2015. Tim Duggan Books. Hardcover. 257 pages.
British journalist Tim Judah’s book In Wartime is a collection of short dispatches from towns and regions around the country of Ukraine. These dispatches are mainly focused on current events – the aftermath of the Maidan Revolution, the annexation of Crimea, the fighting in the east. However, the book is also an exploration of Ukraine’s history and its citizens’ framing and understanding of that history.
I was not keen on the structure of this book. The author could not seem to decide whether the chapters were independent pieces or part of a greater whole. That said, I learned a lot about Ukraine that I didn’t know before. It’s a country that has seen repeated upheaval of its population: the Holocaust, war, famine, forcible exile and relocation. Many towns and regions are full of residents who have only lived there for a generation or two.
There were also thematic through-lines, even if the structure didn’t develop those themes as much as it could have. Themes include the interpretation of history (as mentioned before), the complicated nature of national identity in the region, and the havoc wreaked by corruption.
Russia’s disinformation campaigns in Ukraine was a topic covered in the book that was of course of interest to me, considering their own disinformation campaigns in my country. I think people overestimate their independence of thought, and underestimate the power of such campaigns to influence popular framing of people and events.
Overall, I found the book slow going due to the structure, but I’m glad I read it, as I feel more informed about Ukraine and the challenges it faces as a country.
I received a copy of this book for review via Blogging for Books.
Excerpts from others’ reviews:
Hadrian (from Goodreads): “Gives the locals plenty of space to talk about themselves, and takes pains to understand the historical roots (and the exploitation of history) behind current grievances. At turns gruesome and understated. Important stuff.”
Lance Charnes (from Goodreads) “The effect is pointillistic: a quote here, a poignant sight there, a bit of history to explain a particular point, some fact-checking. When you pull back, the dots become a picture. He reports what his interviewees say, but he later debunks their more egregious lies and fantasies (which are distressingly common; weaponized history and fake news are like air there, especially in the eastern part of the country).
Maphead’s Book Blog – “While perhaps not a page-turning, nevertheless it’s probably the best book out there when it comes to showing just how complex and, well, horribly messed-up the situation has been in Ukraine.”