Saturday, March 11, 2023

Five Stalks of Grain


Five Stalks of Grain / Adrian Lysenko;
illus. by Ivanka Theodosia Galadza
Calgary: U of C Press, c2022.
152 p.

This is a hard hitting graphic history -- a story set during the Holodomor in Ukraine. This was an artificial famine, one created by Stalin's policies in the 30s, as part of the ongoing attempts at genocide of the Ukrainian nation. There are in-depth histories of this, one of the best known being Anne Appelbaum's Red Famine, if you want an in-depth study of this horrendous time. However, here we have a personal story being shared, to introduce people to this event in a way that will be striking and unforgettable. 

The illustrations are simple and realistic, all in black and white. We follow Nadia and Taras, two young children who strike out on their own when both of their parents are arrested and killed. They try to walk to somewhere safer where there will be food. They encounter dangerous situations with other starving people, and with soldiers looking for 'enemies of the state'. At one point they are separated, and despite the guilt Nadia tries to keep going. 

This isn't a book about overcoming trauma as much as about explaining and illuminating the trauma. The finale of the book is a scene in contemporary times, in which a couple of Canadian young people are visiting Ukraine, trying to find the home of their relatives lost in the famine. 

It's sad, and stark, but also very necessary to keep these stories alive. The Holodomor was one in a long line of Russian attacks on the existence of Ukraine and Ukrainians, which is still going on. This book gives a glimpse into how it affected one family, in a story that will not be quickly forgotten. 

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