Sunday, August 07, 2022

From Heart to Heart


From Heart to Heart : Selected prose fiction by Hrytsko Hryhorenko and Lesya Ukrainka 
ed. by Sonia Morris; trans. from the Ukrainian by Roma Franko
Toronto: Language Lanterns, c1998.
471 p.

This is volume 4 of the Women's Voices in Ukrainian Literature series, a series "devoted to English translations of selected literary works of Ukrainian women authors from 1850 to the present day." (ie: late 1990s).

I've read and reviewed two of the other volumes of this 6 volume set in the past (Warm the Children, O Sun and The Spirit of the Times). This volume is my favourite so far, perhaps because rather than featuring 6 or 8 authors, it deep dives into only two, giving more time to really engage with them. 

Hryhorenko and Ukrainka (both pseudonyms) were sisters-in-law and both very focused on early 20th century women's rights and equality. Lesya Ukrainka is Ukraine's best known early female writer, kind of a legend, and I already like her work. So it was great to see more of it here (some is featured in other volumes in the series also). You can find out more about them by reading the biographical notes that are available at the publisher's website as well as in the book itself. They faced some serious setbacks in their lives but kept on writing and working. 

The stories vary in this collection. It starts out with Hryhorenko's work, which (according to the bio) was often called depressing and too realistic. She focuses a lot on women's lives in rural and more traditional settings, which is rather depressing, it's true. But she was trying to point out realities and help to bring awareness to the state of life at the moment. Some of the stories are more like character sketches, and not all are dark -- she has a sharp sense of irony that I appreciated. 

Ukrainka's work included here are mainly shorter works, and many reveal class lines with the struggles of poverty stricken women juxtaposed with rich lives (and the unwillingness of the rich to help out, plus ça change). Her stories don't always focus on the history of Ukraine, and they don't look at rural life or the past as much as Hryhorenko does. She has a lighter touch even when pointing out societal woes. I admire her style and enjoy reading her work, so this volume was a real treat. 

Language Lanterns has been an early source of translations of Ukrainian women, often the only place to find some of these authors in English translation. I appreciate their work here, and the translations have all been done by Roma Franko, who does an excellent job translating each writer to sound natural and distinctive in English, while still incorporating Ukrainian names for things that gives that authentic flavour to the stories. When you don't even notice the translation, it's been done extremely well. 

I recommend this series highly if you want to explore some historical writing from Ukraine. 

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