In this debut, Mohuchy assumes his father’s voice to tell his harrowing story of survival in Ukraine before and during World War II.
Mykola, the son of a clergyman, watches as his peasant village is co-opted by the Bolshevik Revolution in 1919. Forced to leave the seminary and flee for his life, Mykola joins a group of orphans in the city of Dnipropetrovsk and assumes a new identity. There he meets his wife, Mila, and learns that his parents are not dead but fearing for their lives. Mykola takes a job at a newspaper, but the imprisonment of his father in the gulag returns him to his religious calling, and he becomes a missionary during the despotic regimes of Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler. The biography ends with Mykola and his family preparing for another long journey away from Soviet persecution. In this book’s notes, the author claims to have used his father’s papers to craft his meticulously detailed descriptions of the Ukrainian countryside, family dwellings and childhood memories—but readers may wonder how much of the book is a strict translation of his father’s writings and how much Mohuchy wrote himself. Either way, the book is sensually rich, depicting the smells and tastes of wartime as well as the warmth of family and friendships that Mykola depends upon for survival. Despite the dire historical context, Mohuchy portrays his subjects as having open hearts, humor and hope. Religion, as a political and spiritual tool, is filtered through the lens of the time and never devolves into sermonizing. However, the book’s dialogue is its weakest point, as it’s re-created in long swathes that deliver crucial exposition.
A heartbreaking, if occasionally uneven, account of life and death in Ukraine’s darkest hour.