Karpenko poignantly reveals the horrors of the Holodomor, the terror-famine that Stalin’s rise to power in Soviet Union brought to Ukraine, with this marvelously engrossing historical drama. With Stalin’s plan to collectivize Soviet agriculture in 1928, the destruction of the Ukrainian nation begins to look like a reality. As the political tension escalated in Kiev, the affluent Karpenko brothers, Nicholai and Luka, decide to leave for Canada with their families, but the extended family members refused to see the truth of the situation. Soon the ruling party begins to execute and deport people to the Arctic in the drive to eliminate private farms, and it became impossible for people to meet the high grain quotas in the subsequent terror-famine. Karpenko’s setting is fully realized, and her depiction of the ways her various sensitive, turbulent characters navigates the murky period is done with understanding and perception. While a sense of foreboding stays in the background, Karpenko shows imaginative skill in showcasing horrors of the politically induced Holodomor as people struggle to stay alive.
The neatly finished, uplifting conclusion packs an emotional wallop. Karpenko’s insightful observations about everyday Ukrainian life of 1920s and the pull of relationships bring depth to this epic saga. Precise and evocative, this is a must-read.