Faces of Displacement
The Writings of Volodymyr Vynnychenko
McGill-Queens University Press 2012
New Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in Eastern European StudiesNew Books in Literary StudiesNew Books in LiteratureNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Russian and Eurasian StudiesNew Books Network September 7, 2017 Nataliya Shpylova-Saeed
Mykola Soroka’s Faces of Displacement: The Writings of Volodymyr Vynnychenko (McGill-Queens University Press, 2012) is a compelling investigation of the oeuvre of one of the Ukrainian writers whose dramatic literary career offers insights not only into the nature of writing but also into the contextual environments that happen to shape writers’ reputations. Born and educated in Ukraine, Vynnycheko had to leave his homeland shortly after the emergence of the Soviet Union: his political vision considerably differed from the developments introduced and supported by the Soviet leaders. Extensively traveling across Europe, Vynnychenko was trying to maintain a fragile connection with his homeland: this connection was primarily constructed and nourished by the writers imagination. In spite of persecution, Vynnychenko ventured a few intermittent returns to Soviet Ukraine; however, he never had a chance to settle down in his home country again. France became one of the places where he attempted to develop a new sense of home and belonging; but this attempt was always imbued with the writers longing and nostalgia for Ukraine.
Detailing the trajectory of Vynnychenko’s traveling/wandering, Mykola Soroka introduces the concepts of homeland and hostland, contributing to the discussion of exile literature. Negotiating the notions of exile, expatriate, nomad, diaspora, Soroka’s research offers a notion that includes different shadows of writers and the works they produce outside their homelands–displacement. Vynnychenko’s life and literary career exemplifies displacement that, in fact, can hardly be described as stable and concrete. Although inherently including some negative connotations (displacement hints at leaving a comfort zone), displacement is also nourished by change, movement, and transformation. As Soroka’s research demonstrates, Vynnycheko’s style changes and develops as he travels and as he attempts to adjust to new environments. Faces of Displacement is structured around two major stages of Vynnycheko’s balancing between his homeland and hostland(s): 1907-1914 and 1920-1951. Soroka provides detailed accounts of the writer’s negotiations with his multiple selves that arise as the external environments change. Astute artistic and psychological observations are accompanied by historical and political considerations that contribute to the proliferation of the research discussion. Reconstructing an intricate system of overlapping layers, Faces of Displacement offers new perspectives for the exploration of Vynnychenko’s works and for the investigation of literature that emerges on the edges of consciousness when homelands and hostlands intersect.
In addition to an insightful analysis of works that establish Vynnychenko’s literary reputation (The Black Panther and the Polar Bear (1911), The Solar Machine (1928), The Leprosarium (1938), to name but a few), Faces of Displacement also considers the writer’s political activity and love of painting as one of significant factors. This consideration allows to present Vynnychenko’s works in the context of interdisciplinary investigations: Vynnychenko’s political aspirations appear to have been informed by his ethic and aesthetic principles; conversely, political and ideological nuances are part of the writer’s literary vision.
In Ukraine, Vynnychenko’s works were banned for a few decades. His final novel, Take the Floor, Stalin! (1950) was first published outside the writers homeland. Ironically, hostlands seem to have transformed into homelands for Vynnychenko’s works. This ironic transformation proves a fragile border that separates homeland and hostland. With Faces of Displacement, Mykola Soroka contributes to the conversation about writing that negotiates the notion of belongingness: belongingness to ones own self and to others, to one’s own country and to a foreign land. The contours of the latter, however, remain blurry.
Mykola Soroka received a Ph.D. in Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta (2005). His research interests are Ukrainian culture and literature, Ukrainian-Russian cultural contacts, and interdisciplinary approaches to the issues of displacement, identity, ethnicity, and nationalism.