For Vancouver Island author Diana Stevan, her latest novel is inspired by her mother and grandmother, so she wanted to publish it around the same time as Mother’s Day.
Sunflowers Under Fire tells the saga of a Ukrainian farm wife named Lukia Mazurets, who relies on her faith and wits to survive in western Russia during a tumultuous period of history, from 1915 to 1929, one that includes the Great War, the Bolshevik Revolution, the resulting civil wars and the Polish occupation.
The book marks a bit of departure for Stevan from her previous books.
“This is a whole other chapter of my life,” she says. “They’re all very different.”
The novel grew out of the stories her mother told around the dinner table, including ones about Stevan’s grandmother, who gave birth to eight children, and her life before leaving the old country. She says her grandmother showed her the power of a mother’s love, which is why she wanted to publish it in time for Mother’s Day.
“I feel like I not only discovered her but those times,” she says. “There was such a story there that I had to tell.”
She is also thankful she made a point of writing her mother’s family stories down. With this book, she draws comparisons to literary works such as Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance and Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes.
The book has already been published online where it has received positive reviews. Following a May 7 launch of the printed version in Campbell River, she is also holding book release events in Courtenay at the VIRL branch on May 17 at 2 p.m. and at the VIRL’s Harbourfront branch in Nanaimo on May 24 at 2 p.m.
Stevan plans to read a short chapter at the event and talk about how the book came together. This included researching modern-day Ukraine in what was part of Russia during the time-span of the novel. This included researching online along with heading to libraries in Vancouver, Toronto, New York and Stamford, Conn. Stevan also communicated with a professor of Slavic studies to learn more.
While she dipped into her treasure trove of family stories, she felt there were too many gaps in the tale to turn the project into a work of creative non-fiction. She had to rely on her imagination to create some of the settings, conversations and supporting characters, which really left her with the choice to turn this into a novel.
“I had to invent so much,” she says.
Stevan has had experience with long-form fiction, as she had written a couple of full-length novels already. Her book, The Rubber Fence, was based on her experience working in a psychiatric ward during the early 1970s. It, in turn, was a departure from the previous book, A Cry From The Deep, which is described as as “time-slip romantic adventure/mystery,” set in Provence, Manhattan and Ireland.
Along with fiction, Stevan has written for a variety of publications, including academia, travel and fitness pieces for newspapers, and she was a freelance writer-broadcaster for CBC TV’s Sports Journal. She has also worked as an actor, and has even collaborated with grandson and filmmaker Michael Stevantoni on a film project. Her website bio states she spends her time between West Vancouver and Campbell River.