Vitaly Andreiev, Nataliya Chermoshentseva. Saul Borovyi: The Jewish Vector in Ukrainian History

March 2014
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Kherson, Nikopol: SPD Feldman O.O., 2010.

The book on Saul Borovyi (1903-1989) is the result of the creative co-operation between two people - the PhD candidate Nalalia Chermoshentseva and her research supervisor Vitalii Andreiev. As in most monographs based on PhD dissertations, the book’s structure is not free from a measure of schematism. The first impression proves wrong, however, when behind the traditional architectonics of the text the reader discovers engaging content.

It is an intellectual biography written from the perspective of the authors’ main thesis - Saul Borovyi as a “historian in the background of scholarship." Such an approach allows to elucidate a number of new contexts. An erudite scholar, an “aristocrat from Brody” (where Borovyi’s mother came from), endowed with a high research culture, outstanding culturological, archival and bibliological knowledge, as well as with a certain multicultural atmosphere of someone from a southern imperial borderland, Borovyi was certainly a figure outside the rigid canon of the Soviet intellectual norm. This obvious contrast often led to difficult personal and professional collisions on Borovyi’s thorny life path. As an example, it is worth recalling the scholar’s monograph on the history of Khmelnytsk Region based on 17th-century Jewish chronicles. The work was supposed to come out in the famous Leningrad publishing house “Academia” in the 1930s; instead, it was only published in 1997.

Borovyi’s work on his doctoral dissertation and its completion in 1940 are also shrouded by a veil of mysterious circumstances, including on one hand the involvement of the academicians Borys Grekov and Volodymyr Picheta, and on the other, denunciations from “well-wishers.” The hardship befalling a Jewish historian in the war and post-war period - especially during the “anti-cosmopolitan” campaign - forced Borovyi to “migrate” to other research fields, such as history of southern Ukraine, or cultural and economic history of the 19th and 20th century. But even such a forced “escape” did not dim Borovyi’s extraordinary research talent, although as an intellectual he always remained a “man in himself”. The authors explain the recurrence of such acute conflicts in the intellectual biography of the “star in the background of scholarship” by the existence in Soviet scholarly establishment of a rigid stratification and the resulting personal hierarchies. Last but not least, it is worth paying attention to Vitalii Andryeyev’s internal, plot-related reflections on the author’s text, which formulate one of the monograph’s most intriguing questions: which pattern of phenomenal, typological and symbolic features and circumstances determines the distinction between scholars in the “foreground” and “background” of scholarship?    

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