The life of secrets and how they are dug up in Oksana Zabuzhko’s novel, Museum of Abandoned Secrets

In her brilliant novel “Museum of Abandoned Secrets,” Oksana Zabuzhko describes a game that girls play: they wrap things that they deem precious (like stones, colorful candy wrappers, etc), dig a whole in the ground, and bury their treasures. The place and content of the buried treasures is a secret shared only between the girls who dug up the hole.

To me, this image is such a beautiful metaphor for how taboos are kept and perpetuated. A society decides to guard a certain taboo and hide it under the guise of cultural or religious traditions. And while the traditions/cultural norms are sheltered, people who are affected by the taboos have to hide them or themselves in order not be suffer repercussions.

Thankfully, as times evolve, so does the treatment of taboos. In her novel, Zabushko has her main characters delve into the past in order to understand the present. They trace their family histories and grapple with questions such as whether someone was a hero because he/she survived the war or were the heroes the people who died? Were the heroes those who, as we’d say today, aided the enemy, e.g. by providing food or shelter? And later on, during the communist times in Ukraine, were the heroes the people who managed to live comfortably under the watchful eye of the government or those who defied the government, pursued their own ideas, and were punished for it, often dragging their own families into the abyss of punishment? And finally, were the heroes the women who held the family together and pretty much devoted their existence to their family’s well-being or the women who lived on their own and pursued their dreams?

All these questions, naturally, do not have yes/no answers. However, Zabuzhko’s beautiful, lyrical writing style, as well as the complexity of all the issues raised above, made for a great reading and provided not just food for thought but a true feast!

Difficult as all these issues may be, the time has come to reexamine them and move on. Not bringing up unresolved issues never solves them–it merely prolongs the suffering of the parties involved. And there’s no issue that’s truly difficult–we humans have difficulty facing it. That’s, in my opinion, the biggest problem to get over. So let’s follow Zabuzhko’s example and get to work! For inspiration, you can follow Oksana Zabuzhko on her FaceBook Page.



Karo Caran, the Rainbow Poetess, is a poet and a non/fiction writer. Her novel, "Breaking the silence: A story in paintings" focuses on the censorship of art and gay relationships in the postwar, communist Poland. Her poetry-based memoir, "Life in a Footnotes" will be published this summer.
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