This book features a dual timeline, one part following Cassie’s story and one following Katya’s. The novel begins in Wisconsin, USA in May 2004. Cassie lives with her young daughter Birdie, who hasn’t talked for over fourteen months since her father (Cassie’s husband) Henry died. Cassie and Birdie soon move to Illinois, as her mother Anna suggests it would be good for all of them if Cassie could move in with her grandmother Bobby, who is Ukrainian and seems to be struggling with health issues. Soon it is obvious Bobby is keeping her own secrets, but can Cassie find out what they are?
In the next section, we meet Katya (Kateryna Viktorivna Shevchenko) – a sixteen-year-old girl living in Ukraine in 1929 with her parents and her sister Alina. We see her romance developing with her best friend Pavlo.
As 1930 arrives, it is by now the time of Stalin and collectivisation, which affects Katya’s village as Soviet officials take over. As one of the characters says, “Everyone wants Ukraine’s fertile soil for their own, and nobody wants to let Ukrainians rule it.” Life changes and suddenly, Katya’s normality becomes fear and terror.
With what is happening in Ukraine in 2022, The Memory Keeper of Kyiv has a special poignancy. The author’s family are from the Ukraine and the authenticity of what she writes about come through really well. I learned about Stalinism at University (I studied Russian and Soviet Studies), but this book really brings to life the atrocities of the Holodomor (Great Famine) in Ukraine in a way that textbooks don’t manage.
I was hooked right from the start. It is very well-written and draws you into both timelines with enough intrigue to tempt you to read more. The characters are very realistic, right from the start. You see their strengths and weaknesses and sympathise with the things they have to deal with. It is a very sad book in many places, as there are deaths and grief and the whole injustice of what happened in Stalin’s time. But also hope, as we admire what people can accomplish in the hardest of times and how they keep going.
Overall, it is a very moving book and will stay with you for a long time, but be aware some of the scenes described are shocking and upsetting. I cried.
9.5 out of 10
The Memory Keeper of Kyiv
In the 1930s, Stalin’s activists marched through the Soviet Union, espousing the greatness of collective farming. It was the first step in creating a man-made famine that, in Ukraine, stole almost 4 million lives. Inspired by the history the world forgot, and the Russian government denies, Erin Litteken reimagines their story.
In 1929, Katya is 16 years old, surrounded by family and in love with the boy next door. When Stalin’s activists arrive in her village, it’s just a few, a little pressure to join the collective. But soon neighbours disappear, those who speak out are never seen again and every new day is uncertain.
Resistance has a price, and as desperate hunger grips the countryside, survival seems more a dream than a possibility. But, even in the darkest times, love beckons.
Seventy years later, a young widow discovers her grandmother’s journal, one that will reveal the long-buried secrets of her family’s haunted past.
This is a story of the resilience of the human spirit, the love that sees us through our darkest hours and the true horror of what happened during the Holodomor.
May we never forget, lest history repeat itself.
A share of proceeds will be donated to DEC’s Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.
Purchase Link – https://amzn.to/3MTkVBr
Author Bio –
Erin Litteken is a debut novelist with a degree in history and a passion for research. At a young age, she was enthralled by stories of her family’s harrowing experiences in Ukraine before, during and after World War II. Her first historical fiction title, drawing on those experiences, will be published by Boldwood in June 2022. She lives in Illinois, USA with her husband and children.
Social Media Links –
Bookbub profile: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/erin-litteken