September is Ukrainian Heritage Month here in Ontario, so I wanted to share some recommendations from our Ukrainian collection. You loyal readers out there will hopefully be tempted to explore some of these intriguing reads. Included below are Ukrainian, Canadian-Ukrainian, and other authors with ties to the country. Given that they make up a significant proportion of our population, Ukrainian people have substantially contributed to our society (Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland is Ukrainian-Canadian, for example). This contribution includes the development of a spectrum of rich artistic and cultural expression.
Andrei Kurkov was born in Russia and writes his fiction in Russian, but he moved to Kyiv when he was only two years old. His identity has been steeped in the experience of living there, and he’s become one of the most well-known Ukrainian writers the world over. With the advent of the war in Ukraine, he has become something of a representative for his people, even sharing a personal war diary with BBC Radio 4. Here he talks with the Guardian about getting used to air raid alerts sounding through his cellphone several times a day.
October is Latin American & Hispanic Heritage Month* in Canada, as well as Women’s History Month! So with that, I figured I should spotlight a title that talks about the intersection between Latin American heritage and gender.
Dominicana by Angie Cruz was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction for 2020. Cruz was inspired by her mother’s experience in writing Dominicana, though when Cruz presented her mother with the idea of writing this novel, “the older woman was apparently unconvinced: “Who would be interested in a story about a woman like me? It’s so typical.” Typical but rarely represented among mainstream narratives, Cruz counters” (Anderson, Dominicana by Angie Cruz Review in The Guardian). The fate of her entire family – their upward mobility and the way out of the Dominican Republic – rests upon 15-year old Ana’s marriage to Juan Ruiz, a man more than twice her age, who promises to whisk her away to New York (her family to be brought over after). Once in New York, Ana discovers that the life of riches and glamour she and her family had envisioned Juan would bring her was far from the truth: in a foreign land, without her family, where she does not speak the language, she is locked in a small apartment most of the days, waiting for Juan to come home. But as Ana herself says, “Bully me, and I transform into an ant”. Cruz captures Ana’s loneliness poignantly, the sense that nothing is going as either she or Juan had wanted, and the feeling of being trapped with no way out: this marriage is bigger than either of them. Although as a reader, you likely feel more for Ana, as a child bride going someplace unknown knowing no one apart from her new husband (though she doesn’t know him well either), you get the sense that no one in this generation has gotten closer to the American Dream. Not Mamá, not Juan, not César… Dominicana ends on an ambiguously hopeful note, but I won’t spoil it for you here: the novel is well worth a read.