A little over fifty years ago, Ukrainian literary production in Canada experienced a radical shift in its development. Instead of Ukrainian, some writers began to use English as their preferred vehicle of expression. And, moreover, women came to dominate the field — Vera Lysenko, Maara Haas, Myrna Kostash, Helen Potrebenko, Janice Kulyk-Keefer, Lisa Grekul, and, now, Marusya Bociurkiw. Some of these gals, like Bociurkiw, are armed with doctoral degrees: they can’t be treated lightly, and each occupies a special niche in the evolution of “U.C.L.E.” (Ukrainian Canadian literature in English). With Marusya Bociurkiw, however, there are complications that fans of Taras Shevchenko and Co., may find disturbing and much too far “outside the box.”
As the title suggests, this book is a collection of personal recollections —episodes and escapades — rolled up, so to speak, into individual cabbage rolls and placed into a roaster pan. On a deeper level, however, Comfort Food for Breakups constitutes a striking foray into Bociurkiw’s world of sexual orientation which she links to issues of Ukrainian identity. Her marvelous, seamless blend of sexuality and ethnicity is the true core of Bociurkiw’s literary imagination: in Kyiv, for instance, she drinks coffee “with a flavour I never had: Ukrainian mixed with queer” (33), and in Vancouver her friend finds that varennyky are “soft, sensual, luxurious” (55). Based on a string of relationships with assorted “queers” and “squares,” Bociurkiw’s “memoir” is filled with heartache, agony, and regret; this she relieves with travel and food — several recipes, tried and tested, are offered as instruments of healing (including one for varennyky, of course). But among all this, there are other “treats”: Bociurkiw introduces us to her hilarious “Divas of the Church” (“common as borscht, thick as thieves,” 82), and, among other things, she takes us on an exquisite trip through Turkey and reaches the Bosphorus,
the body of water that divides Europe from Asia and flows into the Black Sea. If I followed the oily, churning current of those waters, I would eventually find myself in Ukraine, headwaters of my own Byzantine ancestral origins. Traveller without a single root, with a confusion of destinations, I am always sailing to, and from, Byzantium(108).
Readers drawn to the prose of Marusya Bociurkiw should sample her preceding book, a powerful novel with a provocative title — The Children of Mary (2006). Its climactic Ukrainian Christmas eve “meal” (160–167) is a priceless piece of tragicomedy. [End Page 246]