“A History of Ukraine” – Oleksandr Palii

This book is a great starting point for someone who would like to get a better understanding about the country of Ukraine, its history, culture and traditions. Or in my case, it was a good refresher on the history of the country, after countless years have passed since my Ukrainian school education. I read it in parallel in both Ukrainian and in English, whereas the translated version unfortunately had countless shortcomings.

To start with the positive points – the book is highly illustrated, with images on every other page. This permits to dive deeper into the stories and get a better understanding of them. National clothing, old documents or paintings of old powerful rulers of nations – you will get to see all that and much more. An extremely detailed insight into every point of history is given, starting as far back as within the Prehistoric times. A really nuanced view is therefore created, comprehensively depicting how all the different nations of the world are intertwined.

For those who were always wondering about the Ukrainian language, how different it is from Russian and whether the “Russian Empire” was the base of everything “slavic” – you will have everything explained really clearly and will hopefully never have to ask that question again 😉

The Ukrainian language was for the first time recorded in Ruskaia Pravda, a collection of laws, and especially in household inscriptions and the charters of princes (the 10th until the 12th centuries). […] In contrast, the Russian language was formed in the 12th to the 14th centuries […].

p. 139, 141

Ukrainian was first recorded in print in 1490, soon after book printing was invented. In the first half of the 17th century hundreds of books were printed in Ukraine, while Muscovy had just a handful.

p. 303

Nevertheless, the negative parts within the book took a bit of an upper hand for me unfortunately. The three main disappointing points for me were that:

  • Too much focus was placed on the ancient times for my taste as I would have enjoyed reading more about the contemporary history of Ukraine. It’s especially evident with the ending. The book was published in 2021 but the last chapters jump from Russia’s attack on Crimea in 2014, to the presidential election in 2019, without providing any up-to-date details. Why not add on the latest state of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine?

  • The editing of the translated English version was honestly… a disaster. So many mistakes and formatting errors have made it into print that it left me wondering what the editor was doing instead of taking care of the book? I have marked 17 instances where some kind of an error was made and it just didn’t add to the professionalism of the publishing house. For the table of contents, a mistake was made with the page number of the third chapter, meaning that the rest of the page numbers were unusable and wrong for the next 210 pages of the book. My judgement goes so far that I would stay away from purchasing any translated work published by A-BA-BA-HA-LA-MA-HA. The Ukrainian version looked fine to me though, so these must be mistakes that have been brought in through the translation.

  • Not too much of an effort was made with the style the book was written in. It unfortunately read like a school textbook, so that I literally had to force myself to read it until the very end. It was very dry and often felt like a listing of different dates and battles.

If you don’t attribute too much importance to the points mentioned above, this book fulfills its purpose well in illustrating the spirit of the Ukrainian people. Their longing for justice, independence, human rights and the never ceasing pride in their nation. So regardless a couple of problems, it still stays a very educative book, that will leave you feeling more informed after its reading experience.

“A History of Ukraine” – Oleksandr Palii

★★★☆☆ (3/5)

Edition: ISBN 978-617-585-209-5

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