The Museum of Abandoned Secrets

By ,

This novel, written in the style of Joyce or Proust, is essentially based on Faulkner’s theme: “The past is never dead. It is not even past.” While the opening is set in turbulent contemporary (2003) Ukraine, the twin-frame plot covers nearly 60 years of Ukraine’s recent chaotic history, from the Stalin era through WWII, the guerilla warfare leading to independence, and the 2004 Orange Revolution.

The story revolves around the mysterious lives of three women: Daryna, a present-day TV journalist; Vlada, Daryna’s artist friend; and Olena, who served in the Ukrainian underground army and died during WWII. Daryna, having discovered an old photograph of Olena, is captivated by her and wishes to film a documentary to uncover Olena’s past — much like the game Slavic girls played by secretly burying their treasures to be unearthed later. During her research, Daryna falls in love with Adrian, an art dealer and Olena’s grandson. Their love is overshadowed by some dark secrets, as we learn through Adrian’s dreams, of Olena’s romance with another Adrian. Vlada dies tragically in a car crash that is believed to be accidental, but Daryna thinks it is murder. She is thus faced with two mysteries set about 60 years apart while facing the challenges of her media world.

The press release calls Oksana Zabuzhko “one of the most acclaimed voices in Ukrainian literature,” which is indeed reflected in the lyrical prose. While the novel is written primarily for a Ukrainian audience, the English translation reads well. Although this 760-page historical novel’s length may not be unusual, the large cast of characters and their stream-of-consciousness discourse, which goes on for pages, require careful reading to follow the complex plot. Since the historical background is sparse, keeping a laptop handy to look up the details would help. Recommended.

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