Historical fiction and stories for children about the Holodomor:
For younger readers:
~ Enough by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch. Full page color illustrations by Michael Martchenko. Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2000.
With wonderful full page color illustrations by Michael Martchenko, Skrypuch gently introduces younger readers to the Holodomor. This warm-hearted story of a plucky young girl during the famine and her adventures promotes caring and resourcefulness while providing a non-threatening lesson on the consequences of power and greed.
~ “The Rings“,by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch. Published in Kobzar’s Children: A Century of Stories by Ukrainians, pp. 70 -80. Suitable for young teens. Markham, ON: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2006.
According to the author, this story of a young boy’s experiences is based on a number of first-hand accounts of those who survived the Holodomor.
For older teens and adults:
~ Animal Farm by George Orwell. New York: New American Library, 1956. (and other editions)
According to Orwell, Animal Farm is a satirical tale against Stalin. Concerned by “how easily totalitarian propaganda can control the opinion of enlightened people in democratic countries” Orwell “thought of exposing the Soviet myth in a story that could be easily understood by almost anyone.” Although there are many interpretations of what events the different episodes in the book represent, many would agree that much of the work carries the Soviet experience “from the idealism of the Russian revolution to Stalin’s forced collectivization, famine, and mass arrests.” See also: Chalupa, Andrea. “How ‘Animal Farm’ Gave Hope to Stalin’s Refugees,” The Atlantic, Mar 1, 2012. And: Orwell, George. “Preface to the Ukrainian Edition of Animal Farm”, March 1947.
~ A Hunger Most Cruel: Selected Prose Fiction by Anatoliy A. Dimarov, Yevhen Hutsalo, Olena Zvychayna. Edited by Sonia V. Morris and translated by Roma Z. Franko. Winnipeg: Language Lanterns Publications, 2002.
Two longer stories by Dimarov and Hutsalo, and 4 short stories by Zvychayna. No superheroes here; only the courage and the dignity of a few in these harsh portrayals of life during the famine. Both Dimarov and Hutsalo present interwoven vignettes of ordinary people trapped in a slow, inexorable descent to extinction. Dimarov captures particularly well how the mechanics of terror, intimidation, deceit and betrayal were worked into village society, while Hutsalo portrays the nightmarish surrealism that went for life in the famine stricken villages. Zvychayna’s stories present the stark contrasts and ironies of life in the city, particularly between the well-to-do Party elite and starving villagers.
~ Everything Flows by Vasily Grossman. New York Review of Books Classics. 2010. (latest translation by Robert Chandler).
Critically acclaimed work reflecting on the tragedies of Soviet life from the perspective of a gulag survivor. Originally published in Russian in 1964. A particularly harrowing chapter describes the Ukraine famine through the eyes of a former communist enforcer. Chandler writes: (p. viii) “This chapter about the least-known act of genocide of the last century is subtle, complex, and unbearably lucid. Only Dante…has written of death from hunger with equal power.”
A previous translation is also available with the following title: Vasily S. Grossman Forever Flowing. New York: Harper & Row, 1972. Translated by Thomas P. Whitney.
~ Stones Under the Scythe by Olha Mak. Translated by Vera Kaczmarskyj. Bloomington: iUniverse, 2011. Ages 13+
A riveting coming of age story set in Kharkiv, during the height of the famine genocide in the winter of 1933. Through the eyes of 15 year old Andriy, who has escaped the murder and starvation that struck his family in the village, we see both the devastation of a once comfortable life in the countryside as well as the desperate fight for survival in the city. After a miraculous rescue by a genteel, mysterious, impoverished widow, he now faces daily heart-
wrenching decisions of whom to help and how, when he barely has enough for anyone. He also befriends another teen and is drawn into his struggles to survive. Andriy’s life becomes even more complicated when the kind widow disappears one day, setting the stage for the dramatic and unexpected climax. Andriy’s simple, yet almost Socratic discussions with his wise benefactress and his own youthful soul searching present some of the most thoughtful , down to earth writing on what it means to be a caring human being under the most inhuman circumstances.
~ Sweet Snow by Alexander J. Motyl. Somerville, MA: Cervena Barva Press, 2013. (for mature audiences).
Not for the faint hearted! From the book cover: “SWEET SNOW is set in the winter of 1933 in Ukraine. A terrible famine is raging in the countryside, while the Soviet secret police is arresting suspected spies in the cities. A German nobleman from Berlin, a Jewish communist from New York, a Polish diplomat from Lwów, and a Ukrainian nationalist from Vienna … are being transported to another prison, their van overturns, their guards are killed, and they are freed—to wander amidst the devastated villages, desolate landscapes, snowbound villages, and frozen corpses. As they struggle to survive, they come to grips with the horror of the famine as well as with their own delusions, weaknesses, and mortality.”
The early pages of the book are filled with taunting, flip verbal volleys among the four prisoners. But ultimately, the subjects of those conversations become a painfully ironic counterpoint to the reality of the circumstances. If you can force yourself to read beyond the horrific experience that greets the characters upon the first night of their “escape,” you will find yourself steeled somewhat against the continued, slightly less extreme assaults against one’s sense of humanity that follow. In the tiny oeuvre of historical fiction available in English on the Holodomor, no other work comes to mind that presents such a darkly bleak portrait of the devastation wreaked on the soul of Ukraine. It is haunting and unforgettable.
~ “The Bourgeois Woman” by Mykola Ponedilok. Translated by Maria Kiciuk. Ages 13+
First appeared in Ukrainian as “Burzhuyka” in the collection Hovory lyshe pole (Only the Field Speaks) 1962, Homin Ukrainy, Toronto. Heartbreaking story of a mother’s attempts to reclaim her daughter from a children’s center, where she had left the child in the hope it might survive the famine.
~ Maria: The Chronicle of a Life by Ulas Samchuk. Edited by Paul Cipywnyk and translated by Roma Z. Franko. Toronto: Language Lanterns Publications, 2011.
“A gripping story about a village woman’s loves, losses, and daily toil, from the emancipation of serfs in 1861 to one of the most tragic periods in human history– the 1932-33 Holodomor, or Famine-Genocide,” from editor’s introduction on the publisher’s website.
Book 3, “the Book of Bread” of this sweeping drama, provides a truly poignant, without being maudlin depiction of what it might have been to experience the Holodomor. There is definitely a movie waiting to be made from this novel.