A guide to POTSDAM
Bayan, the title, is Russian for the accordion, since the story is based on a hauntingly beautiful narration of the transition of life from the Soviet through the post-Soviet era in Ukraine.
The main character, Ivan Nikolaevich, is a well-read man in his mid-seventies, who appreciates Mother Nature, traditional music, and good literature – a man after my own heart. Although plagued with troubles as a child living in the Soviet epoch in Ukraine, he seems to have been accepting of Communism, reminiscing about the “paradise which was once Klymentove”, referring to a region in Ukraine.
He narrates the story of his life to the second character introduced to us – a mysterious young man, who is unnamed throughout the book. The journey through the end of World War II, his childhood, lost loves, family, employment history, and the country’s political history are talked about emotionally, and in song. The second character is introduced to the readers as a curious young man with a penchant for a good story. Initially, unforeseen circumstances like weather and lack of transport, force him to remain in the old man’s abode. In the latter stage, however, it is seen that he seemed to forge a connection with the old man, despite the years between them. Interestingly enough, the second character seems to listen more than speak, as shown by the increasingly prominent monologue of the old man.
The other characters are all the people that were part of the old man’s life, as narrated by him. Svetlana, his first wife, is a mismatch from the beginning to the end of that short episode. His daughter by his first marriage, Victoria, is not in his life anymore, and it is a painful aspect of his existence. Although he had not seen her since she was three years old, he still thinks about her, as only a good father would. The institution of marriage collapsed in his standpoint after his marriage to Svetlana ended.
Olga, seems to be the apple of her father’s eye. The readers are drawn into the world that he creates around his daughter. Raising her in a different home, with visitation rights similar to those given in courts of law – in this case, Nadiia’s diction – entailed sacrifices, both financially and physically. Olga is closer to her father than Victoria is, and she seems more of a “kindred spirit”. She is a traveller, in addition to being intelligent and ambitious.
The readers are shown both sides of the political transition. Ivan seems to appreciate the Soviet era (before 1991), perhaps because of his age and experiences. He continues to uphold the traditional values and culture of Soviet Ukraine, despite the apparent slow decline of both in the present generations, following independence.
Overall, the beauty in this book lies in the relationship between father and daughter and the countless sacrifices he undertook to bring her up in the short time he was in her life, the description of the scenic splendour of Ukraine’s countryside, the ‘freedom’ in socialism, and the never-ending struggle for a constant in the ever-changing globalised world.
“Bayan” is definitely a book worth spending time and energy on, with each read bringing a new perspective to the reader.
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