For Want of a Fir Tree: Ukraine Undone

Frédérick Lavoie

September 2018

How can a country at peace suddenly be plunged into war? What compels hitherto peaceable citizens to take up arms and kill one another? In For Want of a Fir Tree: Ukraine Undone, Frédérick Lavoie tells Artyom, a four-year-old child he saw lying in his little blue coffin on a January afternoon in 2015, about the sequence of events that led to his death. In doing so, and in travelling the country from one side to the other, talking to people from all walks of life in both camps, Lavoie tells a compelling story of a land drawn into conflict through misadventure, misjudgment, mistrust, and a legacy of ancient historical resentments with a tenacious hold on their populations. It is a cautionary tale whose truths and whose lessons resonate far beyond these specific events, these particular borders.

Frédérick Lavoie is a freelance foreign correspondent born in 1983 in Chicoutimi, Canada. He has worked out of many parts of the world, including Moscow, Mumbai , and Chicago. The author of an essay based on years of reporting and travels in Russia and other former republics of the Soviet Union, he has recently published a book on the release of Orwell’s classic 1984 in communist Cuba. Ukraine à fragmentation (2015), the original of For Want of a Fir Tree: Ukraine Undone, was shortlisted for the Quebec Prix des Libraires in 2017. His book Avant l'après: voyages à Cuba avec George Orwell was nominated for a Governor General Award in 2018. He currently divides his time between Montreal and Mumbai.

A longtime film director and writer at the National Film Board of Canada, Donald Winkler is an award-winning literary translator. A Secret Between Us, Winkler’s rendering  of La Kermesse, a novel by Daniel Poliquin, was a finalist for the 2007 Giller Prize, and the English translation of Georges Leroux's Partita for Glenn Gould won Winkler his third Governor General’s Literary Award for translation as well as being a finalist for the 2011 Quebec Writers’ Federation translation prize.  

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What they say
A death foretold
Jocelyn Parr, Montreal Review of Books

Frédérick Lavoie’s For Want of a Fir Tree: Ukraine Undone, translated by Donald Winkler, provides a portrait of Ukraine in the pivotal months surrounding the unseating of President Viktor Yanukovych and the subsequent division of Ukraine into a pro-Europe west and a pro-Russia east. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 led to outright war between Russian separatist forces (a combination of Ukrainian rebels and imported Russian troops) in the Donbas region and the Ukrainian government. In the early days of 2014, Lavoie, a professional journalist, travelled to Ukraine to try to understand what he calls an absurd war.
Read full review here.
November 2018, Montreal Review of Books


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