Ukrainian Vignettes is a series of essays by Maria K. about a growing up in Soviet Ukraine spanning a period of time from 1970's to present. A vivid picture of life in a world most Americans have never even glimpsed.
This book takes its inspiration from the StoryCorps project, whose amazing and incredibly touching stories can be regularly heard on NPR. As we listened to the StoryCorps interview, Gerry and I have frequently speculated who we would select for a story booth chat, given an opportunity. While my choices ranged from completely unrealisic (a hetera from Ancient Greece, Isaac Azimov, Elton John) to somewhat more traditional, although still unrealisic (my late grandfather), one of Gerry's top-of-the-list candidates was...me.
"Why me? I am just a person. I haven't really done or seen much, haven't been anywhere - not really. What would you ask me?" I questioned in a mild state of shock. As far as I was concerned, my "fascinating life quotient" didn't come anywhere near that of - well - the Greek hetera, Isaac Azimov, Elton John or even my late grandfather.
"Think about it," Gerry urged, "You come from a whole other country. I would ask you about everything you could remember: what it was like growing up, what your kindergarten was like, how you went to school, what you read, how you got along with your family. All these things are completely different from the way they are here. I find them interesting. Other people would too."
At the time, I had only just published Stories for Anastasia, and - despite the fact that I had yet to sell a single copy - I want to write more. I had a number of translation projects going on, including my grandfather's book about the Leningrad Blockade (The Ring of Nine), which I was typing and editing in Russian and translating into English at the same time. Translating existing literary works, however, is not quite the same as creating your own. The authors have already done all the hard work, and a translator is merely someone who introduces this work to a new audience, the way an announcer introduces a famous tenor during a concert, only to leave the tenor in the spotlight and disappear in the wings. I didn't mind doing the introductions, but I also wanted to be a part of that great ongoing performance called literature.
To keep myself from having any further excuses not to write, I dutifully checked the StoryCorps web site. It turned out that a time limit for an interview was 60 minutes (definitely not enough for all the questions Gerry said he wanted to ask me) and that we would have to go to New York Coty in order to get to nearest booth. Thus, in order to provide comprehensive answers to as many questions about growing up in Ukraine as I could think of, it had to be a book. So, without further ado - here it is: what started as a thought about doing a StoryCorps interview and ended up being Ukrainian Vignettes
According to my parents and grandparents, I had a bit of a rough start. First of all, my mom had a hip injury, which resulted in a bone tumor, which, in its turn caused years and years of various treatments, including surgery and radiation, plus strict instructions from every doctor who had ever treated her to never, ever subject herself to anything as physically demanding as pregnancy and childbirth. But Mom was stubborn, not to mention outrageously optimistic - she wanted a baby and she was going to have it no matter what.