It was thirteen years ago when I stepped off the plane.
I maneuvered my growing baby belly through the customs line, smiling politely as people stared. Some had the audacity to point, but I didn’t care. I knew it looked strange.
I was 24 years old and expecting my first child. But before the baby arrived, I needed to chase a dream, so I hopped on a plane. My mom came along because that was the only way I was allowed to travel such a long way at five and a half months pregnant. Someone needed to be there in case anything went wrong.
We landed in Kiev, Ukraine in April of 2003, and we wound our way out of the airport and into the car provided by a friend. And that was when the adventure began.
As soon as we arrived, we checked email only to find a few frantic emails from my husband and dad.
“There’s some kind of strange virus that’s spreading on airplanes. If you get a fever or start coughing, you need to seek medical attention immediately.”
The news of the SARS virus had just spread like wildfire, and there we sat, halfway across the world and me great with child. We decided not to mention to the boys that I had developed a cough along the trip. No need to worry them.
We weren’t there 24 hours before hearing the news that America had attacked Iraq. A new war had begun, a mysterious virus had broken out, and we were two Americans in a foreign land.
What on earth were we thinking?!
For the next month, we traveled by train and car throughout the country of Ukraine, me talking with World War II veterans, and my mom making sure I rested, and ate, and didn’t overtax myself. Because I had such a nasty cough, I was offered every homeopathic remedy one could imagine from the veterans. More than once I was given a generous portion of cognac, which my mom drank when they weren’t looking so that I wouldn’t have to pretend.
It was scary and hilarious and exhausting, and I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. I came home with stacks of stories from real life war heroes.
These are the men and women who lived under Stalin’s rule. They were on the front lines of the great war, fighting against evil in its most horrifying form. I held their hands, and I cried tears as they recounted their stories.
They gave me the gift of history, bringing it to life, then they begged me to go home and tell the rest of the world what they saw.
Ukraine suffered the third greatest loss per capita in World War II with an estimated 6.8 billion deaths in those horrific years. One of the most devastating events occurred on Ukrainian soil at the ditch of Babi Yar where, in September 1941, just under 34,000 Jewish men, women, and children were shot and killed in two days time.
Ukraine is a country who has long fought for her freedom. As a young woman just on the brink of motherhood, I didn’t quite understand the magnitude of what I was hearing. It would take me a decade to fully grasp the scope of all that Ukraine faced in her long history.
It would take me ten years to shape the stories I heard into a message for the world.
On June 27, 2016 I will finally be able to bring Ukraine’s history to the public. After years of research, of toil, of late nights and early mornings, of tears and many declarations of giving up, I finished my first novel. And it’s ready to hit bookshelves!
Like a River From Its Course is my love letter to the country of Ukraine. It’s historical fiction, but the stories are all pieces of truth. They’re the history I was handed as a young woman.
As I’ve prepared to launch this book into the world, I’ve been plagued with fear. What if it isn’t good enough? What if I wasn’t able to capture the horrifying beauty of those dark years?
What if I failed?!
I got an email from an early reader a few weeks ago, and in just a few sentences she lifted the weight of fear from my shoulders.
“This is the type of story that brings history to life in a way we comprehend it at its most basic level. We live it. We see it, feel it, taste it, hear it, and touch it.”
I’d like to invite you to step into history with me and see World War II from a new perspective. See those years from the viewpoints of the men and women who lived them.
I’d like to trust you with a bit of history, to gift it to you the way it was first gifted to me.
You can purchase your copy of Like a River From Its Course on Amazon now.*
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