Book Review: Borderland

Borderland:  A Journey Through The History Of Ukraine, by Anna Reid

This book was a fascinating one, but one that is likely to upset a great many people who have a vested interest in the history of Ukraine as a nation and a culture.  For one, the author goes into plenty of areas of history that demonstrate Ukraine’s own darker aspects of history, whether one looks at issues of anti-Semitism or the frequent lack of cohesion and progress that Ukraine has shown as an independent nation.  For another, the author looks at Ukraine not only from past to present but from region to region, showing the complexity of the history and territory and culture of Ukraine and what it would require for the nation to achieve its identity as a nation that is able to join up with Central Europe and enjoy the economic and cultural advantages of being European as opposed to being shackled with an oppressive Russia as has often been the case in Ukraine’s past.  Far too often the promise of freedom and advancement has been sabotaged by the unwillingness of Russia to simply let go of territory that wants to go its own way and seek its own balance between its various elements.

This book is divided into two parts, reflective of it having been written originally in the 1990’s after Ukrainian independence and then updated in the aftermath of Putin’s aggression against the Ukraine recently.  The book as a whole is a bit more than 300 pages and begins with acknowledgments and a preface to the 2015 edition.  After that the first part of the book consists of ten chapters.  It begins with a discussion of Kiev (1) and then moves on to the history of the Poles and Cossacks (2) before moving to the period of Russian rule and the push to the Black Sea (3).  After that the author focuses on the regional history of various parts of Ukraine, from Lviv (4), through Chernivtsi (5), and then a look at the Great Hunger in Matussiv and Lukovytsya (6), before then moving on to the vanished nation of Ivano-Frankivsk (7), the problematic nature of Crimea (8), the disaster at Chernobyl (9), and the question of whether Ukraine is part of Europe or a little Russia (10).  The second part of the book then discusses the rise and fall of the Orange Revolution (11), the Maidan (12), and then Putin’s response to Ukrainian moves towards Europe (13) and a look at what happens next (14), after which the book ends with notes, a selected bibliography, and an index.

Ultimately, this book has a rather melancholy sort of feel to it.  Whether one feels melancholy because of the massive destruction of the Mongols that led to Kiev’s depopulation in the aftermath of defeat in the 12th century or the centuries of warfare that took place involving Poland, Moscow, and the Crimean state, or the various attempts at genocide of one kind or another against Poles, Jews, Tartars and others that took place in Ukraine, or the current culture of corruption (rather relevant in the news given the behavior of the Biden family there) that has hindered Ukraine’s political and economic development, there is a lot to mourn about Ukraine’s history and its struggles to maintain its freedom from Russia and its own identity as a borderland culture in Eastern Europe.  For those of us who would wish well-being for the Ukrainian people, it is unfortunate that the nation has so often been a prisoner of its history and its geography, and been unable to transcend these curses, but the book is written with hope that this will eventually come to pass and Ukraine will be able to take its place as a free people within the European family of nations.  Hopefully that will happen someday.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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