Book Review: Orwell and the Refugees—The Untold Story of Animal Farm

Andrea Chalupa’s Orwell and the Refugees traces the amazing connection between George Orwell’s classic novel Animal Farm and Ukrainian refugees in the displaced persons camps of postwar Germany and Austria. Animal Farm carries the message of hope that someone in the West knew the truth about the Soviet Union, that someone understood the unimaginable horrors Ukrainians and others endured behind the Iron Curtain.

When Andrea Chalupa’s grandfather Olexji Keis, her grandmother Alexandra and uncle Vitalij immigrated to the United States in 1951, one of their few possessions was a Ukrainian translation of Orwell’s masterpiece Animal Farm. It had been published in Munich in 1947 by a group of Ukrainian refugees at a small press called Prometej. The remarkable story of the collaboration between the world-renowned novelist George Orwell and these Ukrainian refugees is the focus of Chalupa’s book Orwell and the Refugees.

After spending years writing Animal Farm, George Orwell could not find a publisher brave enough to publish it during World War II since it was viewed as anti-Soviet satire. The book was not welcome in the literary world because the West needed Stalin to fight Hitler. As well, many leading intellectuals still believed in the Russian Revolution. Orwell finally managed to publish his book in 1945 at the small British press Secker & Warburg. Six months later, Ihor Ševčenko, a Ukrainian refugee and linguistics scholar, read Animal Farm and recognized its profound meaning.

Ševčenko wrote to Orwell in London asking permission to publish the book in Ukrainian. Orwell agreed and even wrote an introduction to this edition. In March 1947, Ševčenko printed 5,000 copies for Ukrainian refugees in the displaced persons camps of postwar Germany and Austria. Initially, 2,000 of these books were distributed before American soldiers confiscated them as anti-Soviet propaganda.  They were then given to Soviet authorities to be destroyed.

Andrea Chalupa based her book Orwell and the Refugees on a speech that she gave at the National Press Club in Washington D. C. on March 5th 2012 on the anniversary of Stalin’s death. This book was a very personal journey for the writer.  When her beloved grandfather Olexji died, he left her a journal about his life in Ukraine which included descriptions of the Holodomor, Stalin’s purges, and World War II, as well as his life in the Heidenau displaced person’s camp. She decided to write Orwell and the Refugees to share her family history, “as a reminder of the humanitarian importance of speaking truth to power.”

Readers will be thrilled with Chalupa’s insights into George Orwell’s classic novel Animal Farm. Many will remember reading it in high school with its veiled references to Stalin and Soviet Russia.  However, very few will know the real story behind the novel.  Orwell’s preface to the Ukrainian edition is in fact the only commentary he ever wrote about Animal Farm. This preface will give Orwell enthusiasts a great deal of insight into Orwell’s life and his motivations for writing this brilliant novel.

Andrea Chalupa is a journalist and producer in New York City.  She writes a business column for artists entitled Purpose Inc. for the Big Think website. Andrea also writes for the Huffington Post on business, entertainment, and politics. After graduating from the University of California with a degree in history, Andrea worked in Ukraine. She also attended the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute where she studied with Professor Ihor Ševčenko. His dedication to Ukrainian culture and freedom in the displaced persons camps was the basis for Chalupa’s book Orwell and the Refugees.

Orwell and the Refugees is available as an e-book at Amazon.

Chalupa, Andrea.
ORWELL AND THE REFUGEES – The Untold Story of Animal Farm.
Andrea Chalupa, 2012. 71 p. ASIN: B007JNKF5G
Available in e-Book format at Amazon.
Reviewed by Myra Junyk

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