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Honor and Identity

When I set out to write The Silence of Trees, I wanted to honor my grandmothers, my ancestors, and my family. I wanted to honor my community and the Ukrainian culture that helped to shape me.

But what is honor? What does it mean to honor? Are these ideas of honor still relevant in modern America?

The definition of honor is tied up with ideas of reverence, respect, and integrity. Most explanations of honor involve the way that someone relates to another person or group. Honor isn’t really about the self, it’s about how we behave toward others, how we consider and treat other people.

Ukrainian Americans of my generation grew up very much aware of their ethnic roots. At that time, Ukraine was not an independent nation, and many of us were raised with the idea that we had to keep the Ukrainian culture alive—we had a responsibility to speak Ukrainian, to carry on the traditions, to dance the dances, and to sing the songs.

There was a sense of urgency in our parents’ and grandparents’ expectations. Those who came over after WWII had lived through efforts to wipe out the Ukrainian language, culture, and history. Many had witnessed Ukrainian artists, writers, and intellectuals rounded up and taken away during Stalin’s purges and WWII. These immigrants, the Displaced Persons, saw themselves as preserving a national treasure – their Ukrainian identity, their history, and their future.

One of the major themes that comes up again and again in my novel, The Silence of Trees, is the juxtaposition of Old World traditions and New World expectations. The old and new often clash. This is not unique to Ukrainian immigrants in America. But how do we find balance? How do we reconcile both parts of our selves?

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