Author : Oksana Zabuzhko
Publisher: AmazonCrossing
ISBN : 9781611090116

A museum is a cultural repository of relics, artistic and functional. The interpretation of beautiful, strange or frightening objects in modern times is often dependent on the memories passed down through word of mouth or written record by the long ago creators/users of these items. Memories, particularly when they relate to human endeavour can be unreliable, prejudices and political allegiances often taint historical narratives.

Oksana Zabuzhko’s novel, The Museum Of Abandoned Secrets pursues the truth about life in World War II by researching and quizzing memories of people who lived and fought during this period. Truth, always elusive, memories are not always forthcoming or welcome and cast shadows on current day relationships. Set in contemporary Ukraine, it tells the story of two modern day women, Daryna, a TV journalist and Vlada, a well known artist. Daryna, fascinated by an archival picture of Olena, a World War II Ukrainian insurgent soldier, begins research for a documentary to reveal the facts surrounding Olena’s life and death. She meets and falls in love with Olena’s grandson, Adrian. War, a terrible event, whenever or wherever it occurs, Daryna’s search uncovers a dark past where secrets are still the local currency, memories distorted or silenced because the truth is too traumatic or dangerous to reveal. Daryna’s choice is: whether to dig up the past and accept the consequences or abandon the secrets of Olena’s life and let silence; the silence of the grave prevail.

The author, Oksana Zabuzhko, a prize winning Ukrainian poet, researched the book by collecting recorded evidence and anecdotal eyewitness accounts of the Nazi occupation in Lviv from local residents, Holocaust survivors, World War II veterans and members of the Ukranian Insurgent Army.

The Museum Of Abandoned Secrets is a large (708 pages) sprawling book which alternates between what could have been two novels – the present day romance set in a 2003 corrupt, slightly crazy, post Communist Ukraine struggling to emerge from the shackles of an oppressive Russian government and the tragic love story of Olena and her Free Ukrainian Army lover. The story does jump about a bit, perhaps, because the author was trying to mimic the way memory works in human minds – we know we are at the office but something triggers a return to childhood events and for a time reality takes a different turn. Once I accepted the episodic prose style I became absorbed in both stories. Zabuzhko’s wonderfully creative descriptive passages and dialogue weaves an exciting entrancing story of a country and people rarely available to western readers - top marks to translator, Nina Shevchuk-Murray. Included in the story are some events that did occur in Ukraine between 1943 to 2003 which provide a historical context to the novel’s theme; how memories of events resonate and shape the lives of future generations. I do think it’s a mistake though, to think that the book is intended as a definitive guide to Ukranian history during this period. If readers would like to research further there are references at the back of the text.

Immerse yourself in this lovely book, let the funny, brave, idealistic, wildly romantic characters surround you – The Museum of Abandoned Secrets is a great read.   

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