Programming note: Steyn's Song of the Week can now be heard weekly on Serenade Radio, every Sunday at 5.30pm Greenwich Mean Time. If you missed today's show, you can hear the repeat at 5.30am Monday UK time - that's 9.30pm Pacific Sunday evening on the West Coast of North America, or Monday afternoon in Australia.
Meanwhile, welcome along to the fifty-eighth in our series Tales for Our Time - and to one of our very occasional non-fiction outings. In this case it is an excerpt from a slim volume I have quoted often over the years: A Roumanian Journey by Sir Sacheverell Sitwell of the (once) famous Sitwells and with whom, as I explain in my introduction, I had a very slight acquaintance. If the entire world is to be unravelled by this new war, I thought we ought at least to know a little more about the neck of the woods that's done for us - ie, Ukraine.
As the title of his book suggests, the author didn't think he was going anywhere near Ukraine back in 1937, and in any case he most probably thought of Ukraine, as many did in those days, as "Little Russia". He thought he was touring the Bucovina, whose capital city was then called Cernăuți and was in Roumania. It's now called Chernivtsi and is in Ukraine. Previously it was Czernowitz and in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and known as "Little Vienna" - or, alternatively "Jerusalem on the Prut".
Little Russia, Little Vienna, Little Jerusalem ...and we've barely scratched the surface: We're at the heart of Europe but also at the far fringes of empires to the north, south, east and west - Russians and Habsburgs and Turks and Poles and Mongols and on and on. And, as our tour guide observes in our first episode, the borders have always been drawn somewhat approximately:
Perhaps the most effective way in which to impress the situation of Cernăuți upon one's mind, out of this welter of different nationalities and this confusion of frontiers, is to go, at once, to the Russian border. Nothing could be easier. The most suitable choice is Hotin, which is about forty miles away. After climbing a low range of hills the road crosses the Pruth and enters what was Russian territory until 1918. But there is an anomaly, even here, for while most of the populace speak Ukrainian, or Little Russian, the moment the Dniester is reached, on which Hotin stands, Roumanian is the language spoken on the other or Russian bank. Ukrainian is the tongue, here, where it is Roumania; while Roumania is the main language, over there, where it is Russia.
And, as sovereignty has shifted, so has the populace. There are many places across Europe from which the Jews have been deported, but Chernivtski is one of the few places from which both the Jews and the Germans have been removed, the latter part of the small print of the Hitler-Stalin pact. The town's demographic profile today - "Ukrainian" - would have been unrecognisable to Sitwell and anybody else from the 1937 Bucovina: near total population transformation in the span of a human lifetime.
If the borders make no sense linguistically, there are nevertheless times, as the author observes, when one is grateful to be on the other side:
It is visible, but completely inaccessible from Europe, being at the very spot where, only five winters ago, many wretched persons, including women and children, were shot down by the Soviet frontier guards while trying to flee from the famine into civilisation, over the frozen river.
To hear me read the first part of this journey through the Bucovina borderlands, Mark Steyn Club members should please click here and log-in.
The picture above, incidentally, shows the nine different ethnic groups of the old Bucovina assembled for a team photograph: from top left, Hutsul, Hungarian, Romani, Lipovan, Jew, Pole, Schwab, Romanian and Rusyn.
~We have all kinds of tales in our archives, from the leisurely comedy of Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat to P G Wodehouse with a social conscience in Psmith, Journalist - oh, and some fusty notions of honor and duty in a certain other fellow's The Prisoner of Windsor. Tales for Our Time in all its variety is both highly relevant and a welcome detox from the madness of the hour: over four years' worth of my audio adaptations of classic fiction starting with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's cracking tale of an early conflict between jihadists and westerners in The Tragedy of the Korosko. To access them all, please see our easy-to-navigate Netflix-style Tales for Our Time home page. We've introduced a similar tile format for my Sunday Poems and also for our Hundred Years Ago Show.
We launched The Mark Steyn Club over four-and-a-half years ago, and I'm overwhelmed by all those members across the globe who've signed up to be a part of it - from Fargo to Fiji, Vancouver to Vanuatu, Cook County to the Cook Islands, West Virginia to the West Midlands. As I said at the time, membership isn't for everyone, but it is a way of ensuring that all our content remains available for everyone.
That said, we are offering our Club members a few extras, including our monthly audio adventures by Dickens, Conrad, Kafka, Gogol, Jane Austen, H G Wells, Louisa May Alcott, George Orwell, Baroness Orczy, Scott Fitzgerald, Robert Louis Stevenson - plus a couple of pieces of non-classic fiction by yours truly. You can find them all here. We're very pleased by the response to our Tales - and we even do them live occasionally, and sometimes with special guests.
I'm truly thrilled that one of the most popular of our Steyn Club extras these last four-plus years has been our nightly radio serials. If you've enjoyed them and you're looking for a present for a fellow fan of classic fiction, I hope you'll consider our special Club Gift Membership. Aside from Tales for Our Time, The Mark Steyn Club does come with other benefits:
~Exclusive Steyn Store member pricing on over 40 books, mugs, T-shirts, and other products;
~The chance to engage in live Clubland Q&A sessions with yours truly, such as this Friday's;
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~My video series of classic poetry;
~Booking for special members-only events, such as The Mark Steyn Christmas Show, assuming such events are ever again lawful;
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To become a member of The Mark Steyn Club, please click here - and don't forget that special Gift Membership. As soon as you join, you'll get access not only to A Journey through the Bucovina but to all the other yarns gathered together at the Tales for Our Time home page.
One other benefit to membership is our Comment Club privileges. So, if you think the Bucovina is bunk, feel free to have at it.
And do join us tomorrow evening for Part Two of our Roumanian journey, and every night circa 2am Greenwich Mean Time thereafter.