Uncommon Effort
for the Common Good

by Ulana Pidzemecky

Toronto UNF Library Dinner Honouring Dr. Roma Franko, June 3, 2009

  • Esteemed Dr. Roma Franko and members of the Franko and Morris families,
  • Distinguished University and Ukrainian Studies Faculty and Foundation members,
  • Високопреосвященний Архиєпископ Юрій, Всечесніші Отці,
  • Community Representatives,
  • Шановні гості – шанувателі української літератури, любителі перекладу її,
  • Dear friends of Ukrainian literature, the power of its translation, and its everlasting spirit!

This large and happy gathering honours the producers of an extraordinary body of work, two inspired and talented siblings, who through their talents and determination have met the challenges posed by historical memory to deliver to a much wider audience the thoughts, charms, traumas and diverse experiences of Ukrainian writers from the turn of the 20th century into the early Soviet era. Я мала нагоду розмовляти з д-ром Франком про її працю кілька років тому під час імпрези Kobzar Literary Awards.

As a humble commercial translator (with a little poetry on the side!), but also a graduate student and lifelong aficionado of Slavic and Ukrainian Studies, it is my privilege and pleasure to share some thoughts about Dr. Franko’s translation work, which I could characterize simply as genuinely “purposeful reading.”  One can speak volumes about 17 volumes!  However, an overview will have to suffice.

Дотеперішніх 17-ти томів перекладів д-р Роми Франко, при співпраці своєї сестри, самі собою складають епоху в нашій літературі, в утвердженні українського національного поняття, і в розвитку його мистецьких елементів.  Автори цих творів – відомі представники так званої української літератури між народництвом і модернізмом, на межі двох епох, а також періоду ``розстріляного відродження``, початку Радянських часів.  Це були можливо і найтяжчі періоди в історії нашого народу, а помимо цього, наші письменники і поети знаходили чи творили різні нагоди, щоб видавати свої твори, перекладати світову літературу на українську мову, і, таким чином, закріплювати українську ідентичність.

It has been said that at the genesis of any new European literature their stood translation. It can also be said that the mainstreaming of such literature comes with a complementary translation of its own works into yet another language. This crucial contribution to the further growth of Ukrainian literature can be seen in Dr. Franko’s series of translations edited by Prof. Morris, whose authors are among the most gifted thinkers from the periods of the formation of Ukrainian national consciousness followed by its bitter repression.

Beginning in 1998 Dr. Franko produced translations (the series Women’s Voices in Ukrainian Literature), entitled The Spirit of the Times, In the Dark of the Night, But…The Lord is Silent, From Heart to Heart, Warm the Children, O Sun, and For A Crust of Bread, featuring, among many others, Olena Pchilka, Nataliya Kobrynska, Olha Kobylianska, Hrytsko Hryhorenko (Oleksandra Sudovshchykova-Kosach), and Lesya Ukrainka –– the most famous female literary voices of their day and of the post-Shevchenko era.  Dr. Franko’s further work, from the year 2000 onward, in addition to more works by these authors, includes as well such writers as Anatoliy Dimarov (Anatoliy Harasiuta), Yaroslav Stelmach, Olena Zvychayna, Mykola Chernyavsky, Ivan Franko, Hnat Khotkevych, Mykhaylo Mohylyansky, Volodymyr Vynnychenko, Mykhaylo Kotsyubynsky, Panas Myrny, and Valeriyan Pidmohylny, among others, in collections entitled Broken Wings, Once in a Strange, Faraway Forest (Ukr. children’s literature) , A Hunger Most Cruel, as well as Passion’s Bitter Cup and Riddles of the Heart – both containing Ukrainian Male Authors from 1880-1920, and Behind Decorum’s Veil, Winds of Change, Beacons in the Darkness, and Fateful Crossroads – four books of Ivan Franko published on the 150th anniversary of his birth.  Recently, in 2008, two more volumes of Ukrainian Male Authors came out, 1860-1900 and 1880-1920, entitled From Days Gone By and Down Country Lanes, adding the names of Yury Fedkovych, Borys Hrinchenko, Panteleymon Kulish, Bohdan Lepky, Tymofey Bordulyak, Dmytro Markovych, and many others.

Д-р Франко зосередила свою увагу на ключеві десятиліття українського творчого життя: спершу під гнітом царських заборон Валуєвського і потому Емського указів, потім під впливом українофілів і нових пошуків моделі побудови модерної української нації, часи переживань під Російською і Австрійською імперіями, та впливу Польської літератури, різниці в поглядах між письменством народницького і інтелектуального напрямків,  та короткотривала українізація початку 20-го століття до початку репресій внаслідок Визвольних змагань.

It is with great foresight that Dr. Franko has brought these eras and their writers to the attention of generations of Ukrainian Canadians interested in their heritage, but unable to understand Ukrainian literature in the original, even though she did not plan to be a translator!  With the establishment of Language Lanterns Publications along with her sister Sonia, an early retirement project was able to bring the lives of the authors translated to a broader public still, not only made up of university students of Ukrainian background, but varied individuals interested in Ukrainian literature, its place within European literature, the lives of Ukrainian female authors and their contribution to social issues, the frank views of Ukrainian male authors on these same issues, the history of the Ukrainian intelligentsia, and the history and development of Ukraine in general. 

Typically, for ease of use and reference, as well as attractiveness of features, the volumes have an unpretentious structure, including such elements as a list of current and upcoming volumes, an introduction (explaining the decision for the authorial and story choices made, and their historical significance), artistic depictions of the authors, helpful biographical notes, and especially useful glossaries of selected terms and phrases, some familiar, some obscure. Of particular interest to students is the fact that words in the glossary are marked by an asterisk the first time they appear in the story.

The first project, Women’s Voices in Ukrainian Literature in six volumes, features select short fiction from 1880-1920. It was sub-titled From Mother to Daughter, as the first author, Olena Pchilka, was the mother of Lesya Ukrainka, the eighth and last author. The series was very well received in academic circles and has been used in university courses in Canada, the USA, Australia, and Ukraine. Moreover, ordinary readers, Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian, have reacted with equal interest and admiration.

Broken Wings (2001) is a collection of short stories by Anatoliy Dimarov (né Harasiuta), an award-winning contemporary Ukrainian author, who sheds light on the lives of ordinary people in Soviet Ukraine towards the end of WWII to the early 1960s.  The subtitle reads: Transitions, choices, and turning points: coming of age in Soviet Ukraine. The author deals with growing up and human relationships in the Soviet context with a hard-hitting, but nevertheless humourous and undaunted approach.  This book, too, exhibits universal appeal and elicits a broadly positive response.

A whimsical and wistful publication is Once in a Strange, Faraway Forest (2001), written by Yaroslav Stelmakh in 1978 and illustrated by Anatoliy Vasylenko – a 96-page children’s book of the triumphs of good over evil, the lion’s share of which contains beautiful full-colour illustrations. 

Within the Ukrainian community as a whole, the book A Hunger Most Cruel (2002), created tremendous interest. This heart-rending translation of Dimarov, Yevhen Hutsalo and Olena Zvychayna, contains writings of unsparing honesty about the horrors of the artificially created famine-Genocide in Ukraine in 1932-33. Of 825 copies printed, half were sold and the others donated to libraries, while universities in Rome and the U.S. have used it as a text in political science and genocide courses. It was reprinted in 2006. The famed Dimarov produced a novel in 1964, which was the first time in Ukrainian literature that the Holodomor was presented – notwithstanding the extremely difficult Soviet conditions. The uncensored version came out only on the occasion of his 85th birthday, and contained copies of the crippling reviews the work originally received, to enlighten readers about the horrific circumstances in which the author wrote and Ukrainians lived.

Passion’s Bitter Cup and Riddles of the Heart (2004-05) are companion anthologies that fill in the blanks in Ukrainian literature in English translation, presenting a diversity of stories with romantic and erotic themes by male authors, during the same period as the earlier Women’s Voices. This collection acts as a virtual discussion between the male and female authors, deepening the reader’s understanding of the many layered nature of Ukrainian society at the time.

Another exceptional contribution arising from Dr. Franko’s and her late sister Sonia’s fondness for Ivan Franko, are the four volumes dedicated to the 150th anniversary of his birth (published 2006). The first book contains two of Franko’s best-known novellas about moral decay in the upper levels of Ukrainian and Polish society, followed by a trilogy comprising selected short stories and novellas concerning national, political and economic struggle in late 19th century Galicia. It is noteworthy to recall that Ivan Franko, along with Lesia Ukrainka, Pavlo Hrabovsky and Volodymyr Samiylenko, were themselves the brightest and most representative Ukrainian literary translators of the end of the 19th, and beginning of the 20th centuries.

The most recent From Days Gone By and Down Country Lanes (2008) continue and expand the presentation of Ukrainian male authorship to 1920. These writers are focused on class tensions, gender and ethnic inequalities, and the abuse of authority within the rural realm. Many of these same authors were not only writers, but reform and political activists in pursuit of a free Ukraine, revitalized Ukrainian language, and better education and quality of life for the peasants. These stories are often idyllic, pastoral portraits, evoking the indelible beauty of the Ukrainian countryside, while peering within its doors and windows with unblinking courage to reveal the blunt and bleak realities within. In spite of the emancipation of serfs in 1848, and the overall mood of revolution in Europe in the late 19th century, these translations allow the reader to see and feel the ever widening gap between the great expectations engendered in legal reform and the unchanging local economic and cultural realities of the era.

Dr. Franko and her sister Sonia have donated hundreds of their books to university libraries across the USA and Ukraine (they were part of an exhibition about Women’s Voices in Ukrainian Literature at the National Parliamentary Library of Ukraine in January 2003), as well as most of the public libraries in Canada. In addition, they have donated numerous sets to various Ukrainian churches and organizations for their libraries, events, and schools.  In this way, they have raised the consciousness of and appreciation for Ukrainian classical literature not only in North America, but also in Ukraine where, according to Dr. Franko, the emphasis is on Westernization and globalization, causing age-old traditions, songs, and stories, along with the classical arts, to suffer. The popularity of Dr. Franko’s works can also be attested to by the number of hits, comments and reviews the books have and continue to receive on Bookfinder.com, OpenLibrary.org, Amazon.ca, and even Ebay (they’re selling For a Crust of Bread at this moment)!  (*1,   *2)

Праця д-р Роми Франко, разом зі сестрою Соньою, є доказом, що переклад -- це не лише мистецтво, а й наука, і він лишає місце для об`єктивних критеріїв оцінки, бо збуджує до читання не раз, а повторно, тихо, вголос, на самоті, в товаристві, незалежно від віку, та спонукує до роздуму, аналізу і дискусії з усіх можливих перспектив людського мислення.  Наша громада дуже щаслива, що удостоїлася перекладів д-р Роми Франко.  Вони відкривають для читача світ націєтворчих чинників.  Ця невтомна, подивугідна праця, яка жде видання ще недокінчених томів, напостійно дозволятиме Україні жить!  Велике спасибі від насусіх!

*1 It is no wonder when my daughter Sophia picked up a one of the books and began to read it she exclaimed: “This is Ukrainian literature in English?! But it’s so interesting!!”

*2 I am reminded of my readings of Ukrainian classics in excellent French translation.  I marveled at the mellifluousness of the Ukrainian language, its quintessence, which nevertheless came through.   So, too with Dr. Franko’s English translations.

Reprinted with the permission of the author.

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