Oles Honchar - 'The Cathedral' was Honchar's best and, at the same time, most controversial novel. It had a profound impact on Ukrainians both in the diaspora and in Ukraine: the novel was criticized, extolled, maligned, and burned publicly by Komsomol brigades

Oles Honchar, The Cathedral: A Novel, Trans. by Yuri Tkach and Leonid Rudnytzky, St. Sophia Religious Association of Ukrainian Catholics, 1989.
read it here


At the time of publication, The Cathedral (Sobor, 1968) was Honchar's best and, at the same time, most controversial novel. It had a profound impact on Ukrainians both in the diaspora and in Ukraine: the novel was criticized, extolled, maligned, and burned publicly by Komsomol brigades. It invigorated Ukrainian intellectual life like no other work in recent literary history. Even twenty years later, The Cathedral continued to be a focal point of discussion in Literaturna Ukraina, the organ of the Writers' Union of Ukraine, and in the Ukrainian press.
Honchar, through his use of the cathedral as a universal symbol, transcended limited personal, regional, and national confines, and his masterpiece novel became 'truly a universal work of art.' Professor Rudnytzky admonishes, nonetheless, that no translation can fully duplicate the experience of the original--no matter how scrupulously prepared or carefully reviewed--"(t)he original text of The Cathedral contains many subtle puns, word plays, etymological allusions, dialectical colorings, etc. inaccessible to the non-Ukrainian reader."
An additional note of interest is that the present text is the product of two translators, Yuri Tkach (Doncaster, Australia) and Dr. Rudnytzky. It was only when Dr. Rudnytzky's version was near completion that he learned of Mr. Tkach's work. Practical and aesthetic considerations were the motivating factors for the translators to opt for a synthesis of their texts. The resulting riveting read is an attestation to the excellent work of both translators, and especially to the magisterial work of the author, Oles Honchar.
The bountiful and peaceful Ukrainian steppe serves as the setting for this controversial, masterpiece novel. Professor Rudnytzky states that albeit The Cathedral appears to be a loosely-woven history of Zachiplianka, a fictitious industrial town on the Dnipro River which is populated by party functionaries, steelworkers, students, and pensioners, the town and region surrounding it suffer from air and water pollution--a theme which reflects author Honchar's concern for the environment; Mykola Bahlay, the protagonist of the novel, voices similar sentiments. Additionally, Zachiplianka not only suffers from both air and water pollution, but also from the constant bureaucratic bungling of its officials and the occasional hooliganism, making it a typical Soviet Ukrainian industrial town.
Notwithstanding the above, there's one thing which makes the town extraordinary--an ancient, dilapidated Kozak/Cossack cathedral, which (as seen on the cover) is enveloped by scaffolds and overlooks the entire region high above the city towers. This medieval structure now serves as a wildlife museum and storage area per the orders of the local Communist authorities. Albeit no special attention to the cathedral is paid by most inhabitants of Zachiplianka, to Mykola Bahlay, a young student, the cathedral is a link with the past, a valued symbol of the free-soaring spirit of man, and the embodiment of man's ability to create beauty. "Zachiplianka's idyllic existence is abruptly shattered when an ambitious career-minded official, Volodymyr Loboda, decides to raze the cathedral and build in its place a modern, 'purposeful' structure, a shopping center. Threatened with the loss of the cathedral, the inhabitants of Zachiplianka (all good Communists) rise to its defense, each for his own reason."
The main theme of Honchar's novel is freedom. And, as most great Ukrainian writers, he injects a religious ethos into the novel, indicating that the national and the religious are inseparable; throughout the text Honchar uses Christian terms. The central plot is the blossoming love between the student, Mykola Bahlay, and Yelka, which "is developed against this contemporary backdrop: generational conflict, problems facing the aged in a society of young people, juvenile delinquency and hooliganism, graft, corruption, and the evils of 'poaching,' racial discrimination, and environmental pollution."
A skillful wordsmith, Honchar provides a superb story within 308 pages. A black-and-white photo (see image on the product detail page) of author Oles Honchar and a seven-page discussion of the works (entitled Oles Honchar: The Man and His Mission) precedes the engrossing novel. Following the novel itself, many of the chapters have educational explanatory notes, which follow as the last five pages of the text. One interesting note is that the topographical data which Honchar provides in the novel suggests that Zachiplianka is a suburb of the industrial city of Dnipropetrovsk (formerly Katerynoslav).
The Cathedral referenced in the novel and depicted on the front cover reminded me of and may possibly refer to the photo shown in Serhii Tarasov's photography book, The Most Picturesque Places of Ukraine (see my review). The 17th-century Troyitsky (Holy Trinity) Cathedral in Novomoskovsk, Dnipropetrovsk oblast, which is shown in Tarasov's photography book may be the one on which the cathedral is modeled since it's the only wooden church in Ukraine with nine cupolas, and is within Dnipropetrovsk oblast.
A very well-written, very informative seven-page biography of author Oles Honchar by Dr. Leonid Rudnytzky (LaSalle University) precedes the actual novel. One of Ukraine's great twentieth-century writers, Oles Honchar was born near Poltava in the village of Sukha, Ukraine in 1918. After a brief career as a journalist, he studied philology and literature at the University of Kharkiv until the outbreak of World War II. While a member of a student battalion, he volunteered for front-line duty, served with distinction as a sergeant in the Red Army, and was wounded twice. He enrolled at the University of Dnipropetrovsk in 1946, where he continued his studies of literature. Honchar's war experiences are not only utilized in this book, The Cathedral (Sobor), but were also used in many of his works written in the late 1940s to the early 1960s.
As Professor Rudnytzky elaborates, Honchar's strength as a novelist "is his ability to paint a lyrical and yet realistic picture of contemporary Ukraine, focusing on both the social and spiritual dimensions of human existence."
...Excellent translations by both Yuri Tkach and Professor Leonid Rudnytzky enhance the beautifully written, enthralling masterpiece novel by Oles Honchar. A hearty five stars plus for riveting reading sure to whet your appetite for more of the fine works by Oles Honchar and for further fine translations by Yuri Tkach and Dr. Rudnytzky. A superb job by all!
Addendum: Readers, you're invited to visit each of my reviews--most of them have photos that I took in Ukraine (over 600)--you'll learn lots about Ukraine and Ukrainians. The image gallery shows smaller photos, which are out of sequence. The preferable way is to see each review through my profile page since photos that are germane to that particular book/VHS/DVD are posted there with notes and are in sequential order.
To visit my reviews: click on my pseudonym, Mandrivnyk, to get to my profile page; click on the tab called review; scroll to the bottom of the section, and click on see all reviews; click on each title, and on the left-hand side, click on see all images. The thumbnail images at the top of the page show whether photos have notes; roll your mouse over the image to find notes posted.
Also, you're invited to visit my Listmania lists, which have materials sorted by subject matter. - Yaroslava Benko    

more here: www.themodernnovel.org/europe/europe/ukraine/honchar/cathedral/


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