Daughter by Tamara Duda | Book Review

Daughter [Dotsya] by Ukrainian writer, Tamara Duda [Tamara Horicha Zernia] has been included by the Ukrainian Book Institute in the list of thirty most important books published after 1991. Tamara Duda was awarded the 2022 Shevchenko National Prize, the highest literary award in Ukraine. It is worth mentioning that Duda was working as a volunteer during the war in Donbas between 2014 and 2016. We learn from the introduction that the characters we meet on the pages of Daughter are based on people the author met, listened to, and spoke to in real life during those years.

The story of this novel takes place in Donbas and starts shortly before the outbreak of the 2014 war. As readers we witness the beginning of the war, we stand alongside the title ‘daughter’, a young woman who instead planning her future must now choose the side in this war in order to survive. This novel managed to describe the moment or a sequence of moments when the life stopped being peaceful and the war has started.

This war is the world of extreme brutality, struggle of ordinary people to exist in the newly imposed reality. Duda shows the savagery of war through people’s daily activities such as cooking, working, shopping. It seems like many people we pass by daily on our way to work or to a family gathering.

The title ‘daughter’ is an ordinary woman who decides to fight for her country, for her freedom, by collecting supplies, and preparing meals for soldiers. This is heroism without pathos, or grandiose words. Pain, suffering is present throughout the book, as well as some sense of humour, sarcasm, irony often expressed by the main protagonist in her conversations with others and in her own musings.

Duda presents the polarised society, full of divisions but nevertheless in some way united in its fight for an ideal, their freedom, their right to exist in their own country. The lines of division run not only through countries, or state policies, but also through family ties, relationships with neighbours, friendships. This constant state of confusion is deeply felt by our main protagonist, she often is not sure who is who, which side they support. They are also some who refuse to accept this new reality – they try to inhabit the realm of the well-meant indifference, a sort of neutrality. Identity, or rather the perception of one’s identity is a huge part of this book; Duda portrays a complex and nuanced meaning of identity, including linguistic identity of those who inhabit Eastern Ukraine.

Daughter also shows how old resentments, propaganda, lies, opinions based on the emotions of revenge, past atrocities can make ‘ordinary’ people to rise against one another, even among members of the same family.

Daughter is a thought provoking tale portraying the shock and misery that people experience when they are thrown into the savagery of war. Duda presents the image of war marred with many moral dilemmas. The inhabitants of cities, villages in Eastern Ukraine must decide, if they want to fight and if so, on which side and for what? If they die, will their death have any meaning for those left behind? Every citizen has to make a decision how to behave, how to act during the time of continuous terror. The author also poses a question if something that happened in Eastern Ukraine can happen also in other parts of Ukraine, including Kyiv. What is important to remember that this book was written in 2019 before the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine that started on 24 February this year. Duda’s questions almost appear prophetic in some way.

This is an excellent book, a great read along a masterpiece written by Serhiy Zhadan, The Orphanage.

I highly recommend this book if you can find a copy in English. I know it is quite difficult to come across this particular book in English but definitely Tamara Duda’s novel is worth reading, especially in the current times.

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