Review of:

Women's Voices in Ukrainian Literature

Sonia Morris, ed. Roma Franko, trans. Warm the Children, O Sun: Selected Prose Fiction by Olha Kobylianska, Olena Pchilka, Nataliya Kobrynska, Lyubov Yanovska, Hrytsko Hryhorenko, and Lesya Ukrainka. Women's Voices in Ukrainian Literature. Vol.V. Saskatoon, SK. Language Lanterns Publications, 2000. iv, 471 pp. $14.95 paper.

Sonia Morris, ed. Roma Franko, trans. For a Crust of Bread: Selected Prose Fiction by Nataliya Kobrynska, Olena Pchilka, Lyubov Yanovska, Olha Kobylianska, Yevheniya Yaroshynska, Hrytsko Hryhorenko, and Lesya Ukrainka. Women's Voices in Ukrainian Literature. Vol.VI. Saskatoon, SK. Language Lanterns Publications, 2000. iv, 471 pp. $14.95 paper.

Two sisters, both respected academics and members of the teaching profession, have conceived a monumental project for their retirement years: the translation into English of selected prose works of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Ukrainian women authors. Six sizeable volumes have already appeared in print. As they indicate in the Introduction, it was the "indomitable spirit" of their mother, a Ukrainian immigrant to Canada, that inspired them to undertake such a huge task.

The following writers are represented in the series: Olena Pchilka (1849-1930), Natalia Kobrynska (1855-1920), Dniprova Chayka (1861-1927), Lyubov Yanovska (1861-1933), Olha Kobylianska (1863-1942), Hrytsko Hryhorenko (1867-1924), Yevhenia Yaroshynska (1868-1904), and Lesya Ukrainka (1871-1913). The volumes here reviewed are a continuation of the above series of translations which started appearing in 1998. Some forty selections have been included in these two volumes.

The translator and editor further explain why and how the individual works have been chosen. Until recently, very few such selections have been available in other languages. The series contains a whole range of works from vignettes to short novels and has as its aim to acquaint the wider circle of readers in English with the part of Ukrainian literature written by women. The interpretation is from a woman's perspective. Volumes I to IV have a larger number of selections from two authors each, while volumes V and VI deal with works of six or seven of them. Translations in volume V form an anthology devoted to the lives of children and adolescents. In those days, children were not treated fairly by society. They had the status of their parents and, in the lower classes, it was difficult for them to break out from the perennial cycle of economic and social inequality. Volume VI underlines the social values, among them the institution of marriage in the society of the time. The law regarding marriage were not to be questioned by women: it was next to impossible for a married woman to shape her life independently from her husband. The writers of the time, however, were not constrained with what we currently call "political correctness." They could, and did on occasion, write with derision about individuals and ethnic groups and classes of society.

Historically, the times when these authors created were not conducive to the development of the Ukrainian national language. Especially in the part of Ukraine that was under Russian jurisdiction, there existed an official ban on publishing in Ukrainian. The individual writers, both men and women, if they wanted to see their works in print, had to find ways of arranging for their publication outside the Russian Empire. If the Russian literature of the nineteenth and early-twentieth century was permeated with the idea of social consciousness, the Ukrainian one had to champion national freedom, in addition to the social freedom. These elements are reflected in various ways in the works selected.

The authors' feminist tradition was evident. They knew each other. Some of them cooperated on joint projects such as Pershy Vinok (The First Garland)—on of the first almanacs of writings by women from both Eastern and Western Ukraine produced anywhere. It was published in 1887. They were all members of the intelligentsia and had the best education available to women at the time. This included an extensive knowledge of languages like German, Russian, Polish, Romanian, since they lived under various foreign regimes and influences. Lesya Ukrainka, for example, had a reading knowledge of a dozen or so languages, and even wrote in some of them. It was not uncommon for individual writers to be proficient in French as well. One could mention here Aleksandra Sudovshchykova-Kosach, using the masculine pseudonym of Hrytsko Hryhorenko, who did a number of literary translations from French into Ukrainian and vice versa. She reminds this reviewer, to some extent, of the French feminist writer Aurore Dudevant (1804-1876), better know as George Sand, who penned dozens of novels and stories about the lives of French peasants—a field Hryhorenko pursued in Ukrainian.

The translator and editor of the series were faced with a difficult task of how to tackle the idioms, the regional colloquial language, the terms and phrases coined from other Slavic and non-Slavic languages, for example, German and Yiddish. Ditties, poems, some of them in other languages, like Polish, were translated in rhymed prose or verse. Local measures for distances, weights, size were rendered into Canadian terms to be better understood by the North American reader. Feminine surnames derived from adjectival forms were preserved rather than converted to the masculine forms as is the custom in English. The translators decided on the criterion of "readability" to guide them in their task. Thus, their versions contain standard idiomatic English with addition of occasional explanations of words and phrases in brackets. Some standardized forms are chosen for all selections although there might have been a regional discrepancy in the meaning of certain words. Thus, for instance, the word "pan" is rendered through "lord," rather than through "master," and the word "gimnzaiia" appears as "high school," instead of "lycée" or "secondary school." This, however, does not detract from the readability. Occasionally, the translators choose a non-appropriate meaning of the word. For example, in Ukrainian the same noun and adjective is used for the term "south" and "noon." On page 129, vol. V, it follows from the text of the story that there was the "midday sun," and not the "southern sunshine." It is unavoidable that in the text of such length there appear some proofreading lapses or typographical errors, but they are very rare.

On the whole, these are excellent translations in a field whose recognition has been long overdue in Ukrainian, since other priorities had been more pressing. Such additions are most welcome and the translators are to be congratulated for undertaking such a great task. The works show that Ukrainian women authors occupy a high place not only in their own literature, but also in European literature. They may be favourably compared with what is the best in world writing as well.

Victor O. Buyniak, University of Saskatchewan

Canadian Slavonic Papers/Revue canadienne des slavistes

Vol. XLIV, Nos. 1-2, March-June 2002

Reprinted with the permission of the author

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