It’s not easy to find unemotive reports about what is happening in Ukraine right now.
The history of Europe and the West with Russia is a long and complex one and the seeds of the current war can be found in this historic relationship. Modern day leaders, politicians, oligarchs, journalists and historians all play a part in promoting their view of the world. It can be hard to make sense of it all.
Living in the West it has been relatively easy over the years to read & understand our ‘side’ of the story. Yet our understanding of history is constantly being revised & updated as new information comes to light and new ways of looking at history are explored. It can be hard to tease out the facts from the propaganda.
Whichever ‘side’ you are on, there are always everyday regular folk who support their political leaders, and those that don’t. Sometimes we know what our leaders are really up to and sometimes we don’t, or not until it’s too late.
Thoughtful readers of history understand and question biases, preconceived assumptions and look for authors to back up their claims with supporting documents, footnotes etc. None of this is easy to do in our current world where emotions run high, where many only get their news from social media platforms that use algorithms to feed them more of the same and ‘fake news’ has become the norm. One tries to ascertain what the biases of the author might be. One checks up on sources and bibliographies where possible. One remains sceptical instead of believing everything related or reported.
Understanding Ukraine is a reading event to help me (and you if you’d like to join in) to resource and read more widely around this topic. Not only the history books and political biographies but novels by Ukrainian & Russian writers, those still at home and those now part of the diaspora.
In the past, I have read many Russian classics that detail life in Russia at various points in history. Books by Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoyevsky & Pasternak mostly. Their stories reveal how tender and loving, stoic and fatalistic the Russian people can be. These stories show how the Russian character is formed by their environment. I would like to discover, if and how, Ukrainian authors share or differ from this narrative.
One of the comments made by Sheila Fitzpatrick in her recent book, The Shortest History of The Soviet Union concerned the ways in which Ukraine is/was revising it’s foundational narrative. As a lover of history, revisionism is not a new concept to me. It’s something we all do, on a personal level and at a more global level as we uncover new information, gain further insights, understand our prejudices and biases better, take on another’s perspective etc. But I’ve been mulling over this comment ever since. What was the Ukrainian origin story and how has it evolved?
Lived experience is often different depending on where you are, your age, socio-economic group etc compared to the ‘history’ that is related in text books that deal only with the leaders, politicians and power brokers. They have their place. And I’ve read quite a lot of them over the years, especially the period in the lead up to, and including, the Russian Revolution (an era I studied at school and university).
My TBR pile contains the books below.
Some have been with me, waiting for their turn, for quite some time. Some are books that cater more to Mr Books reading patterns. Some I have no idea how or when they arrived! I don’t expect to read all of them or even find them all useful to this project. This is simply my starting point. And this is a place to collate my reading and my thoughts as I go along.
- A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian | Marina Lewycka (2005)
- Stalingrad | Vasily Grossman (1952)
- Life and Fate | Vasily Grossman (1960)
- The White Guard | Mikhail Bulgakov (1925)
- The Master and Margarita | Mikhail Bulgakov (1940)
- And Quiet Flows the Don | Mikhail Sholokhov (1928 -32, 1940)
- The Death of Ivan Ilyich | Leo Tolstoy (1886)
- Axiomatic | Maria Tumarkin (2018)
- A Short History of Russia | Mark Galeotti (2021)
- From Russia With Love | Heidi Blake (2019)
- The Gates of Europe | Serhii Plokhy (2015)
- Red Notice | Bill Browder (2015)
- October | China Miéville (2017)
- Secondhand Time | Svetlana Alexievich (2013)
- Otherland | Maria Tumarkin (2010)
- 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)
- A Russian Journal | John Steinbeck (1948)
- In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century | Geert Mak (2004)
- A Short History of Europe | Simon Jenkins (2018)
For more lists of books, please see my original post here.
If you have been listening to any podcasts that you’ve found enlightening, please tell us about them too.
- N@ncyElin with The Road to Unfreedom: Russia Europe America (2018) | Timothy Snyder
- Janine @The Resident Judge of Port Phillip read The Shortest History of the Soviet Union (2022) | Sheila Fitzpatrick
- And so did I Brona @This Reading Life
I have dropped the blogging ball this past month or so. Hopefully, now that I am back into my regular routine, things will improve!
- Julé @Gallimaufry Book Studio | Precursor: A Novel about Ukrainian Philosopher Hryhoriy Skovoroda | Vasyl Shevchuk (author) Yuri Tkacz (translator)
- Mallika @Literary Potpourri | Of Sunshine and Bedbugs: Essential Stories | Isaac Babel (author) Boris Dralyuk (translator)
- Jstor Daily | 15 April 2022 | Lesya Ukrainka: Ukraine’s Beloved Writer and Activist “Lesya Ukrainka” was a carefully considered pseudonym for a writer who left behind a legacy of poems, plays, essays and activism for the Ukrainian language, writes Emily Zarevich.
- Prospect Magazine | 12 May 2022 | What do Russians think of Putin and the war in Ukraine? Anastasia Kirilenko writes, Fed by propaganda, most Russians support Putin’s war against Ukraine—and the conflict he is stoking with the west.
- Prospect Magazine | 12 May 2022 | Listening to, and reading, the voices of Ukraine by David Herman. Until recently, the history and literature of Ukraine was ignored in the west. But it’s vital we expand our geography of empathy.
- Literary & Historical Sources for Understanding Ukraine: A Recommended Reading List | World Literature Today | July 2022 Michael M Naydan writes, In the past, regrettably, there has been a dearth of translations of Ukrainian literature available in English.
- The Atlantic | 24 July 2022 | Don’t Blame Dostoyevsky For Russian/Swiss author, Mikhail Shishkin, Culture, too, is a casualty of war.
- Jstor Daily | Emily Zarevich | The Symbolic Survival of The Master and Margarita | 29 July 29 2022 “Manuscripts don’t burn.”
- Guernica | Anna Sergeeva & Olena Rybka | Ukraine’s Literary Identity | 2 August 2022 “Ukrainian literature, like Ukrainian identity, has developed and lasted into the twenty-first century despite centuries of repression under various ruling powers.“
- The Guardian | 6 October 2022 | Hope Matters: Ukrainian and international authors on why literature is important in times of conflict includes comments from Tetyana Ogarkova, Yuval Noah Harari, Alim Aliev, Philippe Sands, Rachel Clarke, Samar Yazbek, Volodymyr Yermolenko, Victoria Amelina, Oleksandr Mykhed and Margaret MacMillan.
- Literary Hub | November 7, 2022 | Four Ukrainian Writers on Literature, Solidarity, and the Future of Justice | Chytomo Staff: “I believe in our truth, and the truth is on our side.”
- The Observer | 4 December 2022 ‘Our mission is crucial’: meet the warrior librarians of Ukraine | Stephen Marche says, “Most wars are fought over who will define the future. The Ukrainian war is a struggle over who will define the past. Is Ukrainian identity real or a fiction? That is the fundamental question of the conflict. The Ukrainians have given their answer. The libraries are on the frontline.“