The Memory Keeper of Kyiv: A Novel about Ukraine

*If you are new here, WELCOME! For The Memory Keeper of Kyiv, a novel about Ukraine, I provide your book club with a brief summary, food ideas and a recipe, and discussion questions in that order!

The Memory Keeper of Kyiv - A novel about Ukraine
The Memory Keeper of Kyiv – A novel about Ukraine

Has your book club been searching for a novel about Ukraine? Given the devastating current events in Ukraine, you might be wishing to read more about the country and its people. If so, The Memory Keeper of Kyiv is the perfect choice.

I truly loved this novel. If you loved The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, this novel has a similar feel. I also think this is a great pick if you love WWII fiction, but are looking for something a little different.

The Memory Keeper of Kyiv is a dual-timeline novel. It follows a young woman and her family as they deal with Stalin’s invasion and the resulting famine in the 1930s and her granddaughter as she comes to term with her own losses and seeks to reconnect with her family heritage in the early 2000s.

This novel hits all the right notes–historical fiction about a subject most people don’t know about, romance, family bonds and secrets, and a beautiful, cathartic ending.

In fact, Erin Litteken is releasing a second book that follows one of the characters in this novel and, for the first time in a very long time, I wanted to immediately read that next book. Unfortunately for me the book hasn’t released yet, but it will be out soon and I can guarantee it will be on my TBR list. You can preorder it here.

I strongly encourage you to read this book about Ukraine as a book club. As you know, history repeats itself and the parallels of the historical events in the novel to current events is harrowing.

Beyond that, a portion of each book sale goes to benefit Ukraine!

Erin Litteken was kind enough to provide an authentic Ukrainian recipe to feature here on Book Club Bites. Her Ukrainian Borscht is the perfect dish to pair with your book club discussion of The Memory Keeper of Kyiv!

The Memory Keeper of Kyiv is a novel chosen through Book Club Bites’ collaboration with The Best of Women’s Fiction podcast.

Don’t forget to check out the fabulous Best of Women’s Fiction podcast where Erin Litteken discusses The Memory Keeper of Kyiv and more: HERE.

I’ve provided book club questions and delicious food ideas for The Memory Keeper of Kyiv and Erin Litteken’s special recipe for you! So if you are looking for book club ideas and more, keep reading!

The Memory Keeper of Kyiv

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Here’s a brief summary of The Memory Keeper of Kyiv:

From the publisher:

In the 1930s, Stalin’s activists marched through the Soviet Union, espousing the greatness of collective farming. It was the first step in creating a man-made famine that, in Ukraine, stole almost 4 million lives. Inspired by the history the world forgot, and the Russian government denies, Erin Litteken reimagines their story.

In 1929, Katya is 16 years old, surrounded by family and in love with the boy next door. When Stalin’s activists arrive in her village, it’s just a few, a little pressure to join the collective. But soon neighbors disappear, those who speak out are never seen again and every new day is uncertain.

Resistance has a price, and as desperate hunger grips the countryside, survival seems more a dream than a possibility. But, even in the darkest times, love beckons.

Seventy years later, a young widow discovers her grandmother’s journal, one that will reveal the long-buried secrets of her family’s haunted past.

This is a story of the resilience of the human spirit, the love that sees us through our darkest hours and the true horror of what happened during the Holodomor.

May we never forget, lest history repeat itself.

A share of proceeds will be donated to DEC’s Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.

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The Memory Keeper of Kyiv - A novel about Ukraine
The Memory Keeper of Kyiv – A novel about Ukraine

For The Memory Keeper of Kyiv Food Ideas:

Even though half of the novel is set during a famine, the characters often reminisce about their favorite Ukranian foods. I loved learning more about the cuisine of Ukraine.

Here are a few of the food ideas from the pages of The Memory Keeper of Kyiv:

  • At the engagement party – meat, potato, and sour cherry varenyky, holubtsi, potatoes, slabs of ham, loaves of bread, cheese, fruit, and, of course, the intricately decorated wedding bread: korovai.
  • Bobby makes Blintzes (crepes) with strawberries (or cherries) for breakfast
  • Cassie and Bobby make borscht together
  • Borscht and varenyky (of different varieties) are mentioned often

Luckily, if you aren’t sure about creating your own Ukranian dish, Erin Litteken has provided us with the recipe for her great-grandmother’s borscht.

Borscht (sometimes spelled borsch) is considered one of the national dishes of Ukraine.

It is a sour soup, although I didn’t find it all too sour. The beets in the soup turn the soup a bright red and create its unique flavor.

Although not pictured, it is almost always served with a large spoonful of sour cream on top and some people mix it in to the soup before serving.

Serve it with a loaf of fresh, crusty bread for dipping and a sprinkle of fresh dill to compliment the sour notes.

The recipe makes a large batch of soup, big enough for your book club!

And, even if you don’t make this for your book club, I encourage you to make it for your family and discuss what is happening in Ukraine today and the historical events that shaped the country.

Whether you choose something from this list or try your own option, I hope these food ideas will get your creative juices flowing to host your book club for The Memory Keeper of Kyiv!

The Memory Keeper of Kyiv - A novel about Ukraine
The Memory Keeper of Kyiv – A novel about Ukraine
A few tips on cooking Ukranian Borscht:

Here are a few tips to help make your cooking experience the best it can be!

1) As noted, you can make the broth ahead of time. If you do, I recommend skimming the broth of fat so that your soup isn’t too greasy.

2) Use pre-shredded cabbage to cut down on the chopping time

3) Shredded beets do take some effort. Be sure to remove the skin of the beet before shredding. And wear clothes you don’t mind getting a little beet juice on.

Whether you choose something from this list or try this fabulous recipe from Erin Litteken, I hope these food ideas will get your creative juices flowing to host your book club for The Memory Keeper of Kyiv!

Steps for Borscht
Steps for Borscht

The Memory Keeper of Kyiv Book Club Recipe:

The Memory Keeper of Kyiv - A novel about Ukraine

Borscht

A hearty sour soup with beets, cabbage, and beef, you'll love this Ukrainian dish. If you are looking for a recipe for The Memory Keeper of Kyiv, look no further than this traditional Ukrainian dish.
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 2 hrs 15 mins
Total Time 2 hrs 30 mins
Course Main Course, Soup
Cuisine Ukrainian
Servings 8
Calories 389 kcal

Ingredients
  

Ingredients

  • 3 medium beets shredded
  • 3 cups cabbage shredded
  • 4 medium potatoes cut into 1-1.5 inch chunks
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp vinegar
  • 2-3 garlic cloves minced or more if you like garlic
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste

For the broth (see note):

  • 10 cups water
  • 2 lbs beef shank or chuck roast fat trimmed off
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 medium onion peeled and cut in half

For garnish

  • sour cream
  • Dill

Instructions
 

For the broth:

  • Place the meat, water, onion, and bay leaves in a large pot and bring to boil. Turn the heat down to very low and simmer for about 1.5 to 2 hours.
  • Take the meat out, let cool and cut into pieces or shred.
  • Filter the broth through cheesecloth and set aside. The broth can be made in advance and refrigerated overnight.

To finish the soup:

  • Start bringing the broth back to boil over medium heat.
  • Add the beets and onions to the boiling broth and cook for roughly 20-25 minutes minutes.
  • Now, add back the meat, alongside the shredded cabbage, potatoes, and garlic, and wait until borscht comes back to boil. Cook until beets dissolve and cabbage/potatoes are cooked.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste. Add tomato paste and vinegar just before the borsch is done
  • Serve with a generous dollop of sour cream and garnish with dill (In my family, dill is optional, sour cream is not!-Erin)
Keyword Borsch, Borscht, The Memory Keeper of Kyiv, Ukranian food
The Memory Keeper of Kyiv - A novel about Ukraine
The Memory Keeper of Kyiv – A novel about Ukraine

More Fun from Erin Litteken:

Please insert a short description of your recipe and why it relates to your novel. Include any information you think readers would enjoy!

Borsch is a staple in Ukraine, and every family has their own spin on it. We’ve made this recipe in my family for years, but we’ve never measured really, so I did my best to do so in this version. To this day, the smell of it cooking takes me right back to my great-grandmother’s kitchen. I paid homage to those memories by including a scene where my characters make borsch in my novel, THE MEMORY KEEPER OF KYIV.

Would like to credit someone besides yourself for the recipe?

My great-grandmother

Good food and a good book go hand-in-hand. What is your favorite food to enjoy while reading?

Any dessert!

Did you sample any interesting food while researching this book? Or experience anything exciting while researching?

I enlisted my family to help me recreate some of the family recipes we hadn’t made in a while. It was really special to get everyone together, prepare the food my great-grandmother used to make for us, and teach my children those traditions.

The Memory Keeper of Kyiv Book Club Questions:

*WARNING: May contain spoilers!

These book club questions were kindly provided by the author and/or publisher. Please use only for your book club and do not reproduce them.

  1. The propaganda and division sowed by the activists when they arrive is powerful and pits neighbors and family members against each other. How did that contribute to breaking down the fabric of village life? Are there parallels in today’s society?
  2. Cassie is shocked to find out her grandmother survived a forced famine. How does such an atrocity disappear from history? Had you heard of the Holodomor?
  3. After escaping to America, Katya and Koyla never speak of the Holodomor. How do you think that affected Anna and Cassie’s lives?
  4. Katya faced an unthinkable choice when her mother asked her to marry Kolya. Do you think Katya made the right choice?
  5. Katya falls in love twice. Was her love for Kolya different to her love for Pavlo?
  6. How does Cassie’s journey through Bobby’s life inspire her to rise above her grief of losing her husband?
  7. Katya clung to her humanity by trying to save children after she lost her own child. Do you think she would have survived without Halya to care for?
  8. Katya broke the law again and again to get food for her family, even after Alina’s death. Did she make the right choice? Why do you think Alina sacrificed herself and took the blame for Katya’s theft?
  9. Katya’s guilt is a major theme of the book. What do you think she felt the most guilty for–causing Alina’s death, marrying Alina’s husband, or losing Halya?
  10. At the end of the book, Katya chooses to fight and live her life as best she can, even though the Soviets still occupy her village and her life has changed irrevocably. Was there a better option for her? Would you have continued fighting?
  11. Bobby and Anna disagree on whether their loved ones visit after their death. Do you think Birdie spoke to Alina or did Bobby’s stories cause Birdie to create an imaginary friend?
  12. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine bears parallels to Stalin’s oppression of Ukrainians during his rule, including a desire to eliminate Ukrainians and their culture and history. In what ways can we, as a society, work to ensure such things don’t happen again?

Find Erin Litteken:

Erin can be found at these places online!

www.erinlitteken.com

 instagram.com/erinlitteken

twitter.com/erinlitteken

Facebook.com/authorerinlitteken

Don’t forget to check out the fabulous Best of Women’s Fiction podcast where Erin Litteken discusses The Memory Keeper of Kyiv and more: HERE.

Have you read The Memory Keeper of Kyiv? What did you think? Did it satisfy you or were you left wishing for more? What are some similar books you’ve read?

Until next time, Happy Reading!

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. In the event of a sale, I will be awarded a small commission (at no extra cost to you or the featured book’s author). All opinions are 100% mine and every book, unless otherwise noted, is handpicked by me to be featured on the site.

Bookish gifts for you or your reader friends!

The Memory Keeper of Kyiv - A novel about Ukraine
The Memory Keeper of Kyiv – A novel about Ukraine
The Memory Keeper of Kyiv - A novel about Ukraine
The Memory Keeper of Kyiv – A novel about Ukraine

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