A mondegreen is something that is heard improperly by someone who then clings to that misinterpretation as fact. Fittingly, Volodymyr Rafeyenko’s novel Mondegreen: Songs about Death and Love explores the ways that memory and language construct our identity, and how we hold on to it no matter what. The novel tells the story of Haba Habinsky, a refugee from Ukraine’s Donbas region, who has escaped to the capital city of Kyiv at the onset of the Ukrainian-Russian war. His physical dislocation—and his subsequent willful adoption of the Ukrainian language—place the protagonist in a state of disorientation during which he is forced to challenge his convictions. Written in beautiful, experimental style, the novel shows how people—and cities—are capable of radical transformation and how this, in turn, affects their interpersonal relations and cultural identification. Taking on crucial topics stirred by Russian aggression that began in 2014, the novel stands out for the innovative and probing manner in which it dissects them, while providing a fresh Donbas perspective on Ukrainian identity.
True to its title, Rafeyenko’s Mondegreen is a tapestry of Soviet rock lyrics, traditional folk ballads, the poems of Taras Shevchenko, and contemporary literary memes, all filtered through the ears of a Ukrainian language learner…Given the complexity of the text, it’s astonishing how much Andryczyk was able to impart in his English version. Moreover, the translation leaves the reader not with a sense of loss but with a feeling that over the horizon there is a tantalizingly rich and vibrant world that one can only access if they too learn Ukrainian…Mondegreen is truly indulgent, a lyrical celebration of words and their power, not just to express but to transform.
Playful and allusive, with bursts of fantasy and nightmare, in the tradition of magic realism.
- 204 pages
- 5 x 8 inches
- Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute
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