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Like a River from Its Course Paperback – June 27, 2016
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"Fiction is a vehicle for growing in empathy for and understanding of this world. The magic of fiction is its ability to draw in the reader, to coax him or her to put on the shoes of the characters and go for a walk in those shoes. In Like a River from Its Course, Kelli Stuart worked this magic. The terror of the novel is its glimpse into the potential for human evil. The beauty is the way in which people can be instruments of grace and mercy in the darkest of circumstances. Raw, vulnerable, horrifying, beautiful, and true, this novel is a mirror for us to gaze into, to see our potential for good or ill. It nudges us to choose the path of love for those in need, regardless of what it may cost. This is a novel I will not soon forget." (Susie Finkbeiner, author of A Cup of Dust: A Novel of the Dust Bowl 2016-04-01)
"A carefully researched, compassionately written journey into Ukraine at the height of World War II. Stuart brings her story vividly to life with warm, believable characters and vivid writing." (Anne Bogel, modernmrsdarcy.com 2016-04-01)
“A chilling and lyrical treatise to faith in a time of tragedy, Like a River from Its Course is brimming with luscious imagery and characters who entrench themselves in your heart. Stuart weaves the travails of Kiev with the unfailing hope of Luda, Ivan, and Maria. Deft research, expert prose, and heart-clenching moments combine in a resplendent historical reading experience. This isn’t just a historical fiction debut--this is a well-crafted piece of art.” (Rachel McMillan, author of The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder 2016-04-01)
About the Author
Kelli Stuart is the coauthor of Dare 2B Wise and has written for several brands including Disney, American Girl, and Short Fiction Break. She has served as editor-in-chief for the St. Louis Bloggers Guild and as a board member for the St. Louis Women in Media. In addition to her writing, Kelli has spent twenty years studying Ukranian culture. Kelli lives in Florida and blogs at KelliStuart.com.
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I lived in Ukraine for nearly six years. Kelli Stuart captures true aspects of Ukrainian culture which are often overlooked by western writers. Some descriptions brought back my own vivid memories. I had tears reading again of Babi Yar.
Currently, Putin's Russia has occupied Ukrainian Crimea and is involved in the fighting in eastern Ukraine. The Ukranian people through the Orange Revolution and EuroMaidan keep fighting for an honest government and a country free from corruption and rule of the post-Soviet oligarchs. The strength and spirit of the Ukrainian people shines in this book and shines still today.
The plot and characters were strong, especially for a first time author. While this book stands on its own, I'd be thrilled to read more from Ms. Stuart set in Ukraine.
I knew it was a horrible war. I've been to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. I've heard stories told by American veterans. I've watched countless Hollywood films set during the war. I've read The Hiding Place. But somehow, this novel has opened my eyes even more to the atrocities of war and helped me realize that things across the world were so much worse than I'd ever imagined.
I think this is due, in large part, to Kelli Stuart's decision to write the story in first person from four different perspectives: three Ukrainians and a German Nazi. Each story felt true, and each character had a unique voice that transported me into his or her world. At the very beginning of the novel, I did struggle to get a grasp on who was who—I think simply because the Russian names were foreign to me. Quickly, however, I became swept into the individual—and sometimes surprisingly intertwining—stories.
At times, the novel is almost overwhelmingly depressing—when Maria is forced into a labor camp, when her father Ivan witnesses and nearly dies in the mass murder of the Jews at Babi Yar, when Luda is gang raped after being abandoned by her father, when Frederick becomes a mass murder himself. Yet there is nearly always hope. Hope for love, hope for family, hope for a better future.
Though he's not present in much of the story, one of the most impactful characters is Sergei, Maria's brother and Ivan's son. Idealistic and eager to fight for his country, Sergei joins the Soviet army as soon as he is able. The reader only gets glimpses of Sergei from that point on, through letters to his family, his family's interactions with one of his comrades, and a brief encounter with another character late in the novel. It is during this encounter that the character asks Sergei why he would put his life in danger by helping others escape the Soviet Union. His response jumped out at me: "I wanted to fight to protect my country from the enemy. I was naive when I joined. I didn't realize that the enemy could easily be dressed just like me." That statement is so important, as it illustrates the truth that there were good and evil men on both sides, just as there are in today's wars. In today's American conflicts. We should not automatically assume that the people on "our" side are good, and those on the other side are evil. Life is so much more complex than that!
Though the spiritual content in this book is understandably light throughout most of the novel, near the end, Ivan and his wife begin to seek out answers, and they befriend a priest. As Ivan questions how God could allow the atrocities committed by the Nazis, the priest clearly and concisely presents the gospel using the Nicene Creed. Ivan slowly comes to embrace Christ, and when Maria returns home, she notes what a difference faith has made in her parents' lives.
Though the story is heart wrenching, the novel ends nearly as positively as it possibly could. Not everyone gets a happy ending—that would be unrealistic. Honestly, one of the endings did stretch credulity for me a bit; however, I found I didn't care—I was just happy to see these characters who endured so much end up facing a brighter future.
I am so glad I had the opportunity to read this compelling novel. Though it is intense (as you would expect from a novel dealing with rape, murder, and other wartime atrocities), it never becomes gratuitously graphic, and it is well worth the read.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review from Kregel Publications. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
Four perspectives are shown in Like A River from Its Course — 2 female voices, 2 male, 3 Ukrainians, 1 German, 3 young people and one adult — making this novel a complete narrative of experiences during the years of Nazi occupation of Ukraine. There are good and bad actors on both sides of the conflict, blurring the lines of just who is an enemy. It is easy to blame institutional evil, but this novel puts a face on those who perpetrated cruelty and those who fought to retain their humanness. There is a recurring theme of father/child relationships and how they shape views of self and others. The contrasts are telling. Faith does not play a big role in the characters lives due to the nature of the Nazi and Soviet cultures of the time. But when the days of the war become desperate, seemingly without hope of any kind, some of the characters reach out to God to try to make sense of their worlds and to find a purpose for their pain. Other characters cling to the resolve to survive and others give in to the darkness that engulfs their worlds. I found the reactions of the characters very true to life.
Very well-written and extensively researched, Like A River from Its Course is literary fiction at its best. The unique first person, present tense perspective keeps the reader engaged and in the midst of the emotions, motives, and actions of the characters. Not necessarily an easy read due to the brutality exposed, it is, nevertheless, an important novel. Like A River from Its Course was a great introduction to a new to me author. I look forward to reading more from Kelli Stuart.
(Thanks to Kregel for a review copy. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)
Most recent customer reviews
Historical fiction from WWII era... personal stories intertwined with the reality of struggle and pain.