Sisu's Winter War
Promises made almost fifty years earlier have their reckoning.
Meri Saari made a promise to her dying mother that she would keep the family together, but she was too young to know how a war can pull people apart. With the Soviet invasion of Finland, Meri pledges loyalty to the Lotta Svärds and becomes the sole caretaker for her siblings. When her father goes missing in action, she finds herself searching for him on the front lines.
Forty years later, living in northern Ontario, Meri’s past and present collide when she is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Responsible for her granddaughter, and navigating a strained relationship with her daughter Linnea, Meri is haunted by the people of her past and by the promises she failed to keep. As she struggles against her inevitable decline, she knows her losses are amassing: her home, her health, and her memories. Meri embarks on one last journey in search of the man she had to give up, before it’s too late. Before everything disappears.
Set in twentieth-century Finland and Canada, Sisu’s Winter War is a rich and sensitive story of love and connection in times of war and separation. Through decades, Meri Saari Kotila and her family show courage and grace as they live with painful memories – and learn to let them go.
—Marion Agnew, author of Reverberations: A Daughter's Meditations on Alzheimer's
Liisa Kovala has woven a poignant generational story of a Finnish family fractured by circumstances during the country’s Winter War and Continuation War with the Soviet Union. The novel alternates between the 1930s and 1980s, with the protagonist Meri navigating responsibilities of family and of those as a Lotta Svärd, a member of the Finnish paramilitary. In the latter years, Meri relives haunting memories of her life and the hard choices she has made, while grappling with the reality of her progression of Alzheimer’s.
Kovala deftly portrays the Finnish culture and people struggling for survival under attack from the Russians. With the universal themes of love, family, and sacrifice, and the sustained courage and resilience (sisu) that Meri displays in the wake of secrets, betrayal, danger, and loss, Sisu’s Winter War is a very compelling and satisfying read.
—Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli, award-winning author of La Brigantessa and Pigeon Soup & Other Stories
Liisa Kovala’s debut novel, Sisu’s Winter War, roots itself in Finland and Northern Ontario. The character of Meri lives a richly woven life, growing up in Finland during the Winter War, and then immigrating to Canada. Meri’s trials and tribulations are ones that will draw readers in. She is spirited and loving, difficult and feisty, but Meri is a survivor and Kovala has created a character for readers to care about. Hers is a story of the power of love and family—both whole and broken—and of how culture and family history can give strength when it’s most needed.
—Kim Fahner, author of These Wings: Poems and Emptying the Ocean
Liisa Kovala writes with tenderness and humanity, evoking the past as a complicated, treasured thing.
—Jacqueline Baker, author of The Horseman’s Graves