Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Notes: Book 13/50. Beautifully, stunningly written.  Swooned over the writing from page one.

Review: Sigh.  This book is lovely. I’ve never been to the Ukraine. I have no family members who were a part of World War II (at least none that I know) My grandfather was too young to be drafted, but I imagine his father may have been called to service.  I don’t really know.  Genealogy isn’t really my thing and my family is pretty bad at passing our history down.  But I felt connected to the story and its characters in a way I didn’t think possible.

**UPDATE** My mother emailed me to correct the misconception my family doesn’t share our history.  Ahem: My great Uncle as well as my great-grandfather were World War II veterans. My grandfather is a Korean War veteran, her cousin is a Vietnam War veteran,  my father and my uncle served during peacetime, and my cousin just returned from his second tour in Afghanistan. I knew about the more recent ones (cousin, father, grandfather, uncle, etc) but hadn’t a clue about the World War II vets.  Yay for history!

I mean, take the opening:

“There is a Ukrainian legend that once each year, on the night of Ivana Kupala, a magical flower blooms in the heart of the forest.  Anyone who finds it will be granted their heart’s desire: the ability to hear the trees whisper and watch them dance, the power to make anyone fall in love with them, the magic to make barren lands bear fruit and barren women fruitful.  It is a single red flower with several names: tsvit paporot, liubava, chervona ruta.  The legendary bloom can grant wishes, open the doorway to the past, and awaken spirits to visit with loved ones.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

I stumbled across this book on the Kindle Owners Lending Library tab on Amazon because I was trying to find a book under $1.99. Lupescu was a semifinalist in the 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novelist Award for this novel, and I thought I would give it a shot.  $1.99 wasn’t too much to lose if it ended up being a shitty book. As soon as I started reading, I couldn’t stop.  I turned down an invite to go out  Saturday night because I was more interested in sitting in my pajamas reading.  (This isn’t unusual – sorry I’m boring, friends)

The story follows Nadya, a sixteen year old Ukrainian girl who lives in a rural village with her family as World War II begins to make Ukraine a really awful place.  Everyone around her dies.  She sees some of the worst things humanity can do to each other (multiple rapes, soldiers burning the skin off of a young Jewish girl’s hands, and soldiers brutally beating her boyfriend while taking him away – probably to his death) but somehow survives and builds a moderately happy life for herself in Chicago.  But the only way she can survive is by burying her past.

The Silence of Trees has a magical quality – almost like a fairy tale.  The magical quality is constantly in stark contrast with the war and hopeless concentration camps, but it reminds the reader there is still beauty in the world.  Nadya explains how spirits, spirits who live in the woods, the water,  the house, and even her own dead, speak with her and guide her in her life.  They push her to keep her traditions alive and not remain silent any longer.

In some ways, this story is typical. War torn survivor, crippled by survivors guilt, leaves her country to start a new life.  Gets tired of holding everything in, feels the need to tell her story before she dies, finds a happy ending (eventually). However, what sets Lupescu’s novel apart is the emotion, power, and folkore of the Ukrainian narrator. I felt her will to survive.  I felt her loss, the wondering about the life she could have had, the yearning for a relationship between her husband that wasn’t based on comfort, but on passion.

Nadya looked for the magical flower on a midsummer’s night – never found it, but wished all of the same. She didn’t wish for love.  Or to be spared from death.  Or for protection of her loved ones.  She simply wished for a happy ending. And you know what? I think her wish came true.

Bottom Line: Yes, the story has been told but the sheer beauty of the writing make it feel new again. Recommend for people who like Historical Fiction!

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