This week I got to chat with Lana Kortchik, author of Savaged Lands, released with Endeavor Press. I enjoyed her tale, “Sixteen Days Ago,” in Freedom Forge Press’s Forging Freedom anthology. She’s had experiences living in diverse locations around the globe, and that certainly seems to have influenced her writing! I enjoyed getting to know more about how her experiences influenced Savaged Lands, which I will be featuring on one of my Monday book reviews soon.
Tell us about yourself:
I grew up in Russia when it was still the Soviet Union. When I turned sixteen, my mother and I moved to Australia – the greatest adventure of my life. Having recently lived in the UK for six years, I have now settled down on the Central Coast of NSW with my husband. My interests include writing, martial arts and Napoleonic history. I first started writing six years ago at University when my history lecturer suggested I give it a go. Since then, my short stories have appeared in many magazines and anthologies. I was the winner of Historical Novel Society Autumn 2012 Short Fiction competition and the runner-up of 2013 Defenestrationism Short Story Contest. My first novel, Savaged Lands, was published on 8 January by Endeavour Press.
Tell us about your book:
Savaged Lands is a story of war and betrayal, of love and forgiveness. It is September 1941 and Hitler’s Army Group South has occupied Kiev. A young Soviet girl named Natasha falls in love with Mark, a Hungarian soldier of Russian descent. Trapped on opposing sides of a brutal conflict, they are forced to keep secrets from everyone they love. With everything stacked against them and nothing to hope for, the two characters are compelled to fight for their love and their survival.
Savaged Lands was inspired by one of the short stories I wrote a few years previously. After it was published in a historical fiction magazine, people would mention how much they liked it and then ask a lot of questions. They wanted to know what the political situation was in Ukraine during the war, what life was like for average Soviets, what happened before, during and after the occupation. And that’s when I knew that there was more to the story than I had first thought. I started researching the period of German occupation of Ukraine and reading memoirs and diaries of survivors. And that’s how the idea of the novel was born. The book took eighteen months to write and another year for final edits and to find a publisher. It was a great feeling to finally see it out there and have people read it and say how much they’ve enjoyed it.
Who is your favorite character in your book, and why?
My main character is a Hungarian soldier in Nazi-occupied Kiev. He’s not just any soldier but a soldier of Russian descent. Having grown up in a Russian family and now fighting on Hitler’s side, seeing Hitler’s atrocities on Soviet soil firsthand must be incredibly difficult for him. When he meets and falls in love with a Soviet girl called Natasha, he wants to do everything possible to protect her but it turns out he himself needs protection. Mark and Natasha are trapped in an incredibly difficult situation and try to do all in their power to find a way out. He is my favourite character because of the way he faces his impossible choices.
What’s your favorite scene or location in the work you’re currently promoting, and why?
My book is set in Nazi-occupied Kiev. I spent three years there as a child, and when it came to choosing a setting for my first novel, I knew it had to be Kiev because the city holds such a special place in my heart. And it had to be Kiev during war because, like many Russians, I have always been fascinated with war stories. My grandparents have lived through the period, and I grew up listening to their reminiscing about those times. Reading about all the places I love as they were devastated by war was an intense experience. I hope this intensity is reflected in the novel.
What book or author has been most inspirational for you, and why?
My favorite author of all time is Alexandre Dumas. I love the adventure, the intrigue, the camaraderie of Dumas novels. I became obsessed with historical fiction when I read The Three Musketeers for the first time at the age of nine. It was love at first page and from that moment on, I have read everything by Dumas I could get my hands on.
Are you working on any other projects at the moment?
I have two works in progress at the moment. One is a middle grade book set in London during the war. And another a suspense novel about a woman who has lost her memory due to an accident. She returns home from hospital to discover dark secrets about herself, her husband and her relationships with others.
What question do you wish I had asked?
Who is my favourite fictional character. The Count of Monte-Cristo has been my favorite novel for the last twenty years. I think the character development in that book is astonishing. Monte-Cristo is a happy, carefree sailor who loses everything only to reinvent himself as an evil genius in possession of immense power and fortune. He is hell-bent on revenge and this desire takes over his whole existence until there’s nothing left. He thinks he can play with destinies of others just like his own destiny was once played with but he is wrong. Although the prevalent theme of the Count of Monte-Cristo is revenge, ultimately the book is about forgiveness.
You can find out more about Lana on her website, on her Facebook page, or on Twitter.
A bit more about the book, which you can find on Amazon.com:
September 1941, Kiev. Life for teenage sisters Natasha and Lisa Smirnova is about to change beyond their worst fears.
Despite Stalin’s assurances to hold the Ukrainian capital at all costs, Hitler has ordered his troops into the Ukraine and for the Russians and Ukrainians living there, it heralds a terrible time of fear, hunger and peril.
All too soon, the danger of living under Nazi occupation impacts on the lives of the ordinary citizens. The eldest Smirnov son, Stanislav, sets off to fight for the Red Army at the front. On the brink of marriage to her fiancé Alexei, Lisa’s happiness quickly turns to despair. Her older sister Natasha watches as their frail grandmother stands up to a Nazi and pays a hard price. But who is the mysterious soldier who steps in to rescue Natasha?
As the harsh winter of 1941 draws in, the Smirnov family watch Jewish friends dragged from their homes, never to return. The family are further torn by war when Natasha’s father is taken away. Distraught Natasha turns to Mark, a Hungarian who she grows quickly fond of. The consequences of their relationship could be dire for both Natasha and Mark if they are discovered, and their future looks fragile.
Two years pass and the noise of Red Army planes is heard once again over Kiev, prompting new hope to rise up among the citizens of the city. The Nazis look set to move out, but will the Smirnovs’ loved ones ever return to Kiev? Natasha waits and hopes for better times to return, not knowing whether she will ever see the people she cares for again.
Savaged Lands is a novel of love and loss, which chronicles the lives of ordinary citizens of Kiev during this dark and desperate period of their history in World War 2. Its descriptions and characters portray the horrors, and ultimately the hopes, of family members looking to survive oppression and starvation.
Whilst moving and chilling in parts, it ultimately bears testimony to the strength of the people of Kiev, and to their faith that life and love could still prevail against all the odds.