Book Review: Crossing the Border by Ksenia Rychtycka

Audio review and interview with Myra

… as heard on Nash Holos August 11, 2013

Anthology explores realities of memory and today’s Ukraine

Review by Myra Junyk

Crossing the Border, Ksenia Rychtycka’s first anthology of short stories, explores the lives of Ukrainians in Ukraine and in other countries. Her poignant stories focus on family relationships, hope, and self-discovery.

Rychtycka doesn’t shy away from the complex political realities of Ukraine. The first story, “Homecoming,” describes Vera’s journey to her hometown of Krynytsia in Ukraine. She is coming back to visit her cousin Stefko after 47 years. Vera is surprised, disappointed and disillusioned by what she finds in the “new” Ukraine—including that her cousin has become a collaborating communist in order to survive.“40 Days” is a realistic look at more recent Ukrainian political developments. Luba is mourning the suspicious death of Roman, her politician husband. She wishes for Roman’s democratic dreams for Ukraine to come true, but realizes “that is hoping for a lot.”The final story, “Orange in Bloom,” describes the involvement of an elderly widow in the highly charged days of the Orange Revolution. Her fervent belief in the freedom of Ukraine is a definite sign of hope for the future.

Rychtycka also skillfully weaves in references to Ukraine’s history into her stories. In “The Artist,” Valeriy returns to Kyiv after a year studying art in Chicago only to find everything has changed. The country is being run by questionable Ukrainians with “slicked-back hair” and cell phones glued to their ears. He yearns for the “old days” as he struggles to start painting again. He visits the iconic Golden Gates of Kyiv which protected the city from the Mongols and imagines them as they looked when the French king sent envoys to ask for the hand of one of King Yaroslav’s daughters.

In “The Bell Tower,” a courageous villager risks his life and liberty during the Soviet era to ring the bell of the deserted church before Christmas. Even in the immigrant communities of the United States, Ukrainian history and traditions continue to be important.

In “Tricks of the Eye,” the depressed divorcee Anna tries to fill her days by attending church weddings and baking traditional Ukrainian wedding birds – even though some of the newly married couples are not Ukrainian!

One of the strongest images in this anthology is “Babtsia.” The image of the strong and competent Ukrainian grandmother caring for the emotional and spiritual needs of future generations is skillfully portrayed by Rychtycka.

In “The Artist,” Valeriy trusts only his Babtsia to care for his paintings. In “Whitewashed Sojourn,” Sophika repeatedly thinks about her memories of Babtsia as she travels through Greece with Dmitri. And finally in the story “Babtsia,” Lina, an American teenager visiting Ukraine for the first time, learns to love and care for her elderly grandmother in her tiny village home.

Ksenia Rychtycka was born in Chicago and raised in Hamtramck, Michigan. She is a first-generation Ukrainian-American writer. Ksenia’s short stories and poems have appeared in several literary magazines including: The Dalhousie Review, The Literary Bohemian, and Wisconsin Review. Ksenia worked as an editor in Kyiv, Ukraine, from 1996-2000, an experience which inspired several stories in her collection Crossing the Border. She lives in the Detroit area with her husband and daughter and works as a freelance copy editor.

Ksenia Rychtycka’s first anthology, Crossing the Border, shows her potential as a writer. She has a very good sense of voice and character, although at times she does tend to step in and state the obvious, rather than allow the characters to speak for themselves.

Nevertheless, readers will be delighted with her stories. . Her anthology explores many important themes including family relationships, political activism, and self-awareness. She portrays her characters realistically, and Ukrainian cities and villages come alive in her descriptions.

Readers should definitely look forward to new works by Ksenia Rychtycka!

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Available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle

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Rychtycka, Ksenia.
Little Creek Books, 2012. 113 p.
ISBN 978-1-939289-01-8

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