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Marko Vovchok.

Saskatoon, Western Producer Prairie Books, c1983.
159pp, paper, $13.95.
ISBN 0-88833-103-7.

Grades 10 and up.
Reviewed by Dave Jenkinson.

Volume 12 Number 3
1984 May

As part of an eight-page introduction, the translator describes the author and the period of nineteenth-century Ukrainian history about which the stories were written. The Ukrainian lands were then under the Russian Empire, and the people, free peasants but especially serfs, were subject to numerous repressive regulations. Though Russian born, Vovchok lived in the Ukraine for almost a decade with her ethnographer husband. Helping with his work brought Vovchok into close contact with the peasantry which, in turn, resulted in her developing a great sympathy for their suffering. The sixteen stories in the present collection were drawn from two of Vovchok's works originally published in 1856 and 1862 in which she made strong anti-serfdom statements.

Though the book's title and cover illustrations suggest a juvenile audience, the contents are definitely adult. The stories are "about" rather than "of the folk. Ranging in length from four to thirty-eight pages, the stories, which are usually told from the perspective of a female peasant and which often revolve about romance, generally end sadly. For example, in "The Kozak Girl," Olesya, a free peasant girl of sixteen, falls in love with a handsome serf. Because the marriage would mean Olesya's losing her free status, her community attempts to dissuade her. Olesya marries but suffers even more sorrow than had been predicted. Because of harsh treatment, Olesya's husband dies, and her three sons are taken to serve distant masters. "So, as she lived weeping, she died weeping."

Called "the outstanding Ukrainian prose writer of the second half of the nineteenth century" by Pedan-Popil, Vovchok has not been known in English until this translation. Pedan-Popil claims to be "faithful to the original except in the few cases of Ukrainian folk sayings and proverbs which have no equivalents in English... Highly recommended for collections needing materials on the Ukraine or about oppressed peoples.

Dave Jenkinson, Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB.
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