The unfolding situation in Ukraine is distressing and worrying for so many of us.
When my home state of NSW is not in the middle of another major flooding event, our news is full of what is happening in Eastern Europe. The what and where is easy to see. But it’s hard to get a handle on WHY it’s happening. Putin’s comments during his televised speech on the 21st Feb 2022, that Ukraine was created by Bolshevik Russia and all he wanted to do was to bring them back into the fold, didn’t sound convincing to me. Surely Ukraine existed before 1917? And surely this is more than some sentimental reunion exercise?
President Putin, surely there is more to to the story than this:
As a result of Bolshevik policy, Soviet Ukraine arose, which even today can with good reason be called ‘Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s Ukraine’. He is its author and architect. This is fully confirmed by archive documents.
Putin obviously has his own agenda. The Western leaders, Volodymyr Zelenskyy and NATO have theirs. Somewhere in the middle live the rest of us, wishing and hoping for peace.
Back in February, I received an ARC of The Shortest History of the Soviet Union | Shelia Fitzpatrick (2022). I jumped straight into it hoping that it would somehow shed some light on the current situation. It did and it didn’t. It was mostly a handy recap of events leading up to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, confirming that there was indeed a chequered modern history between the two.
My interest in reading more deeply was then piqued by Henri on Twitter back in late February when he posted two threads – a non-fiction/history thread and a fiction one – listing the various books about Ukraine that he recommended.
Since then there have been any number of posts about books set in Ukraine, by Ukrainian authors or books that highlight the complicated and long history between Russia and Ukraine. Below are a few such posts/lists.
- NPR 10 Books about Ukraine
- Five Books The Best Books on Ukraine recommended by Marci Shore
Over the past few weeks I have seen many of you posting your thoughts about what is happening. Your confusion, your concern and your anguish is evident.
The only way I know how to fix this quandary within myself, is to read.
I have a few Ukrainian books and many Russian books on my TBR pile. I’ve decided it is time to read them. I want to understand what is happening, I want to get to know the Ukrainian people better, their culture and history and I want to work out why Putin is doing what he is doing. What does he hope to achieve? Why does he believe this is the “right decision”? And what does he think the end game looks like?
A part of me is scared to find out, but knowledge is power. Ignorance is NOT bliss. If all of this goes really pear-shaped, then I want to have a better understanding of why it is so.
I don’t expect to read everything from my TBR (as listed below). But I wanted to have somewhere to collate my reading and my thoughts as I go along. If you’d like to join me in this reading quest, please do. It’s as simple as that.
List your books in the comments below, or make your own post. Take as long as you need.
I’ve given myself four months purely to have a start and end date to work around. I may continue reading Ukraine beyond that…or I may abandon ship. Either option is fine. Reading, for me, is a pleasure not a chore…and sometimes that pleasure is wrapped up in self-education – the seeking of knowledge, understanding and perspective. This is one of those times.
- A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian | Marina Lewycka (2005)
- Stalingrad | Vasily Grossman (1952)
- Life and Fate | Vasily Grossman (1960)
- Axiomatic | Maria Tumarkin (2018)
- From Russia With Love | Heidi Blake (2019)
- Red Notice | Bill Browder (2015)
- October | China Miéville (2017)
- Secondhand Time | Svetlana Alexievich (2013)
- Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future | Svetlana Alexievich (1997)
- The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II | Svetlana Alexievich (1983)
- A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891 – 1924 | Orlando Figes (1996)
- In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century | Geert Mak (2004)
- A Short History of Europe | Simon Jenkins (2018)
On the 1st May I will publish a MASTER POST to keep track of what I have read (and any books that you might read & review as well). I hope that some of you will join me, even if for just one book.