Friday, July 15, 2022
Born in the Ukrainian village of Krasnogirka, Yuriy Budiak (né Pokos) (1879-1943) spent his youth traveling around Ukraine in all manner of trades, including shepherd, sailor, and pharmacist. During the Second Boer War, he volunteered as a soldier against the British. It was in that period that at least one colorful (and possibly apocryphal) story came to light. At the time, a young Winston Churchill was in South Africa covering the war as a journalist for The Morning Post of London. At one point, Churchill was captured as a prisoner of war. It was Budiak who saved Churchill’s life, intervening to rescue him from a firing squad. Budiak later returned to Ukraine where he worked in a number of capacities, including in civil service and as a teacher. But it is as a writer where Budiak has left his mark. He penned a variety of short stories, plays, and poetry, and was allied with the peasant literary group Pluh (Plough). Budiak’s delightfully playful children’s books attest to a writer in love with the sounds of his language, a writer whose warmth for his young readers shows on every page.
In the late 1920s, Budiak published two bird-themed children’s books—Leleka-Zdaleka [Cranes from Afar] and Zozulia-Rehodzulia [The Chuckling Cuckoo]—that appeared in very short order in free Yiddish translation, which were put out by the Belarusian state publishing house in Minsk. The translator, Yoysef Ravin (1890-1937), was a schoolteacher who was thoroughly devoted to the cause of children’s literature. He wrote and published numerous books for their entertainment and edification, from textbooks to literary works, to cultivate their intellectual and creative potential. Ravin was killed during the purges of 1937.
Regrettably, we know little about the illustrator other than his name, Y. Leus. But his illustrations, used in both the Ukrainian originals and the Yiddish translations, are utterly charming. These books were printed on thin paper in small, simple, stapled editions. As a result, very few copies have survived. One copy of Bushl der Vanderer [The Wandering Crane] is housed in the Klau Library.
In order to highlight the joyful contact of cultures that these books represent, Cincinnati’s own Naydus Press will be publishing these two works in a trilingual edition: in Ukrainian and Yiddish as well as new English translations by Jordan Finkin of the Klau Library and Jessica Kirzane of the University of Chicago. Given the scarcity and fragility of the books, a copy of the original Ukrainian text Zozulia-Rehodzulia could not be located. The Ukrainian text for that book was back-translated from the Yiddish by the scholar and translator Oksana Shcherba. In this way, the new volume—Toward Hopeful Skies—can embody an ongoing cultural dialogue. The book will be a benefit volume, all proceeds of which will go toward supporting Ukrainian relief through the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. See here for purchasing information.
Contributed by Jordan Finkin, Klau Library Rare Book Librarian