Okehampton Community Heritage Coordinator Laurel Miller reports on a fascinating book launch…

Okehampton volunteers greatly enjoyed hearing readings from the memoir of local author Karen Eugenia Boreham at her book launch this week. Karen has lived on a Dartmoor farm for 50 years. In her memoir Song out of Darkness, she reflects on her Ukrainian heritage and growing up in America. Karen entertained the audience with stories of her childhood and the story of her grandparents leaving Ukraine for America.

She told us how in America the Ukrainian community had freedom to speak their language, follow their culture and traditions in a way they could not back in Ukraine, which was then part of the USSR. Speaking or reading Ukrainian was illegal at that time. When she returned to Ukraine in 2010, the country was independent and she was able to speak to people in Ukrainian. The language she had learned in America over 50 years ago was considered very old fashioned by Ukrainians today. We don’t realise how much our language is changing and growing. Imagine speaking to someone from the 1950s – how different would they sound? This resonated for one of our own project volunteers, who says her Polish is considered quite outdated when she returns to Poland, because she has been living here in the UK for so long.

Karen’s memoir is not just her story, but also that of her parents and grandparents, and of the different cultures and places where she has lived. All of our stories are shaped by those who have lived before us, and they have helped to create our unique identities. Karen has many aspects to her identity, including American and Ukrainian heritages, but she said she felt at home the first time she walked up on Dartmoor. This is an experience I (and I am sure many others) can relate to – of feeling at home in a place which we have not previously visited. Where do you feel most at home?

The Telling Our Stories project is recording the stories of people like Karen who were born in other countries and asking them to reflect on their culture, their identity, what is important to them and what makes them the person they are today. We will share their stories with you as the project progresses. If you have a story to share please do get in touch – we’d love to hear it.

If like Karen you want to write a memoir, then why not join her for a special memoir writing workshop on March 17th at Dogberry and Finch bookshop in Okehampton? Tickets are available from the bookshop or on Eventbrite. Copies of Karen’s memoir are also available from the bookshop and online.