Do you tend to read more during summer? I don't watch TV, so I usually read at least one book per week - all year long! In the last few months I’ve made a point of reading more new-to-me books about Ukrainians and Ukraine.
In this blog post, I'll write about some recently published non-fiction and historical fiction books. Well researched historical fiction can be a great vehicle for learning more about history.
Souvenirs From Kyiv by Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger (2020)
Chrystyna is first generation author from Minneapolis, USA. Her family immigrated as Displaced WW2 refugees; she has also written seven other books. In Souvenirs From Kyiv, Chrystyna used her own family’s stories to develop a collection of fiction writings about being Ukrainian during WW2. On the backflap of her book, she writes that “Russia has been trying to wipe Ukraine off the world map for thousands of years. They haven’t succeeded yet. . . I want people to understand. I want to save this country.”
As we know, many Ukrainian stories can be quite difficult, especially wartime ones. I was hesitant to read this book, already apprehensive about what the stories might contain. However, Chrystyna skillfully writes about difficult topics, and I found the stories very readable and informative. My favorite story described how a renowned embroiderer expressed her defiance by threading history into her garments, often bought for pennies by enemy soldiers. Another chapter tells about how a family struggles to save a brother from Nazis, the Nazis thinking the brother is a partisan. The reader gets a good idea of what Ukraine must have looked like during wartime by the time the book, only 130 pages long, is finished.
A great read if you are specifically interested in learning more about Ukrainians in Ukraine during and after WW2.
Them Days by Glenn P. Booth (2022)
Booth is from Calgary but his ancestral family immigrated to the Gimli, Manitoba area around 1900. The author was born and raised in Winnipeg where he lived with his Ukrainian grandmother. Them Days is a work of historical fiction, based in Winnipeg, and Booth’s grandmother’s stories from the late 1910’s and 1920s.
The main character in Them Days is Sofiya, a girl born on a poor Ukrainian homestead near Gimli. At age thirteen, she is sent to Winnipeg to be a maid for a wealthy English family. Booth has done a thorough job researching the events he writes about: Them Days touches on topics such as racism and WWI internment of Ukrainians. The Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 is also included.
I found Booth’s characters compelling and I think his book provides a good description of the impacts of WWI on Ukrainians in both Manitoba and Canada. His story is fast paced and I enjoyed reading his descriptions of early Ukrainian farm life on the prairies. Them Days increased my understanding about historical events and the difficult lives of Ukrainian immigrants in the Gimli, Manitoba area.
Ghosts In A Photograph: A Chronicle by Myrna Kostash (2022)
I’ve read a number of Myrna Kostash’s books over the years and I've always enjoyed her creative non-fiction. Kostash is a well-known writer from Edmonton, Alberta. Her new book does not disappoint, although I found I really had to pay close attention to absorb all of the details she provides in Ghosts In A Photograph.
In Ghosts, Kostash delves into the lives of her grandparents, all whom immigrated from Galicia, present day Ukraine. (Note: I searched her home village Tulova and learned that it is just a two-hour drive from my own ancestral village, Melnytsya Podilska).
Discovering a number of old family photographs, Kostash questions what she knows about her extended families’ pasts.
The use of old photographs made for an intriguing research focus. Using this creative approach, Kostash presents different angles of history, thought, and logic. I liked that her book covers a wide span of time: 1900 to present. This helps the reader untangle the mass of dates and events that readers of Ukrainian history invariably must struggle through.
The unsolved murder of Kostash’s great uncle in Ukraine during WW2 was highly interesting to me. I appreciate the research that she must have waded through in order to make sense of what she’d learned. Because of its geopolitical location, I'm sure many – if not most - Ukrainians have family members who became involved in secretive activities during wartimes - when clarity over who the real enemy was became inevitably murky.
Kostash’s accounts of her multiple visits to Ukraine, and to her own ancestral village, were interesting to me. Her book provides great background information to anyone trying to better understand Ukrainian history in both Canada and Ukraine since 1900.
Heart Stones: A Ukrainian Immigration Story of Love and Hope by Christine Nykoluk (2023)
Heart Stones is my own recently published historical fiction novel. I developed the story arc using my own paternal Ukrainian grandparents’ protracted immigration experience – my grandfather arrived in Canada in 1914 just months before WWI was declared, leaving my grandmother and their two infants locked in the old country for the duration of the war. They were finally reunited nine years later near Sioux Lookout, Ontario in 1923. That was 100 years ago!
My book is different from others in that my story is told from two points of view: Myk’s voice in Canada, and Lilia’s voice in the old country, both for the duration of WWI, and until 1923. Most scenes were created using actual first person accounts by Ukrainian immigrants. The narrative is dialogue -rich.
My story includes Canadian communities such as Halifax, Sioux Lookout, Superior Lot, Winnipeg, Elie, Selkirk, Brandon, Emerson and Wishart.
Readers say they find the book fast paced and the characters engaging. A key character named Kost never fails to create different opinions. I find this intriguing since Kost was a real person but my present-day family knows very little about him. We just know that he was an important factor in keeping the Nykoluk family together both during and after the war.
“A historically rich debut novel . . . Along the way, 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.” – Kirkus Reviews
Visit my website for more details about Heart Stones, read reviews and check out my bookstore, listen to recent CBC radio interviews, and read my other blog posts. While there, you can download Chapter One from my book, it’s absolutely free!
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