Gathering a Heritage: Ukrainian, Slavonic, and Ethnic Canada and the USA by Thomas M. Prymak (review)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
Thomas M. Prymak. Gathering a Heritage: Ukrainian, Slavonic, and Ethnic Canada and the USA. University of Toronto Press. xvi, 370. $29.95

This book "gathers" some fifteen essays published previously, over a period of thirty years, by Thomas M. Prymak, research associate of the Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Toronto. Readers who are new to Prymak's work will come away from these essays with a solid appreciation for his ample contributions to the fields of Slavonic and Ukrainian Canadian Studies; those who have followed the historian's career carefully will value the convenience of the collection (the fact that it brings together, in one volume, the author's strongest scholarship) as well as Prymak's decision to revisit the essays contained within it. As noted in the book's abstract, the reprinted articles have been "revised and expanded" (publishing histories are provided in an appendix).

Divided into three parts ("Emigration Studies," "History, Historians, and Others," "Library Studies and Reference Works"), and framed by an "Introduction" and "Concluding Thoughts" ("Ukrainian Canadians and Ukrainian Americans: Some Reflections and Comparisons"), Gathering a Heritage foregrounds the author's eclectic range of interests. Readers encounter analyses of the diasporic movements of peoples (in, for example, "The Great Migration: East-Central Europe to the Americas in the Literatures of the Slavs: Some Examples" and "Ivan Franko and Large-Scale Ukrainian Economic Emigration to Canada before 1914") alongside more sharply focused, but no less comprehensive, studies of individuals (see, for instance, "Dmytro Doroshenko and Canada," "George W. Simpson, the Ukrainian Canadians, and the 'Prehistory' of Slavic Studies in Canada," and "In the Shadow of a Political Assassination: Gabrielle Roy's 'Stephen' and the Ukrainian Canadians").

The most pronounced strengths of the book can be found in the insights, some deeply personal, that Prymak provides into the building/burgeoning of the fields to which he has lent his voice. (Readers cannot come away from the volume without a firm sense of how daunting a task it has been for, as Oleh Gerus states in this back-cover endorsement, the "Ukrainian community in Canada to win recognition for its often belittled, suspected, or ignored culture, language, and history.") And while Prymak operates primarily, and capably, as a traditional historian, following the entrenched conventions and methodologies of his discipline, the most compelling essays in the collection – among them, "Scholarship on Mykhailo Hrushevsky during the Early 1980s: Ukrainian Books and Libraries in Canada and the United States" and "Ukrainian Canadians and Ukrainian Americans: Some Reflections and Comparisons" – are those in which the author positions himself as a subjective researcher and writer. The autobiographical and anecdotal insertions of his own voice [End Page 252] constitute the most captivating portions of the book and suggest, to me at least, that shifting his future energies toward memoir would be a sensible next step.

Insofar as Gathering a Heritage seeks to collect and reproduce what Prymak himself describes as the "scattered material" that constitutes his life's work (to date), the book achieves its objectives. That said, the title of Prymak's book is somewhat misleading. The book as a whole engages most substantially with issues related to Ukrainian Canada and, despite the author's "updating" of the essays that he includes, his familiarity with current debates around "ethnicity" is limited. Little attention is given to revisiting the author's pre-published work in light of recent theorizations of ethnicity that intersect with the robustly politicized work being produced in the areas of postcolonial, diasporic, and critical race studies. Discussions of the presence, roles, and challenges of women in "Ukrainian, Slavonic, and Ethnic Canada and the USA" are also largely, and regrettably, absent from this volume. To be clear, Prymak's book is a strong testament to his own achievements and the achievements of scholars like him, those who have carved out a space for Slavonic and Ukrainian Canadian Studies. But Gathering a Heritage ultimately makes a strong, albeit inadvertent, case for these disciplines to resist fossilization by undergoing transformative change to ensure that they remain current, timely, and relevant.

Lisa Grekul
Department of Critical Studies (English), University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus


pdf