Sunday, 7 May 2017

Borderland, by Anna Reid

Anna Reid, Borderland: A Journey through the History of Ukraine, Second edition 2015 Weidenfield and Nicolson, London

This book felt similar to Simon Winder's Germania and Danubia, which combined travel writing with historical exposition. Anna Reid tells the story of the history of Ukraine, while also giving a very vivid picture of what Ukraine looks and feels like. Where it differs from Winder's books is in the interviews she conducts with Ukrainians. Her focus is on modern Ukraine and the direction she has been going.

This is a second edition. The original edition was published in 1997 and some pretty significant events have happened since then. The updated edition includes chapters covering the Orange Revolution, Maidan, the Russian occupation of Crimea and the Russian backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine, as well as reflections on Ukrainian politics and the nation's future. Of opposition politician and former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, Reid says most Ukrainians think her incarceration put her in 'the right place for the wrong reasons.'

This is a very interesting book and was mostly very enjoyable to read, if at times a little depressing, as Reid focuses a lot on the tragedies that have sadly befallen Ukraine. It is somewhat biased in its negative portrayal of the country and might come across as having a rather condescending western tone of superiority. The impression she gives is of Ukraine being a morass of corruption and kleptocracy, ignoring the progress and reforms that have been achieved. While Reid does not seem to be a fan of Putin, some readers have detected something of a pro-Russian bias to the book. The title seems problematic, serving the narrative that Ukraine is not a legitimate nation, but a collision of frontiers. Is Ukraine a borderland? If she is, she is a very big one.

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