Psychological thriller set in Snæfellsnes, ICELAND
Ten Great Books about Ukraine
15th December 2022
You can find out a great deal about the history and culture of a country by reading the works of those who have written about it.
We have selected ten books about Ukraine that really help you get under the skin of the country. Some books are quite modern, others written in – or about – the past. Some are very insightful, others are written with self-deprecating humour. All will help you better understand this amazing country and its people.
Grey Bees by Andrey Kurkov and Boris Dralyuk (translator)
Little Starhorodivka, a village of three streets, lies in Ukraine’s Grey Zone, the no-man’s-land between loyalist and separatist forces. Thanks to the lukewarm war of sporadic violence and constant propaganda that has been dragging on for years, only two residents remain: retired safety inspector turned beekeeper Sergey Sergeyich and Pashka, a “frenemy” from his schooldays.
With little food and no electricity, under ever-present threat of bombardment, Sergeyich’s one remaining pleasure is his bees. As spring approaches, he knows he must take them far from the Grey Zone so they can collect their pollen in peace. This simple mission on their behalf introduces him to combatants and civilians on both sides of the battle lines: loyalists, separatists, Russian occupiers and Crimean Tatars. Wherever he goes, Sergeyich’s childlike simplicity and strong moral compass disarm everyone he meets.
But could these qualities be manipulated to serve an unworthy cause, spelling disaster for him, his bees and his country?
Grey Bees is as timely as the author’s Ukraine Diaries were in 2014, but treats the unfolding crisis in a more imaginative way, with a pinch of Kurkov’s signature humour. Who better than Ukraine’s most famous novelist – who writes in Russian – to illuminate and present a balanced portrait of this most bewildering of modern conflicts?
Baba Dunja’s Last Love by Alina Bronsky
Baba Dunja is a Chernobyl returnee. Together with a motley bunch of former neighbours, they set off to create a new life for themselves in the radioactive no-man’s land. Geiger counter and irradiated forest fruits be damned, there in that abandoned patch of Earth they have everything they need. Terminally ill Petrov passes the time reading love poems; Marja takes up with 100-year-old Sidorow; Baba Dunja writes letters to her daughter. Rural bliss reigns, until one day a stranger turns up, and the small settlement faces annihilation once again.
Bayan by Pramudith D Rupasinghe
When the Soviet Union collapses overnight, followed by painful separation from his wife, Ivan finds himself in the wrong place on earth, and he walks away with his button accordion into nature. Later, he falls in love with Nadia, who defies her life after surviving polio and fathers Olga. Life continues to follow the changing seasons accompanying Ivan deeper into nature with his lifelong companion button accordion, Bayan-melody of ageing in times of change.
Sunflowers Beneath the Snow by Teri M Brown
A Ukrainian rebel. Three generations of women bearing the consequences. A journey that changes everything.
When Ivanna opens the door to uniformed officers, her tranquil life is torn to pieces – leaving behind a broken woman who must learn to endure cold, starvation, and the memories of a man who died in the quintessential act of betrayal. Using her thrift, ingenuity, and a bit of luck, she finds a way to survive in Soviet Ukraine, along with her daughter, Yevtsye. But the question remains, will she be strong enough to withstand her daughter’s deceit and the eventual downfall of the nation she has devoted her life to? Or will the memories of her late husband act as a shadow haunting everyone and everything she loves, including Ionna, the granddaughter that never knew him?
In Sunflowers Beneath the Snow, Teri M Brown explores the tenacity of women, showing that even in gruelling circumstances, they can, and do, experience all the good things life has to offer – compassion, joy, love, faith, and wonder.
The House with the Stain-Glassed Window by Zanna Sloniowska
In 1989, Marianna, the beautiful star soprano at the Lviv opera, is shot dead in the street as she leads the Ukrainian citizens in their protest against Soviet power. Only eleven years old at the time, her daughter tells the story of their family before and after that critical moment – including, ten years later, her own passionate affair with an older, married man.
Just like their home city of Lviv, which stands at the crossroads of nations and cultures, the women in this family have had turbulent lives, scarred by war and political turmoil, but also by their own inability to show each other their feelings. Lyrically told, this is the story of a young girl’s emotional, sexual, artistic and political awakening as she matures under the influence of her relatives, her mother’s former lover, her city and its fortunes.
Snegurochka by Judith Heneghan
An exhilarating, darkly atmospheric debut novel set in Kyiv.
‘An unforgettable story. The claustrophobia is palpable, and the characters are utterly convincing in this beautifully observed novel. Outstanding.’ —Claire Fuller
‘Something terrible is happening here. Something terrible has already happened.’
Kiev 1992. Rachel, a troubled young English mother, joins her journalist husband on his first foreign posting in the city. Terrified of their apartment’s balcony, she develops obsessive rituals to keep her three-month old baby safe. Her difficulties expose her to a disturbing endgame between the elderly caretaker and a local racketeer who sends her a gift that surely comes with a price. Rachel is isolated yet culpable with her secrets and estrangements. As consequences bear down she seeks out Zoya, her husband’s fixer, and the boy from upstairs who spies on them all.
Home is uncertain, betrayal is everywhere, but in the end there are many ways to be a mother.
The Bloody Meadow by William Ryan
The hero, Captain Alexei Korolev, a detective in Moscow’s criminal investigation squad in the 1930s, dissatisfied and morose, manages to cling to his job and his life while all around him are losing theirs. He’s ordered to the port of Odessa to look into the apparent suicide of a young woman film production assistant whose importance was that she was also the secret mistress of an influential state commissar. Korolev’s inquiries unearth dangerous secrets.
The Child Thief by Dan Smith
From out of the whiteness, a dark figure comes…
December, 1930, Ukraine. After the horrors of war, Luka wants a quiet life with his family. His village has, so far, remained hidden from the advancing Soviet brutality – but everything changes the day a stranger arrives, pulling a sled bearing a terrible cargo: the bodies of two children. When the villagers’ fear turns deadly, they think they have saved themselves. And then a little girl vanishes.
Luka is the only man with the skills to find the stolen child in these frozen lands. And though his toughest enemy is the man he tracks through the harsh winter landscape, his strongest bond is a promise to his family back home…
Borderland by Anna Reid
Centre of the first great Slav civilisation in the tenth century, then divided between warring neighbours for a millennium, Ukraine finally won independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Tiring of their own corrupt governments, Ukrainians have since mounted two popular revolutions, taking to the streets to demand fair elections and closer ties to Europe.
In the spring of 2014, Russia responded by invading Crimea and sponsoring a civil war in the Russian-speaking Donbass. Threatened by Moscow, misunderstood in the West, Ukraine hangs once more in the balance.
Speaking to pro-democracy activists and pro-Russia militiamen, peasants and miners, survivors of Hitler’s Holocaust and Stalin’s famine, Anna Reid combines history and travel-writing to unpick the past and present of this bloody and complex borderland.
Death and The Penguin by Andrey Kurkov
Viktor is an aspiring writer with only Misha, his pet penguin, for company. Although he would prefer to write short stories, he earns a living composing obituaries for a newspaper. He longs to see his work published, yet the subjects of his obituaries continue to cling to life. But when he opens the newspaper to see his work in print for the first time, his pride swiftly turns to terror. He and Misha have been drawn into a trap from which there appears to be no escape.
Enjoy your books about Ukraine!
Tony for the TripFiction team
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