Posts Tagged ‘Liisa Kovala’

Heart-to-Hearts with Father on Russo-Finnish War Inform Liisa Kovala’s Family Memoir

Guest Post by Liisa Kovala



I always knew my father had a story to tell. I’d heard snippets of it around the dinner table as I was growing up, but not enough to make sense of what really had happened to him. Even as a teenager, I had every intention of writing a book about him, but it wasn’t until I turned forty that the process began.

My mother called me up one day when I was folding laundry. “Someone wants to write about your father,” she said.  “I told her my daughter is going to do that.”

Dad and I met every Sunday afternoon during the winter and spring of 2012. He told me about his childhood in Oulu, Finland, during the Russo-Finnish Winter War. He described his life on a Finnish merchant marine as a youth of fifteen. He’d lied about his age, of course. He went as far as describing the detention of his ship in the port of Danzig, Poland, the arrest of the Finnish sailors, and their transport by cattle-car to Stutthof Concentration Camp. But he left me at the Death Gate, wondering what had happened behind the barbed wire. I didn’t press him.

It took many more months of post-war stories before he returned in memory to the camp. With tears in his eyes, he told me about gruelling work details, pitiful lack of nutrition, abuse from guards, forced evacuation and Death Marches, escape attempts, and finally, liberation. His stories were as painful to hear as they were for him to recount.

With pages and pages of notes and audiotapes, I spent the next few years writing and rewriting. I also took advantage of the writing courses I was attending at University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies. Positive feedback from instructors and classmates encouraged me to continue my work. My mentor teacher, the remarkable Allyson Latta, helped me to sculpt the narrative from a series of disparate stories to a cohesive story. With her feedback and encouragement, I continued to revise the rest of the book, and months later, I began looking for a publisher.

I sent the manuscript for The Day Soon Dawns to a few small presses, but my father’s health was failing, and I knew the process could be a long one. Taking a new tack, I learned everything I could about self-publishing.

Chapters-June-13.2015I’m pleased to say that my father’s health is better now, and he’s been an active participant at my launches, signings, and other events for the book. In sharing his story and speaking about his experiences, he suffers fewer nightmares of that time.

The Day Soon Dawns has been an incredible journey for both of us.


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LIISA KOVALA Liisa is a Finnish-Canadian teacher and writer living in Sudbury, Ontario, with her husband and two children. Her family memoir A Day Soon Dawns was self-published in March 2015.  She is a member of Sudbury Writers’ Guild and has published fiction and non-fiction pieces in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada,, Sudbury Living, Canadian Stories, and Canadian Teacher Magazine. Please visit her website at

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015