________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 9 . . . . December 22, 2006


Kobzar’s Children: A Century of Untold Ukrainian Stories. 

Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, ed.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2006.
199 pp., pbk. & cl., $ 14.95 (pbk.), $22.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55041-997-8 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55041-954-4 (cl.).
Subject Headings:
Canadian literature (English)-Ukrainian-Canadian authors.
Ukrainian Canadians-History-Literary collections.
Canadian literature (English)-20th century.
Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
Review by Gail Hamilton.
**** /4 


The death and brutality were soul-destroying. How long can a man or woman watch others die and remain unmoved? We cannot steel ourselves completely against the reality of what we are living, unless we give up and become, in effect, disembodied. When that happened to a person, we knew they had no will left to live. They lapsed into a kind of non-existence and, having given up, they soon died or were killed. We called anyone who had reached that state a musulman (walking corpse), a lost soul who was still walking among us, but who had the vacant look of someone who was already gone. To watch these zombies fading away, dissipating like shadows, was perhaps the most unnerving sight of all. (From “Auschwitz: Many Circles of Hell.”) 

Historically, the word “kobzar” has many meanings. The first kobzars were blind, wandering minstrels of Ukraine who traveled from village to village, entertaining the people with epic poems that chronicled the rich culture of the country and were passed down from generation to generation. During Stalin’s regime, the kobzars spread the message about Soviet repression, and so they were rounded up and shot. Ukraine’s national and most beloved poet, Taras Shevchenko, known as “The Kobzar”, wrote about Ukraine’s rich history and culture. His first published book of poetry was aptly titled Kobzar.

     Many Ukrainians’ stories were suppressed or falsified, and it wasn’t until Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch published a few books about Ukrainian history that people began to contact her to thank her for writing the stories and “setting the record straight.” From there began a small critique group through which the stories in this collection have been gathered. 

     The book consists of 20 stories, memoirs and poems contributed by 12 different authors. Capturing real experiences of Ukrainian immigrants, the selections are arranged chronologically from 1905 to 2004 and range from the heart-wrenching to the amusing. A brief introduction provides the background for the entry, and in some cases there are black and white photographs as well. Also included in the book are a table of contents and brief bios of the contributing authors. 

     The book begins with a story about a young woman who came to Canada to join her fiancé in search of a better life, only to be disappointed by the heavily treed, rocky “farmland” that had to be cleared and the many hardships that she and her family had to endure. One poem is a tribute to a girl’s grandmother who, as a child, was imprisoned at an internment camp, while another poem is an ode to a violin which was played at zabavas (Saturday night dances), There are recollections of life on a farm and Ukrainian dance recitals as well as accounts of life in concentration camps, escape attempts, famine and the mysterious “disappearance” of a young woman’s aunt during the Second World War. Two of the selections cover topics which might stir up some memories among readers: one tells of a general store and meat market in a small 1950s town, while the other is about the Orange Revolution and the contrast between the Canadian government’s behaviour after World War I and in 2004 with respect to fair voting procedures for Ukrainians. 

     Social injustice and the mistreatment of Ukrainian people, both in Europe and in Canada, are brought to the fore in this moving book that not only will revive some memories but will also ensure that the truth is told and the stories will not be forgotten. A fitting tribute to the resilience of the Ukrainian people, this book is long overdue. 

Dyakoyu, Ms. Skrypuch!  

Highly Recommended.
Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB. 

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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