"A historically rich debut novel...the author skillfully weaves in vivid elements of Ukrainian customs and history...A poignant work with disturbing relevance to today's battle for Ukrainian democracy."
"This is a lovely, well-written novel about a Ukrainian family as they endure extreme hardship, and navigate life, during the years during and after WWI. The story is fascinating in its description and detail, and the settings are well created by the author. I enjoyed and appreciated the characters and the obstacles and struggles they endured. The author incorporated her family's culture and stories to create a rich and very satisfying read."
-Whistler Independent Book Awards
"In Heart Stones, Christine Nykoluk weaves an intricate thread binding the two worlds of her grandparents during World War 1, Galicia, Ukraine and the New West of Canada. Her extensive research into her family’s history and intricate details shine through in this timeless story of separation, suffering and survival. Heart Stones is a novel of endurance, reunification and hope told through two voices and will engage readers of historical fiction."
- Pam Clark, Author of Kalyna (2016, Stonehouse Publishing)
"I read this book with an ‘open mind’ as to what it might be and in no time I was pleasantly surprised by what it was – a truly fine piece of literature which quickly captivated my interest in the simplicity and effectiveness of its writing style. The text is both descriptive and personal in revealing the trials and tribulations of a young couple, Myk and Lilia, who choose to emigrate to Canada and the disruptive effects of World War I on their separate journeys to realize that goal. It was certainly a most enjoyable and easy read, with their personal ongoing experiences presented in alternating sections of each chapter.
The descriptions of village life in Ukraine and refugee camps in Western Europe, in which Lilia and her children are stranded, reveal the pressure and stresses of those left behind. Similarly the dire situation faced by Myk , as a designated foreign ‘enemy’ in Canada, in trying to find work to save money for his family’s passage to Canada. Each individual’s challenges, strengths and weaknesses are revealed as they deal with their ever changing realities. Old Country (Ukraine) descriptions of village life, religious beliefs, personal values, home remedies and traditional practices are effectively presented throughout the novel. The advantages and supports of living in a small community, as experienced by Lilia, are contrasted with the isolation and lack of community in the foreign Canadian setting experienced by Myk. Similarly the personal stresses and uncertainties of a family’s separation, through immigration and war, is also effectively described in the challenges each faces throughout the years of being apart with no contact. In both situations their developed friendships, with total strangers, provide strength, support and hope through uncertainty and trying times.
As a Ukrainian displaced person (DP) during WW II and our family’s emigration to a new life in Canada, much of the novel’s features and developments reflect our own ‘journey’. It is a book that I would highly recommend and one which recognizes the inherent strength people can find in themselves to endure and overcome unpredictable challenges in order to achieve a better life for themselves and their children."
- Michael Mucz, Author of Baba's Kitchen Medicines: Folk Remedies of Ukrainian Settlers in Canada (2012, The University of Alberta Press)
"Based on the true story of the author’s grandparents’ immigration to Canada. The grandfather came first before WWI and due to the war his wife and daughter came nearly ten years later. This is their story of those in between years. What was happening in Canada? What was happening in Ukraine? Interesting read. Very. . . gave me a better understanding of the circumstances of political impact on Ukrainian families at the time of WWI and of their subsequent immigration to Canada for a better life. A story so many of us share. And are watching the horror as it unveils itself again, as history repeats itself once more."
"What an inspiring story, so hard to put down, extremely well written. I would recommend everyone try to get a copy and read this amazing story."
"I am fortunate to know the author, Christine Nykoluk, of Heart Stones. She has created a fabulous depiction of the lives many of our ancestors had immigrating to Canada. If you know the stories of your family, you will relate to the accounts of Christine's ancestors and if you don't know your ancestor's stories, Christine's book will fill in a lot of the blanks you may have. I particularly liked the description of steerage where many of our families would have been on their journeys to Canada. I personally didn't know animals shared the space with the passengers. I also like the headings preceding the different voices and scenes; it was so easy to keep track of the changing scenes and voices. I recommend this story to anyone with ancestors from Austria (now Ukraine) to understand the obstacles they faced prior, during and after immigrating to Canada. Review the Glossary at the back of the book to understand the many Ukrainian transliterations."
-Shelley Kloczko, Professional Learning Certificate in Genealogical Studies
"I expected to read a very sad story! But the very lively writing with lots of literal speech I felt witness to the daily life of both, that of the wife left behind with two children, and that of the husband already in Canada. I felt the love of both connected through all their rough lives and their faith to reunite one day. Thanks to Christine to show us how that's possible!"
"A wonderfully written story of a young Ukrainian family facing many hardships . . . I felt immersed in the past and Ukrainian culture, I learned of Canadian history that is little spoken of. At times I couldn't put the book down, I had to know what happened next. It is a story of love, faith, hardship and perseverance told thoughtfully through the narrative of those who lived it."
"I read historical fiction in part to learn more detail about a time and place that had been unfamiliar to me. I also read to follow a good story. Heart Stones comes through superbly on both these counts."
"By chance, I visited the World War I memorial for the Ukrainian civilian internees in the Yoho National Forest this past July. There is a trilingual commemorative plaque and a statue entitled "Last Man Standing” by John Boxtel. The bouquet of sunflowers placed at the statue drew my attention, it reminded me of Russia’s current war on Ukraine which I follow daily via Volodymyr Zelenskyy‘s Instagram posts. There was a large card that read “In memory of the thousands of Ukrainians and other Europeans who were unjustly interred during Canada's first national internment operations, 1914 - 1920. Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association”. The sunflowers were harkening to an earlier time. The suffering and triumph of these Ukrainians immigrants is told through the lives of Christine Nykoluk’s ancestors, Lilia and Myk, in her new novel Heart Stones. Nykoluk’s historic research and heartfelt story answers questions that any family historian whose Galician ancestors emigrated to Canada during the turn of the last century might have. Why did they emigrate, how did they travel, was it hard to leave their village, and who did they leave behind? The novel is spiced with Ukrainian customs and superstitions and enriched with friendships forged during the struggle to survive during World War I. I highly recommend Heart Stones: A Ukrainian Immigration Story of Love and Hope."
- Cecile Węta Jensen (Author of Sto Lat: A Modern Guide to Polish Genealogy and her forthcoming novel Coral Beads and Poppy Seeds).
"This account of the author's grandparents’ early life in what became Ukraine and then their tragic misfortunes in trying to get to Canada is a wonderful tribute to their memory. By going back and forth between her grandparents’ separate lives while they are apart— the husband in Canada trying to find and maintain work, and the mother and their two children trapped in an Austrian refugee camp— we are able to experience these tragic years. Their story highlights how inhumanely we humans can treat one another, more so in some areas of the world than others. The book is also the envy of all family genealogists who do not have a personal background story to help explain why they are living in Canada and not back in the "old country". A great read and a story that must be known."
"I found Heart Stones heartfelt and heartwarming. By letting Lilia and Myk narrate their own experiences I was engaged as a reader, and giving Oksana her voice at the end was a nice touch!
Lilia’s wartime experiences and the overwhelming challenges she faces as a refugee were heartbreaking to read—and so relevant in 2023. Myk’s account of life as a Canadian immigrant filled me with shame for Canada. It is troubling to understand how poorly our country treated Ukrainian settlers who arrived in good faith.
Heart Stones shines as an account of the unbreakable human spirit and gives a perspective on early twentieth century history that is most relevant in 2023."
"Nykoluk’s Heart Stones, A Ukrainian Story of Love and Hope is a wonderfully insightful account of her grandparent’s journey to a new land. Myk heads to Winnipeg, Canada in 1914 with the promise of 160 acres of land on which to farm wheat. In hopes of a better future, he leaves behind his young family in Galicia, Ukraine just months before the outbreak of World War I. His wife Lilia must face the onslaught of war by herself, but with the help of family and friends, she survives a difficult life, first on the farm and then in refugee camps. Nine long years later, the family is finally reunited in Canada.
The storyline of Heart Stones reads like a movie and yet it is a very real experience shared not only by Myk and Lilia, but also by many immigrants throughout history and indeed even now. TV images of the current war played through my mind as I read each chapter but even though the story is set during the years of the First World War, it is not a story of fear and persecution. Death and disease are ever-present but ultimately this is a story of kindness, of perseverance over hardship, and of love.
Every step of Myk and Lilia’s journey has been extensively researched. From the port in Rotterdam and the railway camp in Sioux Lookout to the train station in Lviv and the refugee camp in Gmund, the author vividly describes Canada and Europe of the early 1900s. My ancestors also came to Canada from Galicia, and now I can visualize the route they might have taken, the transport they might have used and the people they may have met. A CPR sponsor? A colonist car? Soldiers guarding the storeroom potatoes? The past comes alive with every paragraph and I give credit to the author for making the tangled history and confusing borders of eastern Europe much easier to understand.
Heart Stones and poppies are meaningful images found throughout the book. Lilia secretly hides stones in the shape of hearts in Myk’s bag when he embarks on his journey to Canada as a reminder of her love for him. Poppies, images of which grace the book cover and each chapter heading, are the symbols of remembrance, of love and of a peaceful future, and they are one of the only things Lilia takes with her when she goes on her journey to the new world. In addition to the Ukrainian heritage and customs which Myk and Lilia bring with them to Canada, the heart stones and poppies are also connections between the old world and the new, tangible reminders of the world left behind.
Heart Stones is an unforgettable and moving book. Christine Nykoluk has written a lasting legacy to her grandparents, and it is a story that will resonate with the generations of people who have their own immigration story to share."
"This book is really timely. With the ongoing war in Ukraine and the pictures we see on the nightly news, this book comes alive. The descriptions of Ukraine of more than a century ago when the territory was also a battleground feel so real. The hardships endured by Lilia left behind with two small children while her husband immigrates to Canada in order to build them a better life. Amazing what people can survive and then go on to prosper. Although I grew up in western Canada I knew nothing of Ukrainian internment camps during WW1, life in camps building the railroad, and internment camps in Europe during WW1. They are all so well described you feel like you are there. Wonderful to read historical fiction, learn, and be fortunate to be living with only first world problems myself."
"First of all I would like to say that I find the cover of Heart Stones very appealing and attractive. By page 10, I knew this was a book that I had to keep reading as I found the characters so identifiable and the dialogue so interesting.
Heart Stones is a beautifully told story, a love story about a Ukrainian couple on separate journeys. This book for me was so timely, touching on the Spanish flu and issues of the Ukraine and its people. But even more, it is a book about hope for a young family to make a new life, in a new country, Canada. The writer has made me feel as if I am right there with Myk and Lilia in their struggles and their heart aches.
I hope the author will write a sequel as there is still more of a story to tell."
"Heart Stones is a thoroughly enjoyable engaging story about the Ukrainian immigration experience to Canada in the early twentieth century. Nykoluk writes in an easy-to-read style through the two diaries of a Ukrainian couple forced from their home. It is clear that extensive research supports the description of scenes. The reader becomes emotionally engaged in the character’s lives as each struggle with their daily challenges to survive nine years of separation. The book gently educates the reader about the trials of migration in Europe, Lilia’s years in refugee camps with their children, Myk’s years as a hopeful “prisoner” in northwestern Ontario and Manitoba, and the family journey to re-unification. Some diary entries are heartbreaking. One cannot help but join the struggles. Heart Stones is historical fiction inspired by the immigration experience of the author’s grandparents. A must read for persons interested in learning more about the sacrifices our forbearers underwent to place us in this great country, Canada."
- Chuck Buckley (Professional Learning Certificate in Genealogic Studies)
"What a powerful yet moving story. The emotion that came through the words cannot be described. It left me speechless. This is definitely worth the read!"
- Casey Rae Sutherland
"Fictional literature about the Canadian Ukrainian immigration experience are few and far between. So, it is a pleasant experience to read a story of Ukrainian migrants and refugees during the WW1 period richly told by a novelist writer, with nuance, and without relying on trite stereotypes.
The book’s title Heart Stones derives from a heart-shaped amulet that binds the story protagonists so to protect the young husband wearer during his immigration tribulations.
The novel has it all—social & economic factors, history, politics, emotions that lead to the mass immigration from Eastern Galacia, all packaged into a highly readable account of a Ukrainian family whose dream of farming in the Western Canadian provinces is derailed by WW1.
The author tells a forgotten story about the fate of a migrant family torn apart when they opt to have the family breadwinner leave first to make a home before the rest of the young family join him. The thing that haunts me is the author’s care for the stories of the dead, her refusal to let those humans be forgotten. It is a quintessential Ukrainian migrant story, which makes it a truly Canadian story."
- Madeleine Herbert
"Congratulations are due on a diligent literary accomplishment and an interesting read. The author has drawn on real life examples which offer a real authenticity to the narrative and with a style that adds drama and human dimension to the story. Heart Stones reflects a very real dynamic of the diaspora historic experience which has received little literary attention. This book also comes at a time when the public is acutely aware, in a Ukrainian context, of the very tragic consequences of war, massive human displacement, and psychological challenges posed by global dislocation. As such, very topical timing!"
- Gerald Luciuk
"I didn’t want the story to end. Lilia endured so many hardships. I loved the information that the author provided in the Afterword, about what really happened to all of the characters."
- Brenda Verwey
"Every family has a story to tell. Basing this novel on the stories that have been passed down, the author has written a very readable novel. History has a way of repeating itself and experiences the family encountered are very relevant today with regard to people encountering war and the challenges of immigration and family separation. I am hoping the author will have a sequel as there is a lot more story to be told."
- Lynda Lawrence
"Heart Stones is a novel that provides intimate insights into the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of a young Ukrainian family from Melnytsya. It is set in the early 20th century and follows the family who eventually immigrate to Canada. During this time, there was a lot of social and political unrest and Ukraine was brutally torn between neighbouring countries vying for control of its people, lands and resources. The family becomes separated and endures uncertainty travelling, meeting people abroad from their home country in similar circumstances who are fighting to survive in refugee camps, internment camps, and the harsh wilderness of Canada, a country that needs immigrants to help build its prosperity and infrastructure. It is an age-old story of forced relocation, fortitude and courage that millions of people endured and continue to endure to this day in Ukraine and around the world. It is a story that transcends time and holds prescient relevance for the future."
- Grace Murray
"Fresh cow manure and water solution to polish the floors? This is just an example of daily life information found in the story that prompted me to do some research of my own! I would never have imagined that a mixture of cow dung, water and mud could or would be used in this way. I learned a lot!
The story begins in 1914 before the First World War for the main characters, Mykyta and Lilia, as they make plans to immigrate to Canada. They are hopeful for a better life. As with many plans, life gets in the way. Although Mykyta initiates the process, making the long, arduous journey alone with the hope of bringing his family to join him in Canada, it becomes nine excruciating years before they are reunited. We share the miserable experience of sailing across the ocean in steerage class, and life in rail camps for Mykyta, along with Lilia’s forced displacement by soldiers from their Ukrainian village and her life as a refugee from the war.
A great deal of info on Ukrainian culture, history, and detail from that period of time is included in the book. The author has taken care to weave into the narrative many aspects of daily life that the main characters and people around them accepted as normal. Because character development is so well-interwoven with the cultural and historic, the characters become very real, so much so that I dreamed about them!
There are some happy moments and flashes of humor, but there were no 'good old days'. Life was hard for them and held little true promise, yet hope and love sustained them. The circumstances and harsh difficulties of their lives are well-portrayed. My hope is that readers of Heart Stones take away a deeper understanding of the physical and emotional hardships endured by refugees, displaced persons, and many immigrants - both then and now. I highly recommend this book!"
- Arleigh Kalinowski
"An incredible debut historical fiction novel! I liked how the passage of time – nine long years – was dealt with by the author. This novel is the perfect length for a historical fiction novel, but I didn’t want the story to end."
- Selena Foster
"Heart Stones is a history lesson of Ukraine during the First World War and a shocking exposure of Canada’s treatment of Ukrainian immigrants at the same time. It is particularly poignant at a time when the torment of Ukraine continues."
- Dorothy Mandy
"I am fascinated by history, but I seldom read historical novels. However, Heart Stones was a pleasant surprise.
Nykoluk has chosen an interesting way to structure her novel. She alternates between first person accounts of Mykyta in Canada and Lilia in Eastern Europe. As a reader, I found I got to know Mykyta and Lilia very well, and I also developed a great deal of compassion for them. During their long years of separation, Mykyta’s life is never really in physical jeopardy, but it is mostly a lonely life of hard labour in remote work camps with only other immigrant men as companions. Lilia and her children, on the other hand, are often in the path of Russian and Austrian armies in World War I and the chaotic era following the Bolshevik Revolution. Lilia has her children, but her loneliness as she struggles to survive in her village and refugee camps, is palpable.
I think many readers, with only a limited understanding of the conflict in Eastern Europe during World War I and post war, might find the events described by Lilia difficult to understand. Lilia, after all, is an illiterate peasant woman who has only a very limited knowledge of life beyond her village and the refugee camps where she spends much of the novel. I also think maps of Eastern Europe and Canada would help the reader in understanding the setting and larger events in Heart Stones.
Heart Stones is based on the experiences of the author’s Ukrainian immigrant grandparents who endured a long separation, and then struggled to survive and prosper in Canada. While reading Heart Stones, I sensed that Nykoluk wrote her novel as a way to honour their memory and other Ukrainian immigrants to Canada.
My great grandparents, Kost and Anna Dobko, and their two sons immigrated from Galicia to Alberta in 1897. They died in the 1930s, two decades before I was born, and so I never learned much about their lives before they arrived in Canada. Their eldest son Peter, my paternal grandfather, was four years old when his parents immigrated to Canada; consequently, his memories of Ukraine were very limited.
I recommend Heart Stones to anyone who wants to get to the heart of what Ukrainian immigrants endured in their homeland, both before and after they immigrated to Canada. Through the words of Mykyta and Lilia, I developed a much better understanding of the lives of my own Ukrainian ancestors. And, I think other readers, whether of Ukrainian descent or not, will also do so when they read Heart Stones."
- Brian Dobko
"I loved this book. I truly felt that I was there with the two young parents featured in this book
through their dated chronicles. We followed the lives of a young man and his wife who were
separated throughout their epic struggles from living in Galicia and into Canada until they were finally reunited 9 years later. The reader lives through this time through the lives of the two and family while they were separated during World War I. Myk left for Canada to start a new life for his family and expected to send for them soon afterwards. Lilia was left behind and the war came to Galicia two months later. They were both able to keep their dreams of an eventual reunion through the toughest of circumstances and stood firm until their reunion.
This is a fascinating book full of real-life experiences during a war and enemy occupation in Galicia. Amid the many trials and the toil and the destruction, there was always a hope for better times ahead. The book talks about a region that has been a route between warring nations for hundreds of years. It is beautifully written and I personally would like to thank Christine for writing this chronicle of those days. It will be especially appreciated by families of the Ukrainian, Polish, Jewish people, and others who lived in that area at this time.
Here are important topics covered in this book:
1. The difficulties of living in an occupied country during wartime.
2. The discipline of survival for Lilia and the people of Galicia during their horrendous struggles during World War 1 and later.
3. Myk’s long journey, struggles, bravery, and hard work to achieve and succeed as an
immigrant in a new country, in this case Canada.
4. A love story that survived a lack of communication and a separation over a number of years.
5. A family reunited.
This book covered much information that a family member of ours left unanswered. Perhaps she was too young to speak of it, but probably could not speak of the horrors she encountered in Galicia. We heard her stories about speaking Ukrainian, living in a barn with her grandmother, and living on potatoes. They saw lots of men with guns and hid. It was to be a summer visit and she was there from age 6 to 11. The grandmother died in 1915 and family took her in.
This book is easily read, brings history to life, and gives us the setting of war experiences in Galicia, as well as in other war-torn countries. We are the descendants of immigrants and this should give us a greater appreciation of what they went through to immigrate to Canada and the United States to gain freedom, and a chance to live out their dreams."
"The beautiful book cover chosen for Heart Stones is a tribute to Lilia and Myk's homeland.
Having researched early immigration to Canada from Galicia, I see so many similarities between the characters in Heart Stones and my own relatives. Heart Stones truly touched me. I felt like I could finally see what the world looked like to my grandfather during those times.
An important part of Canadian history, few people have knowledge of the important role that immigrants played in developing our nation and of the discrimination and abuse they endured.
In describing both Myk and Lilia's journey, Nykoluk shows the reader both important historical facts and the emotional toll that this journey had on the family. And as we know, the story does not end here. I hope and am expecting a sequel that continues this journey as they settle into their lives in Canada. Thank you for writing this book!"
"This book gave a lot of insight into the difficulties that were encountered by those who made similar journeys. The writing was so descriptive that I could picture myself in all of their situations and I became quite fond of those involved. It was for me, one of those books that, when you are finished reading it, you still think and worry about the characters involved as if they were close personal friends."