The JourneyWoman Book Club Travels to Ukraine With Erin Litteken’s “The Memory Keeper of Kyiv”

by | Dec 21, 2022

Historic buildings in Kyiv, Ukraine

Last updated on January 26th, 2023

Featured image:  Kyiv is a city rich in history, with important lessons to learn from / Photo by Viktor Talashuk on Unsplash

Meet author Erin Litteken at our book club meeting on January 25

by Carolyn Ray, Editor, JourneyWoman

When we were putting together our JourneyWoman book list for 2023, we deliberately added The Memory Keeper of Kyiv by Erin Litteken.  Our readers thought it was important too – and voted this book as our number-one choice for 2023.

Since Ukraine was invaded by Russia on February 24, we have watched In horror as images of war flood in from Ukraine. Ordinary Ukrainians – people just like you and me – have taken up arms to defend their country against trained Russian soldiers. Families, children, mothers have been separated. Volunteers have poured in from all over the world to support their Ukrainian brothers and sisters.

During my recent travels in Europe, I’ve been learning about the historical tension between power and people in this region. While Poland has taken in the most refugees, in Prague, there are over 400,000 refugees from Ukraine — mostly women and children – according to recent data from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

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Click Here to Buy or Download "The Memory Keeper of Kyiv"

Buy on Bookshop.org here
Buy on Amazon/Audiobooks here
Buy on Booksamillion here

You can help support our Book Club: When you purchase a book using the links on our site, JourneyWoman receives a small commission from the bookseller. This is one of you ways you can help us maintain our beautiful website and editorial content.  

Perhaps, after 300 days, we have become somewhat numb to the crisis. I hope not. As travellers, it’s important that we are at the forefront of understanding the countries, regions, cities and communities that we travel to. 

One of the wonders and delights of travel is that we can arrive anywhere and feel a bond and a welcome. Ukraine reminds us that freedom is very precious and can be taken away with a moment’s notice. As experienced travelers, we see the best and worst in the world. We understand that travel is a privilege and that we must do all we can to support human decency and freedom anywhere in the world. As Ukraine fights for its freedom and sovereignty, an understanding the history of this region can remind us that their liberty and ours is connected.

I hope that our January 2023 book selection reinvigorates our passion and interest in Ukraine and reminds us that courage is a necessary attribute in today’s world. Against all odds, the will of the Ukrainian people is fuelling their resolve, led by their inspiring and courageous President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Meet Erin Litteken on January 25

Author Erin Litteken is joining us for our first book club meeting of the year on January 25, 2023 at 8 pm ET.  The granddaughter of a Ukrainian refugee, Erin grew up hearing about the difficulties of life in Eastern Europe during, and after, World War II.  The family stories triggered her further research into this dark period of European history.  This, her debut novel took over 10 years to craft.

When asked why this novel? Why this subject?  She said: “ ”It’s so important to know what has come before…history does repeat itself if we don’t learn lessons from it, and clearly we haven’t learned the lessons from this instance of Russia and Ukraine, and now its happening again.”  As a historian with a passion for research she hopes that this book will help for us to learn the lessons of the past.

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Erin Litteken/ From the author’s website

Donate to Nova Ukraine

Our Book Club is free to join. However, Erin has asked that we make a donation to Nova Ukraine, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine and raising awareness about Ukraine in the United States and throughout the world.

You can also make a donation to JourneyWoman directly here in support of our Book Club here or donate directly to nonprofit organizations that we support throughout the year. 

Nova Ukraine

About the Memory Keeper of Kyiv

The Memory Keeper of Kyiv is a story of a young woman named Kayta living in a village in Ukraine whose comfortable life is rocked when Stalin’s activists come into the village to collectivize the village. The independent Ukrainians fought back against collectivization.  This over time led to Stalin’s response with the Holdomor, a forced famine against the Ukrainian resisters.  The Holdomor killed nearly 13 percent of the population in Ukraine from 1932-1933.  This is Katya’s journey of going through the Holdomore, the choices she makes to survive, the horrible things she sees and the fact that she never talks about it for decades as it is so painful.

It also is the story of Cassie, Katya’s granddaughter, who is dealing with her own tragedy, having lost her husband.  As Cassie struggles to move on with her life,  she and her grandmother come together and end up living together to help each other.  It’s their journey, how they both face their grief and loss and try to heal. Cassie learns the story of her grandmother.  The story becomes is a discovery of family and healing.

Book Club Discussion Questions  

We may not get through all of these, but here are some thoughts to start our discussion!

 

  1. What has your own experience with Ukraine been prior to this book? Did the settings feel familiar from your own travels there?
  2. What was your favorite passage in the book and why?
  3. Why do you think Bobby refused to consider an assisted living facility? How did she come to accept Cassie’s help?
  4. After her husband’s death, Cassie felt she had lost her ability to write. Birdie stopped talking. Have you – or has someone close to you – ever felt that words have failed you after a trauma?
  5. Katya reminds herself frequently of her father’s words: “Just make it through today. Tomorrow will be better.” Is there a saying or proverb that has helped you in hard times?
  6. What do you think the main reason was for the collectivisation of farm production in Ukraine? Was it to divert food to other Soviet countries or was it, as Kolya said, because they “want us all dead.
  7. What strategies did the activists use to divide and subdue the villagers?
  8. Katya and Kolya ate many atypical things to survive, all of which were based on survivors’ accounts. Which stood out to you the most?
  9.  “The forgotten patch of sunflowers, buried in the weeds of the overgrown yard, smiled up at her… Despite everything, they fought to grow, to live, to rise up amidst the ruin of their land….” Like the sunflowers, Katya fought to live – what do you think gave her the strength to rise up
  10. How does living with Bobby help Cassie in her own journey through grief
  11. What did you think about Birdie’s connection to Alina?
  12. Cassie and Anna carried on some family traditions, but they’re unaware of many other facets of their family’s heritage. How much of your family history do you know and what traditions do you carry on? How important are these things to you?
  13. Had you ever heard of the Holodomor before reading this book? If not, how do you think such a significant event could escape general knowledge?
Click Here to Buy or Download "The Memory Keeper of Kyiv"

Buy on Bookshop.org here
Buy on Amazon/Audiobooks here
Buy on Booksamillion here

You can help support our Book Club: When you purchase a book using the links on our site, JourneyWoman receives a small commission from the bookseller. This is one of you ways you can help us maintain our beautiful website and editorial content.  

“A compelling and intimate story of love and survival. Harrowing and haunting . . . yet, at the same time, it is sensitive, beautiful and inspiring. Everybody should read this story, especially now. I cannot recommend it highly enough.” — Christy Lefteri, author of The Beekeeper of Aleppo

“A stunning portrait of Ukraine and its people, of strength, of endurance, of the fight for survival during the forced famine, the Holodomor, but also a tender story of Katya, a grandmother whose hidden history holds the power to guide her granddaughter through the darkness of loss and grief, toward life and a limitless future. A remarkable read not to be missed.” — Lisa Wingate, author of Before We Were Yours

“This beautifully written snapshot of Ukraine’s history is both timely and heart-rending, sensitively bringing to life the culture of a nation devastated by an enemy invader. How shocking it is that it’s a history that’s being repeated today. And how important a reminder that where there’s life, there’s hope.” — Fiona Valpy, author of The Dressmaker’s Gift

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Now more than ever, we're finding camaraderie and inspiration through novels. Join us each month as we discuss a different book, suggested by our community, about a faraway land.

A passionate traveller, Carolyn believes anything is possible when we follow our heart and trust our intuition. Raised in Florida, Carolyn loves all things Latin, margaritas, the ocean and music. She's a board member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), a member of the Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC) and the North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA).

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