World Academy of Carpatho-Rusyn Culture


Mal'tsovs'ka, Mariia / Мальцовська, Марія

Born in 1951 in Rusky Potok, Slovakia, Maria Mal'tsovs'ka graduated from Safarik University in Presov in 1975. She worked for several Ukrainian-language newspapers and magazines before joining the editorial staff of the Rusyn-language newspaper Narodny novynky upon its foundation in 1991. She began writing short stories as a student and published two collections of Ukrainian-language stories in1988 and 1991.

Her first Rusyn-language stories published in Manna i oskomyna (1994) are deceptively simple in form. The opening story, "Materyna svichka" (Mother's Candle) straddles the borders of fiction and autobiography. The heroine is a sophisticated, educated newspaper editor who undertakes the care of her old-fashioned mother, a symbol of Rusyn tenacity in a flowered kerchief, who loves wild flowers and folk songs. Through dreams, reminiscences, and conversations, the author manages to treat themes that resonate with the nation's experience, such as childhood memories of herding cows and climbing haystacks, her father's wartime exploits and his winter work in the Czech forests, the family's hardships at home, Easter bread baking, and her mother's peryna (down-filled bed covering.) Offsetting the sentimentality and the specifically local themes and imagery, however, is the narrator's expression of frustration at her inability to solve her parents' problems, her fatigue in trying to deal with them, and her feeling of being torn between her own life and her responsibilities to her parents - emotions common to first-generation intellectuals across the world.

In "Rozkvitnuta planka" (Rose in Bloom), Mal'tsovs'ka uses allegory to make subtle points about the Rusyn people in the past and their prospects for the future. In this coming-of-age story, a thematic allegory that crosses many emerging literatures, Mal'tsovs'ka moves between the worlds of the historical and the imaginary in the style that has become known as "magical realism." She taps into myths, legends, fairy tales, and superstitions, presenting them as positive inner resources of the folk, resources that allowed them to exert some control over their uncertain history and thereby survive into the modern age. In a dialogue with the Rusyn past, she reassesses modern values in a counterpoint with tradition, valorizing what had been dismissed as "backward" and asserting its relevance for contemporary society.

In the title story, "Manna i oskomyna" (Heavenly Sweetness and Bitterness), Mal'tsovs'ka combines national and feminist concerns in a tale about exploitation and liberation that has obvious allegorical overtones. The heroine, Nastia, demonstrates a confluence of old-world values and modern-age self-sufficiency. In this story as in the others, Mal'tsovs'ka focuses on moments and processes that reveal cultural differences across space and time. She places her characters and her readers in the in-between spaces where they must elaborate strategies of selfhood that mediate between tradition and modernity. Her characters, like the Rusyn people, must negotiate their own path toward equality and a sense of wholeness.

Mal'tsovs'ka's second Rusyn-language collection, Pid Rusyn'skym nebom (1998), traces modern Rusyn history through the life of Mariia Piptova, the real-life heroine of this documentary that crosses the genres of fiction and biography. Using indirect speech and internal monologue in the heroine's native dialect, Mal'tsovs'ka explores feminine psychology in the broader, national context. The result is a detailed analysis of the Rusyn social environment of the second half of the twentieth century and an elaboration of modern Rusyn historical memory.

Mal'tsovs'ka has also written stories for children (Prypovidkova luchka, 1995).

Elaine Rusinko

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