It’s been a fun month. We compiled a list of 6 great Ukrainian books, had an online discussion with the translator for our Ukrainian read, & the translator even joined our monthly book club discussion! So let’s keep the party going with a list of 12 other outstanding books related to the Ukraine.
Some are books about the Ukraine from non-Ukrainian authors. Some are books from Ukrainian authors which we just didn’t have room for originally. However, all 12 are books with fantastic reviews we think you’ll greatly enjoy.
“Love & Vodka is a book with broad appeal. It is a unique hybrid of travel memoir and love story that seamlessly blends humor, culture shock, and romance. It is about taking a chance in life and seeing where it leads, as well as learning more about the world—and about yourself. The world is large and full of potential; one just needs to be willing to take a gamble and explore the possibilities that exist.
Bobby is over the moon after sharing a bike on the E.T. ride at Universal Studios with Katya. Join our ‘intrepid crusader’ as he takes a leap of faith—traveling from comfortable ‘have-a-nice day and have-a-warm-shower’ suburban Detroit to the former center of Cold War Soviet missile production. And unbeknownst to anyone but himself, he's bringing an engagement ring! Experience life in a city that, until the mid-1980s, was closed to foreign visitors. R.J. Fox's humorous, poignant, and memorable expedition is punctuated by a colorful cast of characters, adventures, and cultural mishaps and misunderstandings—from irate babushka women to hard-drinking uncles. Lesser mortals might have ‘phoned home’ to be rescued. Armchair travelers and romantics—you will find yourself both schooled in hard knocks and heartened to have shared in the unforgettable experience of Love & Vodka!”
A NY Times Notable Book, winner of the National Jewish Book Award & the National Book Critics Circle Award, a LA Times Book Prize Finalist
“In this rich and riveting narrative, a writer's search for the truth behind his family's tragic past in World War II becomes a remarkably original epic—part memoir, part reportage, part mystery, and part scholarly detective work—that brilliantly explores the nature of time and memory, family and history.
The Lost begins as the story of a boy who grew up in a family haunted by the disappearance of six relatives during the Holocaust—an unmentionable subject that gripped his imagination from earliest childhood. Decades later, spurred by the discovery of a cache of desperate letters written to his grandfather in 1939 and tantalized by fragmentary tales of a terrible betrayal, Daniel Mendelsohn sets out to find the remaining eyewitnesses to his relatives' fates. That quest eventually takes him to a dozen countries on four continents and forces him to confront the wrenching discrepancies between the histories we live and the stories we tell. And it leads him, finally, back to the small Ukrainian town where his family's story began, and where the solution to a decades-old mystery awaits him.
Deftly moving between past and present, interweaving a world-wandering odyssey with childhood memories of a now-lost generation of immigrant Jews and provocative ruminations on biblical texts and Jewish history, The Lost transforms the story of one family into a profound, morally searching meditation on our fragile hold on the past. Deeply personal, grippingly suspenseful, and beautifully written, this literary tour de force illuminates all that is lost, and found, in the passage of time.”
Winner of the prestigious Tupelo Press Dorset Prize, selected by poet and MacArthur ‘genius grant’ recipient Eleanor Wilner who says, ‘I'm so happy to have a manuscript that I believe in so powerfully, poetry with such a deep music. I love it.’
One might spend a lifetime reading books by emerging poets without finding the real thing, the writer who (to paraphrase Emily Dickinson) can take the top of your head off. Kaminsky is the real thing. Impossibly young, this Russian immigrant makes the English language sing with the sheer force of his music, a wondrous irony, as Ilya Kaminsky has been deaf since the age of four. In Odessa itself, ‘A city famous for its drunk tailors, huge gravestones of rabbis, horse owners and horse thieves, and most of all, for its stuffed and baked fish,’ Kaminksy dances with the strangest — and the most recognizable — of our bedfellows in a distinctive and utterly brilliant language, a language so particular and deft that it transcends all of our expectations, and is by turns luminous and universal.”
"The power source for Zhadan's writing is in its linguistic passion." - Die Zeit
“One of the most important creative forces in modern Ukrainian alternative culture." - KulturSpiegel
“A city-dwelling executive heads home to take over his brother's gas station after his mysterious disappearance, but all he finds at home are mysteries and ghosts. The bleak industrial landscape of now-war-torn eastern Ukraine sets the stage for Voroshilovgrad, the Soviet era name of the Ukranian city of Luhansk, mixing magical realism and exhilarating road novel in poetic, powerful, and expressive prose.
Serhiy Zhadan, one of the key figureheads in contemporary Ukrainian literature and the most famous poet in the country.”
“An Economist Best Book of the Year, & the UK’s Sunday Times, Times, FT, and Evening Standard Book of the Year
From Pulitzer Prize-winning author, a revelatory history of one of Stalin's greatest crimes—the consequences of which still resonate today
In 1929, Stalin launched his policy of agricultural collectivization—in effect a 2nd Russian revolution—which forced millions of peasants off their land and onto collective farms. The result was a catastrophic famine, the most lethal in European history. At least five million people died between 1931 and 1933 in the USSR. But instead of sending relief, the Soviet state made use of the catastrophe to rid itself of a political problem. In Red Famine, Anne Applebaum argues that more than three million of those dead were Ukrainians who perished not because they were accidental victims of a bad policy but because the state deliberately set out to kill them.
Applebaum proves what has long been suspected: after a series of rebellions unsettled the province, Stalin set out to destroy the Ukrainian peasantry. The state sealed the republic’s borders and seized all available food. Starvation set in rapidly, and people ate anything: grass, tree bark, dogs, corpses. In some cases, they killed one another for food. Devastating and definitive, Red Famine captures the horror of ordinary people struggling to survive extraordinary evil.”
“Spanning 60 tumultuous years of Ukrainian history, this multigenerational saga weaves a dramatic and intricate web of love, sex, friendship, and death. At its center: three women linked by the abandoned secrets of the past—secrets that refuse to remain hidden.
While researching a story, journalist Daryna unearths a worn photograph of Olena Dovgan, a member of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army killed in 1947 by Stalin’s secret police. Intrigued, Daryna sets out to make a documentary about the extraordinary woman—and unwittingly opens a door to the past that will change the course of the future. For even as she delves into the secrets of Olena’s life, Daryna grapples with the suspicious death of a painter who just may be the latest victim of a corrupt political power play.
From the dim days of World War II to the eve of Orange Revolution, The Museum of Abandoned Secrets is an ‘epic of enlightening force that explores the enduring power of the dead over the living.”
(A special thank you to book club member, Ester Elbert for the suggestion.)
“An internationally acclaimed documentary novel that describes one of the largest single mass executions of the Holocaust
‘Everything in this book is true.’
Anatoly Kuznetsov was a twelve-year-old living in Kiev, Ukraine, when the Germans occupied the city in 1941. His age allowed him to escape the notice of Nazi perpetrators and local collaborators as he observed the war crimes committed against Jews, Roma, Ukrainian nationalists, and Soviet prisoners of war. More than 33,700 people lost their lives in a two-day massacre, followed by as many as 66,000 over the next two years.
At 14, Kuznetsov began writing about what he had seen, later supplementing his manuscript with survivor and eyewitness testimony, supporting documents, and the efforts of the Soviet government to conceal any trace of the atrocities perpetrated at Babi Yar. The serialized book was published in the USSR only after extensive censorship, but Kuznetsov converted the original full text to film and smuggled it out of Russia when he defected.
Now restored to its original condition, Babi Yar offers a unique, multi-faceted perspective of some of the darkest days of the Holocaust, written by a surviving witness.”
“Classic fairytales get a refreshing satirical twist in this collection of illustrated stories in which gnomes, pixies, and other fairy folk share tall tales of the strange and unbelievable human world and its inhabitants. Brimming with keen observations and wild assumptions on human anatomy, customs, languages, rituals, dwellings, and more, The Land of Stone Flowers is as absurd as it is astounding, examining contradictory and nonsensical human behaviors through the lens of the fantastic: from the bewitching paper wizards who live in humans' wallets to their invisible hats, known as ‘moods,’ which cloud their view of the world. Bursting with intricate and evocative illustrations, The Land of Stone Flowers will draw readers into a world of fantasy and fable that slyly reveals many hidden truths about human existence.”
“A book judged so dangerous in the Soviet Union that not only the manuscript, but the ribbons on which it had been typed were confiscated by the state, Life and Fate is an epic tale of World War II and a profound reckoning with the dark forces that dominated the twentieth century.
Interweaving a transfixing account of the battle of Stalingrad with the story of a single middle-class family, the Shaposhnikovs, scattered by fortune from Germany to Siberia, Vasily Grossman fashions an immense, intricately detailed tapestry depicting a time of almost unimaginable horror and even stranger hope.
Life and Fate juxtaposes bedrooms and snipers’ nests, scientific laboratories and the Gulag, taking us deep into the hearts and minds of characters ranging from a boy on his way to the gas chambers to Hitler and Stalin themselves. This novel of unsparing realism and visionary moral intensity is one of the supreme achievements of modern Russian literature.”
“Many years after making his way to America from Odessa in Soviet Ukraine, Emil Draitser made a startling discovery: every time he uttered the word ‘Jewish’—even in casual conversation—he lowered his voice. This behavior was a natural by-product, he realized, of growing up in the anti-Semitic, post-Holocaust Soviet Union, when ‘Shush!’ was the most frequent word he heard: ‘Don't use your Jewish name in public. Don't speak a word of Yiddish. And don't cry over your murdered relatives.’
This compelling memoir conveys the reader back to Draitser's childhood and provides a unique account of mid-20th century life in Russia as the young Draitser struggles to reconcile the harsh values of Soviet society with the values of his working-class Jewish family. Lively, evocative, and rich with humor, this unforgettable story ends with the death of Stalin and, through life stories of the author's ancestors, presents a sweeping panorama of two centuries of Jewish history in Russia.”
“Odessa, Ukraine, is the humor capital of the former Soviet Union, but in an upside-down world where waiters earn more than doctors and Odessans depend on the Mafia for basics like phone service and medical supplies, no one is laughing. After months of job hunting, Daria, a young engineer, finds a plum position at a foreign firm as a secretary. But every plum has a pit. In this case, it's Mr. Harmon, who makes it clear that sleeping with him is job one. Daria evades Harmon's advances by recruiting her neighbor, the slippery Olga, to be his mistress. But soon, Olga sets her sights on Daria's job.
Daria begins to moonlight as an interpreter at Soviet Unions(TM), a matchmaking agency that organizes ‘socials’ where lonely American men can meet desperate Odessan women. Her grandmother wants Daria to leave Ukraine for good and pushes her to marry one of the men she meets, but Daria already has feelings for a local. She must choose between her world and America, between Vlad, a sexy, irresponsible mobster, and Tristan, a teacher nearly twice her age. Daria chooses security and America. Only it's not exactly what she thought it would be...
A wry, tender, and darkly funny look at marriage, the desires we don't acknowledge, and the aftermath of communism, Moonlight in Odessa is a novel about the choices and sacrifices that people make in the pursuit of love and stability.”
“When the Germans invaded Russia in 1941, Vasily Grossman became a special correspondent for the Red Star, the Soviet Army's newspaper, and reported from the frontlines of the war. A Writer at War depicts in vivid detail the crushing conditions on the Eastern Front, and the lives and deaths of soldiers and civilians alike. Witnessing some of the most savage fighting of the war, Grossman saw firsthand the repeated early defeats of the Red Army, the brutal street fighting in Stalingrad, the Battle of Kursk (the largest tank engagement in history), the defense of Moscow, the battles in Ukraine, the atrocities at Treblinka, and much more.
Antony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova have taken Grossman's raw notebooks, and fashioned them into a gripping narrative providing one of the most even-handed descriptions—at once unflinching and sensitive—we have ever had of what Grossman called ‘the ruthless truth of war.’”