When the news starting tumbling through the airwaves, the literary homeschool groups on Facebook were flooded with posts from moms asking for picture books to help their kids understand Ukraine. Yet very few were asking for reading material which would help them, as adults, make sense of the news’ garbled deluge of information about Ukraine.
While I understand the immediate desire to help guide kids through the tangled web of current events, the lack of curiosity from adults made me a little bit sad. Maybe this comes from having spent my early childhood in a place no one has ever heard of (“the former Yugo-what?”) Maybe I’m just a Slavic history nerd — after all, I’m of Slavic descent and already had Borderland on my shelves. But wouldn’t it help if we asked more questions? Wouldn’t it go a long way if we, as parents, at least tried to educate ourselves along the way as we educate our kids?
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History is fundamental. If nothing else, zooming out to give a wider sense of time adds a crucial layer of context we’d never be able to see otherwise.
When I mentioned Borderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine on social media (@oaxacaborn on Instagram, Oaxacaborn on Facebook), several people asked me for a quick rundown of the top takeaways — presumably so they could decide whether or not it was worth reading, or maybe so they wouldn’t have to read it at all. But here’s the thing. Providing an overview is precisely what author Anna Reid has already done. She’s taken 12 centuries of history, multiple languages, and hundreds of miles of shifting borders, and summarized it all down into 258 very readable pages. This book is the short summary of Ukrainian history.
This book is dangerous and subversive. The author didn’t write it to be disruptive, but history is always subversive.Tweet
You’ll see the personalities of Kiev and Lviv emerge from the centuries, read snippets of poetry from thinkers of the age gone by, and learn how old –or new — the Ukrainian language is. You’ll see the nuance of Ruthenian, Russian, Cossack, Galician, Lithuanian, and Polish connections. You’ll suffer and rejoice, feel hunger and pain. I read it in a single week.
But this book is also dangerous and subversive. Anna Reid didn’t write it with that purpose, but a close read of history always proves to be subversive. There is no other way.
Uncovering history always has a dangerous effect on a reader. It shocks us as it peels back the layers we’ve glazed over with hot takes, evening news talking points, and a general Western apathy for anything east of our own comfortable neighborhoods.
You must read Borderland.
And you must make the decision to read it at your own risk.