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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
From page one, this novel drew me in emotionally. I felt genuine joy, fear, sadness and even loathing for each of the characters. Knowing that the stories were based on real events, and that the characters represented real people, was both sickening and stirring. One of my favorite quotes from this novel pretty much sums up the perspective I gained from Like a River from Its Course.
"As we pull forward on the rails to home, I think about the nature of this world. For all the evil, there is an awful lot of good. I’m thankful for the sweetness of the good."
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.
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Like a River from Its Course by Kelli Stuart, © 2016
an epic story of war, love, grief, and redemption set in World War II Soviet Ukraine
They welcome us here. They think we've come to liberate them, to end their oppression and set them free. My eyes shift from the man to the villagers who surround him. Women cling to the hands of small, thin children whose eyes are big and round. The young ladies curtsy, and I nod my head politely in return. They're afraid of us. I see it.
Many Ukrainians welcomed the German soldiers, hoping they were there to liberate them from Stalin's regime.
I think of our life before the bombs, the river of our days flowing so calmly in a direction that I thought would last forever. In a flash, that river was turned, unexpected and quick, dragging us along this unforeseen path. Like a river from its course, life has swirled away from all I expected or planned. Sluggish and slow, this river carves a new path. There are calmer waters that wait.
I'm scarred and emotionally beaten. The girl who left was swept away in the flood of war, but I think that girl is still somewhere inside. If only I could get back to find her.
--Maria "Masha" Ivanovna
This novel is destined to become a classic. So fitly written, our history must not die with the written word left behind.
To the brave men and women of Ukraine
who fought for freedom in the
Great Patriotic War of 1941-45.
This book is for you.
Dedication ~ author Kelli Stuart
You will not long forget the story of these people so dedicatedly written of in this novel. Years of novelization brought to life on these pages reveal the hearts and spirits composed of so many lives. This story is not easy to read, with the atrocities of war.
I rooted for the characters, wanting them to be redeemed and reclaim their lives. Strength from tragedy, loss regained, they strove forward keeping in contact when they could with their families. So much joy out of dejection surfaces as love triumphs over intended harm.
The whole course of life will take a new path... "How I do love you as I did my own daughter. Now I'll send you home to your mother so that her heart may be mended as you've helped mend mine."
Precious quotes ~ For all the evil, there is an awful lot of good. I'm thankful for the sweetness of the good.
To endure and stand.
There is a rotation of the characters feelings and reactions to their events in common. One, completely trying to be honored and received by his father generates his cause. Another, to protect those who have rallied around them, pursue the unknown to bring to safety those they love. Families that are joined together to survive, sharing food and encouragement as they can.
The beauty of the countryside and bravery emulating from belief of a better way, stand out in the clear air and trust that must surface. Difficulties are set aside as the wellbeing is sought in each day.
The author interviewed war survivors and learned their language ~ resulting in actual clarity of information transforming her being to write the love of these peoples. I personally marvel at such depth of writing to thoroughly project the time and events, feelings and reasons behind their actions.
My favorite character? Luda, a true survivor of rejection and lack of protection. I also would say Ivan and his wife and all they gave, to others, and especially the love and care to their children resulting in an earnestness in their separation that spurred them on.
I would highly recommend this book that captures a people and time period not to be forgotten.
Based on true stories gathered from fifteen years of research and interviews with Ukrainian World War II survivors, Like a River From Its Course is a story of love, war, heartache, forgiveness, and redemption.
***Thank you to author Kelli Stuart for her insightfulness and to Kregel Publications for sending me a copy for review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***