What is Told

Askold Melnyczuk, Author
Askold Melnyczuk, Author Faber & Faber $21.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-571-19830-6
Reviewed on: 02/28/1994
Release date: 03/01/1994
Paperback - 201 pages - 978-0-571-19865-8
Paperback - 202 pages - 978-0-9836774-2-0
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At once scathingly comic and tragic, this exceptional first novel is imbued with a deep sense of the importance of history as it follows three generations of a Ukrainian family from the outbreak of WW I to the U.S. of the '50s and '60s. Art history professor Zenon Zabobon weds a peasant girl, Natalka, on the day Archduke Ferdinand is shot in Sarajevo--an inauspicious omen for their mismatch. Zenon traces his lineage to 10th-century Toor Zabobon, king of the Rozdorizhans, whose battles against Tartars provide counterpoint to the Bolshevik invasion of the Ukraine. Having survived the upheavals of WW I and the Russian Revolution, Zenon tempts fate during WW II by hiding Jews in his apartment even while carrying on a reckless affair with a German captain's wife. The war's end finds Zenon, Natalka and their family in a displaced persons' camp in Berchtesgaden, near Hitler's ``Eagle's Nest'' hideaway. Moving to Manhattan in 1950, then to New Jersey, the clan copes with suburbia, uprootedness, menial jobs, suspicious neighbors and personal disintegration. Melnyczuk, who teaches at Boston University and edits the journal Agni , is a wonderful writer and a virtuoso stylist. The novel loses its fizz in the second half, dealing with America, but it should astonish readers nevertheless. (Mar.)
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