Lilacs in the Dust Bowl by Diana Stevan

This review first appeared on Rosie Amber Reviews on August 6, 2021. You can purchase Lilacs in the Dust Bowl here.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

There’s something about a mother/daughter story that always gets me. Perhaps because I am a daughter who has a strong relationship with her mother, perhaps because I look forward to having my own daughter someday—but stories, poetry, films, and novels about the bonds and contrasts between mothers and daughters have always been the kind of art I gravitate towards.

Lilacs in the Dust Bowl is the second installment of Diana Stevan’s chronicle of her grandmother’s life, and it revels in exploring the mother/daughter relationship between Lukia, who anchored Sunflowers Under Fire (2019), and her teenaged daughter, Dunya.

Dunya, grows up to be Diana Stevan’s mother, and tells Stevan the family stories that have been woven into these two novels, just for everyone keeping track of the metatext at home.

Stevan’s wise decision to expand the perspective to incorporate Dunya’s side of things brings texture and depth to an already compelling story. Where Lukia adapts to her new surroundings in one way, Dunya grows and changes in another, pushing against her mother at times and pulling with her at others.

Yet there is always love.

Where a weaker writer might make this a mother vs. daughter story to add conflict or drama, Dunya and Lukia never work against each other. They work in different ways, but always together, and always with love and for the betterment of the family as a whole. Besides, there is enough external conflict in Lilacs without attempting to layer in unnecessary tension between these two.  

Having grown up in Texas, I forget that the dust bowl was not a purely American issue, but rather something that affected the entire continent on a truly biblical scale. Dust storms, insect swarms, crippling heat and punishing cold, Lukia and her family must weather them all in the first years of their immigration to Canada, constantly battling the elements, the bank, and the poor soil on the farm they’ve been allotted to scrape their way towards survival.

As with Sunflowers, Lilacs is not all heartbreak and struggle. There are barn dances and new friends and a truly delightful anecdote about gopher tails. There is struggle, but in the end, there is also reward.

In the end, all of that struggle was not for nothing.

In the end, Lukia finds triumph in this new home she has made for herself and her children.

Lovingly researched and written, Lilacs in the Dust Bowl is a worthy sequel to Sunflowers Under Fire, detailing this second chapter in the history of Lukia, Dunya, and Stevan’s family, and exactly the kind of generational story so many people need right now.