________________ 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 Robert B. Klymasz.
** /4 


When I was a teen, I was an avid reader […] but I was never able to find stories about Ukrainians who had come to North America […] It wasn’t until I was an adult that I heard about kobzars. These were blind, wandering minstrels of Ukraine. […] We are the Kobzar’s [sic] Children. Our parents and grandparents suffered […].” 

These excerpts from Skrypuch’s preface give the rationale for this collection of “hidden” and “untold stories.” And according to the publisher, this anthology of poetry and prose is suitable for “Ages 12+” and “Grades 7+” – a broad spectrum of potential readers that ostensibly includes adults as well as juveniles. So we can excuse (if not accept) the occasional moments of soft erotica, references to flatulence, and a penchant for the depiction of inhuman conduct. 

     For the most part, this book is focused on the heroics of hardship, struggle and survival, -- a beginner’s course in Ukrainian victimology, so to speak. The 20 pieces found in this collection (many written as personal experience narratives) are arranged somewhat loosely in historical order to span a century of happenings beginning with the Ukrainian immigrant-pioneering experience in Western Canada (early 1900s) and ending with the Canadian response to political events in contemporary Ukraine. The result is a kind of interpretive survey with an overriding emphasis on historical reality peppered with heavy doses of melodrama and nostalgia. Luckily, several selections manage to break through this pattern and offer insights that are truly fresh and imaginative. In this regard, the following deserve to be cited: “It’s Me, Tatia” by Brenda Hasiuk, “A Song for Kataryna” by Linda Mikolayenko, “Memories of Volodymyr Serotiuk’s Birthday” a poem by Sonja Dunn, “A Bar of Chocolate” by Natalia Buchok, and Larry Warwaruk’s “Bargain.” 

     From a scholarly perspective, however, this book falls seriously short due to an excess of erroneous references and misleading assumptions. Moreover, the editing is inconsistent and sometimes plain sloppy. These are serious drawbacks that devalue Kobzar’s Children and detract from its attempt to provide a reflection of the Ukrainian Canadian experience. Less serious, albeit questionable, is the collection’s unexplained bias in favor of living authors writing in English only and its curious predilection for feminine writers (12 females represented by 17 items versus three males with only three selections). 

     All in all, Kobzar’s Children ends up looking like an exercise in scrapbooking that’s characteristically filled with passion and sincerity yet somehow wanting.  

Recommended with reservations.

Robert B. Klymasz (Ph. D.) who is a researcher/archivist, resides in Winnipeg, MB, and is Curator (Emeritus) with the Canadian Museum of Civilization, (Gatineau, PQ). 

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

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