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Literary Criticism Russian & Former Soviet Union

Ukrainian Epic and Historical Song

Folklore in Context

by (author) Natalie Kononenko

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Apr 2019
Russian & Former Soviet Union, Eastern
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2019
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  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Apr 2019
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Ukrainian epic, or dumy, were first recorded from blind mendicant minstrels in the nineteenth century, yet they reflect events dating back to as early as the 1300s. Ukrainian Epic and Historical Song provides new translations in contemporary English of these songs of family strife, war, and human dignity. It also explains the historical events celebrated in epic and other historical songs: fierce battles, rebellion against tyranny, the struggles of captivity, the joys of escape from slavery. Natalie Kononenko’s expert translation and analysis of Ukrainian epics provides a sweeping social history of folklore that is vital to Ukrainian identity. A translation of at least one variant of every known epic is included. Whereas earlier trends in folklore scholarship emphasized genre purity and compartmentalization, Kononenko critically examines the events about which songs were sung. Her emphasis on the lives of ordinary people rather than on leaders reshapes our understanding of how epics were composed and performed. Kononenko’s ground-breaking analysis also illuminates Ukrainian self-understanding and explains how songs preserve and perpetuate historical memory. Scholars interested in epic song, history, and general folklore will benefit from this work. Members of the Ukrainian diaspora will find new appreciation of Ukrainian folklore.

About the author

Natalie Kononenko is a professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta and holds the Kule Chair in Ukrainian Ethnography.

Natalie Kononenko's profile page


  • Winner, Barbara Heldt Prize for Best Translation awarded by Association of Women in Slavic Studies

Editorial Reviews

"Kononenko weaves translations of entire poems directly into her historicizing analyses. This manner of presentation makes for an integrated and coherent reading experience that all who pick up this volume will appreciate."

<em>Journal of Folklore Research</em>

"This volume, with its meticulous attention to detail and comprehensive coverage of a significant aspect of Ukrainian history is the product of Kononenko’s many years of dedicated research on folklore and the folk epic, and their part in shaping the Ukrainian consciousness."

<em>Slavic Review</em>