Ukraine Books – A Literary Feast

Between the covers: exploring Ukraine by book

Ukrainians, both native born and by genetic extraction, have a deep-seated commitment to exploring their country on the printed page. Reflections from authors comprising the Ukrainian diaspora internationally can introduce intrepid travelers to a world before their arrival in this dynamic country. A very small, but exciting sampling of books is profiled on this website.


Borderland: A Journey through the History of Ukraine, by Anna Reid

Travelers overwhelmed with the labyrinth of Ukraine’s history will find solace in this literary gem. History comes alive between these pages allowing the reader to come away with a resonating, distilled, and frank history of the country called Ukraina – borderland. By combining historical research, personal interviews with peasants and politicians, dissidents and survivor’s of Stalin’s Great Hunger and Nazi labor camps, and a traveler’s keen perspective, Reid revisits this country’s history and speculates on its promising future.

Honey and Ashes: A Story of Family, by Janice Kulyk Keefer

Elegant prose defines this story that is by turns historically rooted and emotionally liberating for those determined to uncover their own sense of identity in the shadow of an immigrant family. ld letters, browned and creased photos, and sometimes painful interviews with family members recalling a past long buried form the skeleton of this memoir but it is Keefer’s elegiac use of metaphor and mystery that fleshes out her quest to reconcile a history with her own self-perception. By the last page readers will be questioning the origins of their own true selves.

Return to Ukraine, by Ania Savage

Written only years after Ukraine’s 1991 independence, Savage’s book tackles the subject of personal discovery from a different perspective. Ukrainian by birth and experience, Savage fled Ukraine during World War II only to return nearly fifty years later by invitation to serve as a guest editor for the Communist government-affiliated Ukraina’s Society’s English language newspaper. Returning to Ukraine in the company of her Alzheimer afflicted mother and her aunt, Savage writes with occasional ambivalence but always with a haunting description of all she sees including her mother and aunt’s emotionally charged reactions to the country they once knew and understood.


Death and the Penguin, by Andrey Kurkov

Victor and Misha, the pet penguin he rescued from the Kyiv zoo after its closure are both depressed. Victor’s career as a writer is largely defunct. The brutal Ukrainian winter coupled with the decision by his lover to leave has taken its toll. One day Victor is commissioned to write obituaries for political and business leaders with one catch – all his subjects are still alive. All goes well for a time. The mysterious editors like Victor’s work. Misha has enough fish to eat out of the apartment’s tiny bathtub and Victor’s pantry is stocked with vodka. Soon a serious problem develops. The subjects of Victor’s obituaries begin to turn up dead. Realizing that he will soon be next, Victor frantically tries to unravel the editors’ identities and motivations. By turns dark and hilarious, this page turning novel offers the reader a glimpse into post-Soviet Ukraine.

Kalyna’s Song, by Lisa Grekul

The extraordinarily authentic first novel by Ukrainian-Canadian author Lisa Grekul will strike at the heart of any reader perpetually stranded between a family’s potent country of origin and the country one calls home. Seen through the eyes of Colleen, a second generation Ukrainian-Canadian, the reader labors alongside the novel’s protagonist as she peels back her family’s ancestry like a ripe onion traveling deeper and deeper into what it means to be Ukrainian by extraction until she must carve out an identity that is truly her own. Told against the backdrop of a troubled family member, Colleen awkwardly balances the sometimes smothering embrace of family with the inherent desire to define oneself on one’s own terms. A moving and frequently hilarious read this book prompts the reader to question one’s own definition of self.

From Three Worlds: New Writing from Ukraine, Edited by Ed Hogan

This vigorous, post-Soviet collection of fifteen contemporary Ukrainian writers both tells stories of both Ukraine’s tumultuous early 20th century history and modern-day devastations like Chernobyl. Tragedy both tender and unnerving winds its way through this collection of short stories, prose, and poems. tories of village life mix awkwardly with those telling of military occupation and conquest, love, and hypocrisy. A pawn of both the Russian Tsars and Soviet and German violence, this book is both an act of rebellion and a reminder to readers that Ukraine as a country has its own rich literary tradition.

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