85 of 89 people found the following review helpful
Read, but mind the caveats!,
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Borderland: A Journey through the History of Ukraine (Paperback)
A book both sweet and sour. Sweet in that it is a well written book on an oft neglected yet fascinating subject. As is often the case, a foreign land seen through the eyes of a visitor, makes for an interesting, revealing, and insightful read. Sour in that the author's point of view is often jaded, cynical, and superficial.
The book is an attempt at writing about complex geopolitical history in an approachable, easy, anectdotal way, and insofar as the book is enjoyable and engaging it is successful, but there are problems with this approach.
While professing a love of Ukraine and Ukrainians, Ukrainian heroes are given short shrift - branded as reactionary nationalists or self-serving opportunists and endowed with obligatory character flaws. Meanwhile, the shadows of Russian historiography loom large over the book, apparent in the coloring of the author's viewpoints - though to her credit, she is bright enough to see through some of the more blatant propaganda which many other authors and academics have blindly accepted. Her innate skepticism comes to her rescue, though often inconsistently.
In truth, it is not completely her fault, as the Russian version of Ukrainian history is the most widespread (the victors get to write the history). That said, one would think that a book devoted to Ukraine from a post empire, post soviet outlook would want to present the facts in a less biased, more informed manner, perhaps giving the Ukrainian version of history some much needed ink to balance the several hundred years of virtual Russian monopoly on Ukrainian history.
Whether intentional or not, and contrary to the author's stated feelings, the book casts Ukraine and Ukrainians in a largely unflattering light - corrupt, inept, devious, inferior, simple, anti-semitic.....all tired Russophile stereotypes popular since the days of Catherine. Never do we get a clear idea of the Ukraine the author fell in love with, or what makes it worthy of such devotion. Reid just cannot seem to give a compliment without following it with a bit of derision. Perhaps she is afraid of seeming biased? In my opinion she went too far the other way, leaving readers with an unsavory impression of the subject of her book.
Nevertheless, read the book for enjoyment or as an introduction to Ukraine. If you are after the historical facts, read Subtelny or Hrushevsky.
Tracked by 2 customers
Sort: Oldest first | Newest first
Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 21, 2012 10:51:08 AM PST
well informed optimist says:
"Sour in that the author's point of view is often jaded, cynical, and superficial."
I could not agree more. Why 4 stars then? 2 would be a compliment, really. I came from the place with rich history. All Anna had to say is what she read in famous writers that came from that town, misrepresented a few facts, and to fil the space added pieces from other geographical areas.
Superficial it is. 4 stars is way too generous!
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 21, 2012 8:37:02 PM PST
Well, I applaud the effort of writing about a pretty obscure subject, and I tend to believe the author does really like Ukraine, but is just misinformed. I thought the writing was good, just not balanced, and did not convey her love of the country and people. Tell you what, lets meet in the middle and say 3?
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 23, 2012 2:37:31 PM PST
Yaroslava Benko says:
Greetings O. Lechnowsky "kozulich" :)
With all due respect, 'kozulich,' writing a book review should not be about 'applauding the effort of writing about a pretty obscure subject.' The author gets her applause when the money starts rolling in and when she receives any awards regarding the authorship of that book, which to my knowledge she has not. Do you also applaud the effort of the kid who took a shovel to the driveway, but after a minute walked away without removing any snow? Do you pay him premium prices just for picking up the shovel and placing it back? Book reviews are supposed to review the contents and merits of the book, but not be a thank you for efforts expended. What if those efforts are to misinform and put out misinformation? Do you also applaud the efforts because they are efforts?
By rating this book four stars (the second highest rating), as of this date, you have accumulated 55 helpful votes, which means that 55 people agreed with your 4-star rating that this book is 'very good.' I doubt that they're agreeing with "but mind the caveats." I find that many, if not most, people vote on Ukrainian materials from a political viewpoint rather than whether a review is helpful or not. If they don't like Ukraine and Ukrainians, you can bet that they'll vote helpful for a book that does disservice to Ukraine and Ukrainians. And, by giving this book four stars, you placed this book in the above average category and recommended it highly for purchase.
Your review is highlighted by Amazon as "the most helpful favorable review." The key operative word here is 'FAVORABLE.' Your review is perceived by Amazon and by readers voting for it as being favorable of this biased book--in other words, you are stating that you like this book enough to give it a B rating (based on a rating of A-F). You're helping to sell copies of this biased book which has Russians on the cover and is in no way representative of an unbiased, impartial, objective history of Ukraine.
Yet, despite your very favorable review of this book, in your review you state opinions to the contrary of what one would expect from such a high rating. You lace your review with such negative observations as: "the author's point of view is often jaded, cynical, and superficial...there are problems...Ukrainian heroes are given short shrift - branded as reactionary nationalists or self-serving opportunists and endowed with obligatory character flaws. Meanwhile, the shadows of Russian historiography loom large over the book, apparent in the coloring of the author's viewpoints...would want to present the facts in a less biased, more informed manner, perhaps giving the Ukrainian version of history some much needed ink to balance the several hundred years of virtual Russian monopoly on Ukrainian history... the book casts Ukraine and Ukrainians in a largely unflattering light - corrupt, inept, devious, inferior, simple, anti-semitic (sic)...all tired Russophile stereotypes popular since the days of Catherine. Never do we get a clear idea of the Ukraine the author fell in love with, or what makes it worthy of such devotion. Reid just cannot seem to give a compliment without following it with a bit of derision. Perhaps she is afraid of seeming biased? In my opinion she went too far the other way, leaving readers with an unsavory impression of the subject of her book."
Had you originally given fewer than three stars, it would have helped to lower the ranking of this biased book. Whatever you wrote in your review, the star rankings told a different story. Your four stars gave this book a 'very good' or 'B' as far as content, for reviews are supposed to rate the content and not the intent of the author.
What you think and what you gave the book in star ratings do not in any way jive with reality.
You state that the book is well written. There are very many well-written books that are filled with misinformation and disinformation on Ukraine. The author has effectively presented her slanted version, which is extremely pro-Russian and anti-Ukrainian. Ms. Reid presents it in an engaging style that is not only readable, but that also leaves a lasting impression, which is an unfortunate by-product! Since it is so readable, the reader falls into a comfortable position of trusting her and the words that follow. That this biased, anti-Ukrainian impression will last with readers of her book is the real harm/damage that she has committed and continues to inflict with each subsequent reading. Please read my review for a point-by-point rebuttal.
The fact that Ukraine was often neglected does not in any way mean that people should go out and purchase books on Ukraine because there are so few of them. A bad book does more harm than no book at all! And the bad reputation that Ukraine, unfortunately, gets as a result of misinformation and disinformation and innuendoes, will take centuries to correct.
You state that "the author's point of view is often jaded, cynical, and superficial." Absolutely correct! Based on that alone, giving a favorable rating, and the second highest at that, is totally inexcusable.
You further state, "the book casts Ukraine and Ukrainians in a largely unflattering light - corrupt, inept, devious, inferior, simple, anti-semitic (sic)...all tired Russophile stereotypes popular since the days of Catherine." Again, this is true! And, if it's true, how can you justify the above average that you've rated this book?
In light of so many negative factors, I fail, try as I might, to see how you gave this book a four-star ranking.
You propose in your comment that "lets meet in the middle and say 3." Saying in your comment "let's make it three" does not change the fact that four stars still appear as your rating. You need to edit your review to show the number of stars that you really want to give to this book.
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 23, 2012 9:04:02 PM PST
Bottom line, I read the book and I'm glad I did. In my opinion, there are far worse books on this subject out there. I believe the author is sympathetic towards Ukraine and Ukrainians, but failed to communicate that effectively. Unfortunately, the subject matter is sparsely covered in popular print. The interested non-academic public has few choices - either read inaccessible academic publications on the subject (not likely unless the reader already has an intense interest), read Russo-Soviet historiography on the subject (like I was subjected to at University), read the small handful of popular press books by English language authors like Reid and Wilson or read nothing at all. The latter would be a pity, since Ukraine richly deserves to be better known, yet has been consigned to obscurity by her oppressors. Lets face it, Wilson's book falls short too. He fails to adequately answer the one question that he set out to answer in writing the book; who and what are Ukrainians. Personally, I would rather have folks read an imperfect treatise, and make them aware of its shortcomings in my review than have them read nothing at all about Ukraine. And perhaps, having read my review, and maybe the book, they would be curious enough to seek out other books to balance Reid's perspective and acquire a more multi-faceted knowledge of a very worthwhile subject. Perhaps you feel differently. You are entitled. If my opinion is way off base, if I am in the small minority, the ratings will bear that out over time.
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 24, 2012 4:46:48 AM PST
Yaroslava Benko says:
I very much encourage you and all readers to visit my Listmania lists where you will find a number of excellent books and excellent authors to read on a variety of topics concerning Ukraine. At present, there are 42 lists which have materials listed by subject. Additionally, please read all of my reviews for they are lengthy for a reason--to pass on information that is verifiable.
Each day, more books become available on the topic of Ukraine. Please use my Listmania lists and reviews as a starting point. Books like Borderland should not be used as references, and I stand emphatically behind my statements, which I've backed up in my review by quotes!
I notice that you still have not changed your star rating to a three--your previous comment (Feb 21, 2012 8:37:02 PM PST) was "tell you what, lets meet in the middle and say 3?"
You say that the author "failed to communicate that effectively." Would you also give a student a 'B' for failing to communicate the correct answers on a test in school? I simply can't follow your logic, hard as I try.
Further, you state, "the ratings will bear that out over time." If ten people all agree that something is white, but twenty people agree that it is black, does that make the ten people correct if information about the twenty people is withheld from the total statistics? The only thing that the stats tell you is that certain people are voting for your point of view. There may be thousands of people who disagree with your point of view but don't buy Amazon products so, therefore, can't vote. Your statement is way off base.
We'll have to agree to disagree.
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 24, 2012 3:34:07 PM PST
Look, I'm comfortable with the rating I gave. It reflects MY opinion. YOUR opinion may differ, and you are free to rate the book as you are comfortable. I am also free to rate the book as I am comfortable without being hassled. My statement on Feb 21 was directed toward well informed optimist, not toward you. My quip was to meet in the middle -something which implies that we would both compromise, I would lower my rating and he would raise his. He did not respond to that. Now you have taken my statement out of context and portrayed it as a promise. I don't appreciate that. At any rate, thanks for the link to the list, and good luck.
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 7, 2013 1:35:03 PM PDT
Ukrainian Girl says:
I am afraid, it is precisely because of such luke -warm Ukrainians as O.Lechnowsky that other nations still refer to Ukrainians as " Russian" or ' whatever '.
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 7, 2013 4:30:33 PM PDT
Lukewarm because I post a critical review of the book? I found it flawed, but better than most efforts. If you have read the book and disagree with my review, please feel free to post your own detailed review with whatever low rating you feel is appropriate. You have the power to lower the star rating, so rather than complain about my review, state your problems with the book in your own review.
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 7, 2013 6:23:19 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 8, 2013 5:52:03 AM PDT
Ukrainian Girl says:
' Lukewarm' not because you posted a critical review of the book, but because you high- rated a book which spreads a deceptive information on the History of Ukraine. Look, many folks don't read reviews when buying a book , they just look at the 'star'-rating of it. And having read a book like this the damage is done,- they formed an opinion about Ukraine, and (what's worse) they might share this ' biased ' opinion with others, and the chain reaction has been started.
There is enough defamatory information on Ukraine out there to encourage still more. Ukraine deserves better than this.
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 7, 2013 8:42:14 PM PDT
As I say, if you think the star rating is too high, post a review that reflects your opinion. That would be far more constructive and informative than simply insulting other reviewers because you disagree with their review. This, of course, assumes that you have actually read the book you think I rated too softly.
As for me, I think it is better for people to read both sides of an argument and have an informed opinion, than to lead them by the nose to my predetermined conclusions so there is no possibility of another point of view. To a large extent that is the reason I am not afraid for people to read this book, especially when they are pre-warned of the deficiencies and biases of the book. That is why I also took the opportunity to point interested readers toward what I consider to be the best books on the subject by Subtelny and Hrushevsky. Neither of which, by the way, would suggest that I'm OK with calling Ukrainians "Russian or whatever".
Again, post your own review, rather than complain about mine and baselessly defame my character.
Incidentally, the endless petty bickering and name-calling as reflected in the comments directed toward reviewers of this book only serve to reinforce the easy, superficial stereotypes found in the book. If the book is wrong in this regard, and I believe it is, lets show that Ukrainians are at least able to disagree in a civilized and respectful manner rather than publicly re-enact, in written form, the fisticuffs that erupt over disagreements in the Ukrainian Parliament.
I can't justify giving a book that I'm glad I read, and that I enjoyed reading, a poor rating in spite of the fact that I robustly disagreed with parts of it. I'm not in the habit of censoring ideas or opinions just because they don't reflect my view.