Svetlana Aleksievich and Chernobyl : the October 2015 Slavonic item(s) of the month

The 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate Svetlana Aleksievich’s books bring together the narratives of witnesses to some of recent history’s most disturbing events.  The 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster was the subject of her book Chernobyl’skaia molitva (Chernobyl prayer; C203.d.7984 (in Russian) and 429:4.c.95.5 (in English).  This post looks at Aleksievich’s book and others on Chernobyl.


Chernobyl, in capital letters (ЧЕРНОБЫЛЬ), shown in a 1969 map of Ukraine (Maps.276.96.23).  The nuclear town of Pryp’iat’, famously evacuated after the 1986 disaster, would only be established in 1970.

Svetlana Aleksievich’s name had been discussed in terms of Nobel recognition for some time, and the 2015 prize was awarded to her “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time”.  In Chernobyl’skaia molitva, Aleksievich writes “this book is not about Chernobyl, but about the world of Chernobyl.  Thousands of pages have already been written and hundreds of thousands of metres of film recorded about the event itself.  What I am concerned with is what would be called “missed” history … I write and collect the feelings, thoughts, and words of everyday life … Chernobyl [for my subjects] is not a metaphor or a symbol: it is their home.”  This is her approach to all her work; her documentary prose provides a stark and compelling picture of events through its use of the voices of the ordinary people caught up in them, the “polyphonic” quality which won her the Nobel prize.  War has featured prominently in her writing so far, with women’s and children’s accounts of the Second World War and soldiers’ experiences of the Soviet-Afghan war accounting for three of her books.  These are among the nine books the University Library currently has by her; these are mainly in Russian (Aleksievich is a Russophone Belarusian writer*), but the number in English will doubtless rise thanks to her Nobel fame. Continue reading

Ukrainian selection by default : the March 2015 Slavonic item(s) of the month


A selection of the books which have arrived so far.

Earlier this year, the University Library started to buy Ukrainian material by approval plan.  This method involves the vendor helping with selection by providing a tailored shortlist of books based on an agreed profile.  The first delivery of Ukrainian books selected in this way has recently arrived; this post examines some of the new arrivals.

Book selection is a major part of the work of the European Collections and Cataloguing department.  Several language areas are partially served by approval plans (a 2013 blog post discussed the French fine art approval plan), but this method had not previously been employed by the Slavonic section.  Small Ukrainian print runs, however, have often caused us to miss out on material we would like to have bought, and for this reason we decided this year to try out the use of an approval plan for material published in Ukraine.  In our profile, we stated that our main interest is in recent academic books in Russian or Ukrainian about Ukrainian or East European culture and history. Continue reading

Slavonic item of the month : September 2014

Front cover of Al'bum politv'iaznia by Paladii Osynka (CCC.62.121).

Front cover of Al’bum politv’iaznia by Paladii Osynka (CCC.62.121).

The University Library is currently running a small exhibition of Ukrainian diaspora material from the Peter Yakimiuk Collection in the main entrance hall.  The September item of the month is also from this collection – a book of drawings and wry caricatures of the horrors of Auschwitz seen through the eyes of a Ukrainian political prisoner.

Petro Balei was a Ukrainian writer and nationalist who emigrated to North America after World War II, a very common background among authors whose work is represented in the Yakimiuk Collection.  The majority of books by such authors in the collection usually cover Ukrainian history and politics, including personal narratives of active engagement in fighting during the war.  Balei’s work, however, is rather different – under the pseudonym Paladii Osynka, he produced a book of caricatures of life in Auschwitz, where he spent several years as a political prisoner. 

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Ukraine Abroad: the Yakimiuk Collection

Caption for picture: Front cover of Veresen’ by Ivan Irliavs’kyi.

Front cover of Veresen’ by Ivan Irliavs’kyi.

An exhibition of material from the library of Peter Yakimiuk, donated in his memory to the University Library, is currently on public display in the Library’s Entrance Hall.  The Yakimiuk Collection is a major resource on Ukrainian history, politics and culture, and the exhibition explores the extraordinary geographical breadth of the diasporic publications it contains.

In 2011, the late Peter Yakimiuk’s family generously gave the Library his collection of material on Ukraine.  It contains hundreds of books on Ukrainian history, politics and culture, with an emphasis on post-1945 Ukrainian-language diaspora publications.  Many of the books are held in very few Western academic libraries, having been printed in small runs or distributed only through private channels.  For Cambridge, where Ukrainian Studies was introduced in 2008, the donation is extremely significant, majorly bolstering the University Library’s Ukrainian collection.

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Slavonic item of the month : July 2014

The Russian and Ukrainian publishing markets have been quick off the mark to produce books which relate to the ongoing Ukrainian crisis.  For this month’s feature, we look at two specific examples, one from each country, and we also look at how library catalogue subject headings might be used for material on events in Ukraine.

Euromaidan and Crimea have become major subjects in the Ukrainian and Russian book markets, and the ongoing crisis in eastern Ukraine will no doubt follow suit as soon as manuscripts can be found which fit the bill.  The speed with which publications have appeared certainly make the University Library’s Slavonic book selector cynical, but the importance of our collections containing examples of books published in immediate reaction to such extraordinary events is not in doubt.

The front covers of Evromaidan imeni Stepana Bandera (left) and Nebesna sotnia (right)

The front covers of Evromaidan imeni Stepana Bandery (left) and Nebesna sotnia (right)

The two main examples featured here both relate to the Euromaidan protests which ultimately led to Ianukovych’s removal as president of Ukraine.  Through their covers, they are immediately illustrative of the extremely diverse views of the Maidan – were the protestors violent fascists or patriotic defenders?  The book on the left is Evromaidan imeni Stepana Bandery : ot demokratii k diktature (The Stepan Bandera Euromaidan : from democracy to dictatorship; C203.d.7080), a Russian-language study of right-wing extremism in Ukraine by Stanislav Byshok and Aleksei Kochetkov.  The book on the right is Nebesna sotnia : antolohiia maidanivs’kykh virshiv (The heavenly hundred : an anthology of Maidan poems; C203.d.7081), a volume of poems collected in memory of those who died during the Euromaidan protests.  The Molotov cocktail and bat in the hands of the protestor in the first have turned into a spear and a shield showing the Ukrainian trident in the second.  While the first is surrounded by fire and anarchy, the second marches with a companion – presumably towards the Berkut, the loathed riot police.

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