The Jew Who Was Ukrainian

By Volodymyr Kish

An attempt, as far as attempts go, which in this case is not too far,

to make sense of a most preposterous book by the name of “The

Jew Who Was Ukrainian” by one Alexander J. Motyl, an author who

at times is an artist, but most of the time can’t avoid being preposterous.

Ukrainian history has always struck me as a perplexing mix of random catastrophic events, creating monumental existential angst for its people and a constant sense of turmoil, stress and displacement.  Volodymyr Frauenzimmer, the protagonist in Motyl’s book The Jew Who Was Ukrainian is the quintessential product of this historical chaos, being the improbable result of a violent encounter in Auschwitz that ends in rape between a nationalistic Ukrainian mother who hated Jews, and a Stalinist Jewish KGB apparatchik who hated Ukrainian nationalists.  For most of his life, Volodymyr tries to make sense of his most preposterous origins and his even more preposterous name, trying to find some meaning to twentieth century Ukrainian history and his place in it.  

Motyl writes, if one can even consider this narrative as writing in the classical sense, or in any other sense for that matter, the way Picasso or Dali painted, blurring the lines of reality, imagination, time, space, fact and fiction.  He interrogates Petliura, Bandera and Rebet, as well as their assassins Schwartzbard and Stashinsky. His prose is a post-modernist jumble of verbal excesses seeking to deconstruct modern Ukrainian history.

Volodymyr’s 1st Antiliterary Intervention

And thus this reviewer continued reading until defiantly, no longer being able to take it, he rose from his seat and turned to the blanched flappers, bewhiskered Hebrews, and pallid Ukrainians and, pointing accusingly at Motyl, whispered, his eyes glistening with hysteria and fanatical exultation: “Motyl, I beg you to reconsider your deconstructionist history.  You are mocking sacred cows.  You are making satire of powerful Ukrainian mythology.  You are shining light on history’s unexplored pathways!”  Then dropping limp, he returned to his seat.

Continuing to feel a great anxiety and no small measure of genuine angst, this reviewer decided to go to the source and cross-examine one of the main characters in Motyl’s tortured narrative, seeking to find meaning and context, if there even exists such a thing when speaking of Ukrainian history.

Volodymyr: Your name?

Bandera: Stepan Bandera.

Volodymyr: Your occupation.

Bandera: Revolutionary nationalist.

Volodymyr: What do you have to say about Motyl’s portrayal of you in his book The Jew Who Was Ukrainian?

Bandera: What do you want me to say?  My life speaks for itself.  His portrayal of me is a literary creation based on his own understanding or misunderstanding of history.

Volodymyr: But is it true?

Bandera: That is irrelevant.  All history is propaganda.  The only thing that is true is what one actually does at the moment one does it.

And so, in the end, this reviewer is left in a quandary having sought to find philosophical meaning and substance in this intellectual satire, only to conclude that modern Ukrainian history is as susceptible to deconstruction and understanding as his mother’s secret recipe for borscht.

Trying to categorize this book is a futile endeavour.  It is an unlikely and dare I say preposterous combination of history, philosophy, satire, comedy and political commentary.  What I can say definitively is that it is a delightfully enjoyable bit of literary excess, particularly when combined with a glass or two of good wine.

The book can be ordered over the internet from