course changes. Life under Soviet rule has never been easy, but the Nazis bring instant new hardships -- no food, fuel or work. Even worse is the uncertainty, the cruelty, and the all out intent to kill every Jew. Soon Maria finds herself the one of the Ukranian non-Jewish youth sent to Germany to be laborers, virtual slaves, sent there to work to keep the German war machine functioning. When Germany is finally defeated, and the war winds down, and surviving laborers attempt to find their way back to the Ukraine, the Soviet Red army vows to treat them as traitors.
As I read this novel, the utter inhumanity of both the Nazis and later the Red army was unbelievable. How could anyone hate so easily and commit such atrocities? How could anyone have the strength to endure and survive? As the stories unfold, clearly one sees that for all the evil, there is an awful lot of good, and it is those tiny acts of goodness, courage, and compassion that lead to survival, redemption, and forgiveness. Maria's story, along with her father's, her brother's, as well as their Jewish neighbors, and another young teenager Luda Michaelevna will add another layer to your understanding of WWII. Equally powerful is the side story of a young German officer who sees his role in the submission of the Ukranians as his one chance to win his father's (a high ranking Nazi) favor. His eventual disillusionment and failure is a story of suffering just as clearly as Luda's and Maria's stories.
I received a copy of LIKE A RIVER FROM ITS COURSE from Litfuse and the publishers for my honest opinion. I highly recommend this book and place it as one of the best I've read this year.
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