Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Fiction Historical


Daughter of Sorrow

by (author) Valentina Gal

Guernica Editions
Initial publish date
May 2019
Historical, War & Military
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    May 2019
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


Philipovna: The Daughter of Sorrow is a creative non-fiction based on the author's mother's surviving the holodomor [the Ukrainian starvation] in the early 1930's. It is the story of an orphan who goes to live with her aunt in a rural village in the Ukrainian countryside. The aunt swears on her dead sister's Bible that Vera Philipovna will survive no matter what might befall the family. No one foresees the horrors that they will have to face between the fall of 1930 and the spring of 1933. In the end, out of a healthy extended family, only Philipovna, a cousin and the aunt survive. The acts of real savagery that are perpetrated on the village are unflinchingly narrated by a pre-pubescent girl, who also gives us a good grasp of the beauty and richness of the Ukrainian culture with its superstitions, customs and celebrations. From the author: "The story is one of resilience and survival. It is my attempt to restore the voice of a generation that has been silenced and buried. It is a conflation of my mother's stories, years of detailed research and my own insight of a child having to face adult challenges long before she is ready."

About the author

Valentina Gal is the blind daughter of Ukrainian immigrants who settled in Hamilton Ontario after WWII.  While at McMaster University, she discovered that her city was diverse and peopled by colourful characters.  Her writing and storytelling explore both her mother’s tragic history and her family’s adventures in becoming first generation Canadians.

Valentina Gal's profile page

Excerpt: Philipovna: Daughter of Sorrow (by (author) Valentina Gal)

I started down the path toward the orchard. I was so involved in my mind's wanderings that I almost bumped into the stooped, old man who was walking up the path toward me."Good day Uncle," said Xenkovna from behind me. "What can I do for you this morning?""Xenkovna, don't you recognize me?" he asked.Then it dawned on me."Uncle Paulo?" I asked. "Is that you, really?" "Philipovna, mind your manners." Xenkovna stepped up on the path beside me.We stared at him as if we'd never seen him before. This once solid well-built, robust man with ruddy cheeks and kind eyes looked as if he'd emerged from a grave. His gray skin hung in bags from his cheeks and chin and his eyes had lost their brown lustre. It looked as if every step would be his last."Is that really you?" Xenkovna, who usually could control her composure as well as Auntie, wept openly. "Come in, come in. Mama will be glad to see you. I'm sure we'll find a cup of tea - or something for you."We turned back into the house and found Auntie praying before the icon."For the love of God, what have they done to you?" she exclaimed upon recognizing Uncle Paulo. She stopped and took a long look too."I haven't got much strength left," he said. "Is Misha around here somewhere? I'd like to say what I have to say to the both of you.""No, he's not. The Comrades came and collected the men to bring in wood today," said Auntie. She proceeded to tell Uncle Paulo what happened over the last winter since he had been here for his chess game."Dear God," he sighed and wiped his eyes with his sleeve. "How wrong I was. Please tell Misha that he's right. Though these devils have broken our spirit and taken our land, by the Cross, Misha is right and has been right all along. They will surely defeat us and I say by the Name of our Saviour, they will be worse than any Czar we've ever known. They preach well-being and prosperity but they'll take everything we have and all we stand for."The tears flowed freely over his sunken cheeks."But we know all of that," he continued. "I guess Misha doesn't really need to hear it again. Would you please tell him that I came to ask for his forgiveness? I doubt I'll see the end of this week. I couldn't go to my precious Maria without asking you to pardon me. I should have never given them my land. My heart broke in two when I watched them chase your Children out of my cherries. I used to love to see the joy on all of the faces that my orchard blessed. My dear neighbour, by the Grace of God, I ask for your forgiveness too." He reached for Auntie's hand and kissed it.Xenkovna and I stared at him in silence."I have one more thing to tell you," he went on. "Take Philipovna away from here. Take her as far away as you can, so that Ivan can't get his hands on her. After he and Simon found out what she said to Asimov, they've been looking for pay back. I won't say what he threatened as she is so young and still innocent but you must get her away - at all costs or death will be the least of her trials."He wiped the sweat off his forehead and finished his tea while we three women sat with our mouths gaping."Where should I take her?" Auntie was the first to speak. "Where? Do you have any ideas?""But I don't want to go anywhere," I protested."What you want, Child, is irrelevant," said Uncle Paulo. "What we all want doesn't matter. We want you to survive. That's what matters. If you young ones don't make it, our lives are worth nothing. Our history, our culture, it'll all surely die. I won't make it; but you must! You must. For the love of God, for the love of our land and for the love of our ancestors, you must."He said goodbye and went on his way. We didn't get up to see him to the door. We were so stunned by what he had come to say. We knew that we would never see him again. His words rang in our ears. Each one of us knew that the others were playing them over and over in our minds but we didn't have the energy to speak or move for a very long time."Come along," Auntie, finally said. She got up from her chair and went into the room where Mama's sewing machine was. She pulled out her trunk and started rifling through its contents."We have to find something that we can wrap around you under your clothes," she said. "I don't imagine that they keep a good fire at the orphanage. Now put on this shirt under your blouse. It's old but it will keep you warm." She handed me one of the boy cousins under garments."Orphanage!" I screamed at her. "I don't want to go. I won't go. I'll run away the first chance I get." I stamped my foot."Settle down Child. Today isn't the first time I've thought of taking you there," Auntie admitted. "I promised your mother, on her bible - see. It's right here. I look at it often and remember. If no one else survives, you have to - you must. I promised."Her tears flowed and she clutched the bible in the same way as I remembered her doing on the day that Godfather decided that I should go with her. She put her arms around me with Mama's bible between our chests."Do it for your precious Mama, if you can't do it for me," she whispered. "God has set you aside for something. I don't know what it is, but I'm sure there is something special that you are being prepared for. Please, Child, do it for your Mama if you can't for me. I promised your Mama and Godfather...there is no other way. You must survive." I put on two layers of clothing under my regular blouse; I wrapped my feet with extra rags and stuffed them into a pair of felt boots. Auntie took a small bundle of poppy tea and told me to keep it under my inner clothing."Don't use this all of the time," she said. "Save it for those nights that you absolutely can't sleep or when you really can't tolerate the pain. It will stand you in good stead if you can manage it. And, for the love of our Blessed Jesus, don't let any grownup find you with it. You're smart enough to do this."She tucked some raw carrots into another small bundle. She found the Unravelled One's coat that she had almost frozen to death in last winter. She put ashes into her dark brown hair, although she didn't have to use as many as last time. She kissed Xenkovna goodbye and waited while Xenkovna hugged me with her tears falling all over my face."Tell the men what happened," she said. "I'll be back as soon as I can. At least I won't freeze my hands and feet off this time."

Related lists