Black Square: Adventures in Post-Soviet Ukraine by Sophie Pinkham (review by Tiffany Z. ’17)

Black Square: Adventures in Post-Soviet UkraineBlack Square: Adventures in Post-Soviet Ukraine by Sophie Pinkham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Despite the subtitle, Black Square is not just about Ukraine. It is about the shrapnel the explosive nineties left in Russian and Ukrainian society, from the free travel of drugs that accompanied free borders, to Ukrainians’ struggle with their Soviet inheritance every Victory Day. Through anecdotes from Ukrainian and Russian colleagues and her own travels, Pinkham paints a portrait of Ukraine from the early 2000s to 2015 that, though vivid, falters in its attempt to illustrate a multifaceted society. Though she tries to cover all classes and regions in Ukraine, too often does she fall back on experiences with overwhelmingly young, artistic hipster types from Kyiv and western Ukraine. Some parts, like her discussion of the Donbas, almost entirely lack in-depth firsthand testimonies, even though those would have bolstered already interesting arguments rare in Western media. I wanted to see more like her coverage of the 2013-14 Maidan protests: though she did not attend them, she drew on rich historical contexts and personal interviews to represent the complex dialogue surrounding Ukrainian identity. Pinkham’s work sheds vital light on post-Soviet daily life, but I hesitate to extend Black Square from highly recommended for Russia-Ukraine aficionados to required reading for all. – Tiffany Z. ’17

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