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.