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During Mike’s search for his loving grandfather’s birth place he discovers many cultural gems.
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– August 5, 2023
Old Country Surprises is a work of fiction in the adventure subgenre. It is aimed at young adult readers and was penned by author Ken Saik. The book follows Mike Bennek, who is visiting his ancestral homeland of Ukraine at the request of his elderly grandfather. Quickly falling in love with the Ukrainian culture that celebrates the past whilst honoring the difficult parts of it, Mike becomes increasingly aware that the continued reminders of Russia’s role in the country’s past are holding the people back. As Mike learns more about his grandfather and his history, his feelings about his heritage swell with pride.
There are several instances in this book in which the influence of Russia on the Ukrainian culture is discussed, and whilst this book was written before the 2022 invasion, the modern context in which I read this story gives a new lens through which the story can be viewed. The celebration of Ukrainian culture that author Ken Saik undertakes throughout this book was already a beautiful read, as he lays out the eastern European world awaiting Mike as he explores his heritage and discovers a way of life and family history that he had barely known. I felt myself immersed in the culture Mike was learning about as the gorgeous prose helped pull me into the journey as if I were on it myself. Overall, Old Country Surprises does a remarkable job of advocating for a culture currently under dire threat, preserving tales and traditions from the people of Ukraine in storytelling form. This is an unmissable read that I recommend to all.
– August 5, 2023
Old Country Surprises is a reflective young adult adventure by Ken Saik. Mike Bennek accepts his ailing grandfather’s request to travel to Ukraine to research his origins. Mike, his siblings, and friends embark on this unique journey and become captivated by the old-world charms of a country his grandfather spoke about so fondly. As Mike and his group tour the area searching for information about his grandfather’s background, they come to respect and appreciate the efforts of proud Ukrainians who believe in preserving and practicing traditions and customs, their amazing artistic talents, and foods, such as perogies and borscht. Natasha, their innkeeper provides valuable information about the Bennek family during her research. Mike enjoys the flirtatious moments he has with her. Some people are wary of them, which is due to their experiences and conditions from the ravages of past wars.
Old Country Surprises indeed! I had to read this book when I saw the blurb. Ken Saik’s in-depth description of Ukraine during the past versus the present is touching. The historical information about the country is interesting. It is difficult to imagine how this beautiful country can be destroyed and left in ruins by war. One of the many things that fascinated me was the uniquely painted eggs that are significant in meaning. The characters are well defined in a setting and plot that has nostalgia, sadness, light romance, and intrigue. Each character reacted differently to the strange culture and social issues. Mike’s grandfather’s stories about the old country became more meaningful while touring Ukraine. The segment at the back of the book called “A Reader’s Questions for Contemplation” is also thought-provoking. I highly recommend this wonderful novel by Ken Saik.
– August 5, 2023
Old Country Surprises is a young adult adventure novel that follows a young man’s journey seeking to learn about his heritage. Written by Ken Saik, the book opens with Mike — an enterprising young man recently promoted in his father’s business — who receives an unexpected gift from his grandfather at Christmas. Mike and his brothers receive an expenses-paid trip to Ukraine on the condition that they delve into their heritage and search for their grandfather’s ancestral home. With three other members joining Mike and his brothers on the expedition, they arrive in Lviv and find themselves mesmerized by Ukraine’s rich colors and vibrant people. While making a tour through the countryside, Mike meets an attractive young woman named Natasha, with whose help he manages to secure his family’s freedom from personal service to the Ukrainian nobility.
A tale about searching for one’s roots, Old Country Surprises is a heartwarming adventure novel that is well worth spending time reading. With likable characters and an easy-going narrative centered around character interactions, Ken Saik delivers an engaging young adult adventure that will leave you with a smile. The author draws an accurate portrait of the country of Ukraine. From the simmering resentment in the countryside amongst older Ukrainians toward old European conquerors to the more mixed attitude in towns and cities to elderly babushkas selling Easter eggs, you come to appreciate the diverse nature of Ukraine and its people. I enjoyed reading this book and recommend it to young adult adventure lovers.
Philip Van Heusen
– August 5, 2023
With conflict boiling in Ukraine, now is a wonderful time to enjoy Old Country Surprises by Ken Saik. Ken masterfully tells the story of Mike, whose grandfather challenges him to learn about his family’s Ukrainian heritage. To encourage Mike, his grandfather finds a way to send Mike and his two brothers, along with three friends, to Ukraine for family research. The six of them fly to Lviv and tour the city. They learn much about the cultural heritage of Ukraine. Further adventures lead to more discoveries, and they meet Ava. Ava is known for her knowledge of Ukraine’s history. She also displays great artistic ability, as seen by her masterful painting of Ukrainian Easter Eggs (pysanky). Finally, Mike and his group learn of the Ukrainian struggles through the centuries. These struggles led to their deep-held disdain for the Poles and Russians.
How would you like to travel to the county of your heritage? I would love to visit the Netherlands and learn more about the Dutch. My family came to New Netherlands in 1641. Old Country Surprises by Ken Saik tells the story of Mike Bennek and his journey to discover his history in Ukraine. Many immigrants changed the spelling of their surname when they came to the Americas. Mike learns that when his great-grandfather came to Canada from Ukraine, he shortened his name from Benneshuck to Bennek. That knowledge helped open the door to further research into his family’s history. Ken includes UNESCO Ukrainian historical sites in this book. For good measure, Ken has Mike develop a relationship with a Ukrainian that will affect his future. This little book is entertaining and exciting. The story is believable, and as one reads it, one will forget this is a work of fiction.
– August 5, 2023
Old Country Surprises by Ken Saik is the story of 25-year-old Mike and his two brothers who receive a peculiar Christmas gift from his grandfather; flights to Ukraine. Their mission is to search for their grandfather’s birthplace and speak to the people there about their lives, listen to their stories, and bring those stories back home to Canada – this is the gift their grandfather wants from them. With their grandfather’s health failing, Mike, as the eldest, knows how important this must be to him. He remembers his grandfather lecturing him kindly, gently, but sternly about not attending Thanksgiving. Family and heritage mean everything to his grandfather, and he wants his grandchildren to value them too. So, Mike, his brothers, and a few friends embark on an exciting and intriguing adventure to the beautiful country of Ukraine to learn about their grandfather’s history.
Old Country Surprises by Ken Saik is absorbing, elevating, and heartwarming. I enjoyed reading this book because it serves as a timely reminder about what is most important in life; family, culture, and being proud of your history. I particularly loved one of the first scenes where the grandfather visits Mike at work and confronts him about not coming to Thanksgiving, gently reminding him of his role as the eldest and about modeling good family values at work. Mike can’t be upset with the confrontation because his grandfather shows genuine concern, care, and respect, and he has no other alternative but to accept his mistake and work to improve. I love the journey through Ukraine and learning about all the landmarks. Old Country Surprises is a beautiful story.
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