Daša Drndić: Canzone di guerra

The latest addition to my website is Daša Drndić‘s Canzone di guerra. Our narrator is Tea Radan, a Croatian single mother who has emigrated to Çanada. In a series of sketches, she describes her life, bringing up a daughter as an émigré in Canada (of which she is very critical) but also a whole range of issues relating to Croatia and Yugoslavia, including the horrors of the Nazi occupation, the Holocaust, the Tito era and the post-Tito break-up of Yugoslavia. Her time in Canada is far from perfect. For Tea and other Yugoslav émigrés, many of whom are highly skilled graduates, getting an appropriate job because of language difficulties and recognition of Croatian/Yugoslav qualifications is almost impossible so they end up selling hot dogs or stuffing envelopes. She also finds that Canada has been very lax about former Nazis and carries out her own investigation. Using a mixture of wry humour, bitterness, a strong sense of what is right and wrong, a dogged persistence and a strong critical faculty, she gives is an excellent picture of the situation in her homeland and the life of an émigré.

Vladimir Sorokin: День опричника (Day of the Oprichnik)

The latest addition to my website is Vladimir Sorokin‘s День опричника (Day of the Oprichnik). This novel is set a few years in the future. Russia now has a Tsar again and, as with Ivan the Terrible, he is protected by an armed force called the Oprichniks. The story tells a day in the life of Andrei Danilovich Komiaga, the fourth highest ranking Oprichnik and an exciting and busy day it is. He and his colleagues start off by attacking the the house of a nobleman, who has run foul of the Tsar. The nobleman is hanged, his wife gang-raped and his children sent to an orphanage. While killing and other brutalities happen later, we also see bribery and corruption, book burning, flogging, drug use, alcohol and wine, special privileges, outwitting the Chinese and, I might mention, glowing genitals. We see it all through the eyes of Komiaga who is firmly committed to the cause and works hard to protect sacred Russia (yes, Russia is Christian). It is clearly an attack on both Ivan the Terrible and Putin, but an indirect one with no direct satire, sarcasm and humour and, as such, works very well.

Modern Ukrainian fiction in English

Ukrainian literature did not start with the breakup of the Soviet Union though novelists writing in Ukrainian certainly came to the fore post-the Soviet Union.

A Ukrainian novel

However before looking at the 20th-21st century Ukrainian authors, I would like to mention several Ukrainian novelists that we tend to know as Russian novelists, because they wrote in Russian and the Russians claimed them but who were, in fact Ukrainian: Nikolai Gogol, Mikhail Artsybashev, Isaac Babel, Mikhail Bulgakov, Nikolai Ostrovsky, Anna Akhmatova and
Ilf and Petrov. The French writer Irène Némirovskywas also Ukrainian. This article has more on the topic.

One of the first published writers in Ukrainian was Hryhorii Kvitka-Osnovianenko. His best-known novel Marusia was translated into English while his novel Oksana was translated into French but both are very difficult to obtain.
Iryna Vilde was one of the first twentieth century prose writers, writing in Ukrainian to receive any acclaim. None of her work has been translated into English but a short story collection has been published in German as Das grüne Tor and is available.

The first grouping here is authors who were mainly or entirely first published during the twentieth century, prior to the break-up of the Soviet Union. Note that, during the Soviet era, many/most of them would have written in Russian and that the translations into English were mainly published by Soviet presses and that the books are now quite difficult to find. All of these with English titles were published in English. Where there is a link to an author, it is to an article about him/her. Where there is a link to a title, it is to a review (however brief) of the book. Author names are in bold. If you want just the post-Soviet authors/works, go here.

Ivan Bahriany
Тигролови (The Hunters and the Hunted)

Oles Berdnyk
Bernyk was a science fiction writer who got into a lot of trouble with the Soviet authorities
Прометей (Prometheus)
черный папирус (Black Papyrus)
Apostle of Immortality (story collection)

Viktor Blyznets
Земля світлячків (In the Land of the Living Lights) (stories)

Anatoliy Dimarov)
Через місточок (Across the Bridge)

Ivan Bodnaruk
Покоління зійдуться (The Generations Will Get Together)

Oleksander Dovzhenko
Зачарована Десна (The Enchanted Desna)

Volodymyr Gzhytsky
Ніч і день (Night and Day)

Andrii Holovko
бур’яни (Weeds) (novel)
Червона хустина (The Red Kerchief) (stories)

Yevhen Hutsalo
A Prevision of Happiness and Other Stories

Igor Kaczurowskyj (Ihor Kachurovsky)
Шлях невідомого (Because Deserters Are Immortal)

Borys Kharchuk
A Measure of life and a Measure of Death (stories)

Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky
Тіні забутих предків (Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors)
Дорогою ціною (At a High Cost)
Fata Morgana (Fata Morgana)

Illia Kiriak
Сини землі (Sons of the Soil)

Olha Kobylianska
В неділю рано зілля копала (1908) (On Sunday Morning She Gathered Herbs)
But… the Lord is Silent : Selected Prose Fiction


Volodymyr Malyk
Посол Урус-шайтана (The Cossack Ambassador)

Dmytro Mishchenko
Сіверяни (The Siverianians)

Yurii Mushketyk
Жорстоке милосердя (Cruel Mercy)

Vsevolod Nestaiko
Тореадори з ВасюківкиTwo (Toreadors from Vasukovka Village)

Theodore Odrach
Вошадь (Wave of Terror)

Teodosii Osmachka
Ротонда душогубців (Red Assassins)

Valerian Pidmohylny
Місто (The City)
Невеличка драма (A Little Touch of Drama)

Mykola Ponedilok
Смішні сльозинки (Funny Tears)

Mariia Pryhara
Козак Голота (The Cossack Holota)

Rostyslav Sambuk
Ювелір з вулиці Капуцинів (The Jeweller from Capuchins Street)

Vasyl Sokil
And Then There Was Glasnost (novellas (Вікна виходять на захід (Windows Facing Westward); Така довга ніч (A Night so Long))

Mykhailo Stelmakh
Кровь людская– не водица (Let the Blood of Man Not Flow)

Hryhir Tiutiunnyk
Холодная мята (Cool Mint)

Mykola Vinhranovskyi
Літній вечір (Summer Evening)

Volodymyr Vladko
Science fiction writer
Нащадки скіфів (Descendants of the Scythians)

Volodymyr Vynnychenko
Записки кирпатого Мефістофеля (Notes of a Pug-Nosed Mephistopheles)
Чорна Пантера і Білий Медвідь (Black Panther and Polar Bear) (drama)

Yurii Yanovsky
Вершники (The Horsemen)

Pavlo Zahrebelny
Дума о бессмертном (From the Point of View of Eternity)

Vasyl Zemliak
Лебедина зграя (The Swan Flock)
Зелені млини (Green Mills)

I will also mention Oles Honchar who wrote in Russian and was a committed Soviet supporter but wrote a couple of interesting novels which I have reviewed: Людина і зброя (Man and Arms) and Собор (The Cathedral), the latter being of particular interest. Other works of his appeared in English, including Прапороносці (Standard-Bearers), Прага (Golden Prague), Тронка (Tronka), Циклон (The Cyclone), Берег любові (The Shore of Love) and Твоя зоря (Your Dawn).

Many Ukrainians as well as Russians perished in the Soviet terror. Borys Antonenko-Davydovych is one. Three of his books have appeared in English: Смерть (Death), За ширмою (Behind the Curtain) and Between the Trenches : Selected Prose Fiction.

Before the Storm : Soviet Ukrainian fiction of the 1920s is an interesting collection of stories from that era.

However, a lot has been published since the fall of the Soviet Union and that is when the most interesting Ukrainian work appears. The following is a brief introduction to some of these writers in a fairly random order, with the three most interesting (in my view) contemporary novelists who have been translated into English appearing first. As above, where there is a link to an author, it is to an article about him/her. Where there is a link to a title, it is to a review (however brief) of the book. Author names are in bold.

Andrey Kurkov is certainly one of the most interesting authors writing in Ukraine today. His books translated into English include:
Бикфордов мир (The Bickford Fuse) (review in The Guardian)
Милый друг, товарищ покойника (A Matter of Death and Life ) ( (review at the Complete Review)
мерть постороннего (Death and the Penguin) (my review)
Игра в отрезанный палец (The Case of the General’s Thumb) (review at the Complete Review)
Добрый ангел смерти (The Good Angel of Death) (review in The Guardian)
Остання любов президента (The President’s Last Love) (review in The Guardian)
Закон улитки(Penguin Lost) (review at the Complete Review)
Ночной молочник (The Milkman in the Night) (review in The Guardian)
Садовник из Очакова (The Gardener from Ochakov) (review in The Guardian)
Серые пчелы (Grey Bees) (my review)

His Twitter account is well worth following to see what is going on in Ukraine.

Yuri Andrukhovych has also had several books translated into English.
Московіада (The Moscoviad) (review at the Complete Review)
Перверзія (Perverzion) (my review)
Рекреації (Recreations) (my review)
Дванадцять обручів (Twelve Circles) (brief review at the TLS)

Serhiy Zhadan has been described as an anarchist but despite o,r because of that, several of his works have been translated into English.
Депеш Мод (Depeche Mode ) (review at the Complete Review)
Anarchy in the UKR (very brief review by Nordic voices)
Ворошиловград (Voroshilovgrad) (my review)
Mесопотамія (Mesopotamia)
Інтернат (The Orphanage (review at the Complete Review)

Other post-Soviet fiction writers

Yevgenia Belorusets
Lucky Breaks (stories – review in Washington Post)

Artem Chekh
Точка нуль (Absolute Zero) (my review)

Larysa Denysenko
Сарабанда банди Сари (The Sarabande of Sara’s Band) (summary by publisher)

Maryna and Serhiy Dyachenko have published several fantasy novels in Ukrainian/Russian/English. See Wikipedia link for more details

Marjana Gaponenko was born in Ukraine but now lives in Germany and writes in German. One (Wer ist Martha? Who is Martha?) has been translated into English

Yuriy Izdryk
Воццек & воццекургія (Wozzeck) (brief reviews on Jstor)

Markiyan Kamysh
His Оформляндія або прогулянка в Зону (Stalking the Atomic City) about his illegal wanderings in Chernobyl. Will appear in English from Pushkin Press in July 2022

Margarita Khemlin
Клоцвог (Klotsvog) (review from LA Review of Books)
Дознаватель (The Investigator) (my review)

Eugenia Kononenko
Російський сюжет (A Russian Story) (summary by publisher

Andriy Kokotiukha
Адвокат iз Личакiвської (The Lawyer from Lychakiv Street) (my review)

Sana Krasikov was born in Ukraine but lives in the US and writes in English
The Patriots (review in The Guardian)

Svetlana Lavochkina
She was born in Ukraine but lives in Germany and writes in German
Die rote Herzogin (Dam Duchess) (Review at Spears)

Andriy Lyubka
Карбід (Carbide) (review by Apofenie)

Tanya Malyarchuk
Біографія випадкового чуда (A Biography of Chance Miracle) (my review)

Maria Matios has had a few works translated into English
Солодка Даруся (Sweet Darusia) (Review at World Literature Today)
Апокаліпсис (Apocalypse) (novella)
Майже ніколи не навпаки (Hardly Ever Otherwise) (brief summary by publisher Glagoslav)
The Russky Woman (excerpt by publisher on Facebook)

Yaroslav Melnyk
Last Day (short story collection)

Yelena Moskovich
Born in Ukraine, emigrated to the US. Writes in English
A Door Behind A Door
The Natashas
Virtuoso

Alexei Nikitin
Истеми (Y.T.)

Taras Prokhasko: The UnSimple (text – Part 1; Part 2) (Summary review from Polonia) University
Necropolis (story) published in Two Lands, New Visions : Stories from Canada and Ukraine

Katja Petrowskaja
Born in Ukraine, emigrated to Germany. Writes in German.
Vielleicht Esther (Maybe Esther)

Volodymyr Rafeyenko
Мондеґрін. Пісні про смерть і любов (Mondegreen : Songs about Death and Love) (my review)

Iren Rozdobudko
Ґудзик (The Lost Button)

Oleg Sentsov: Life Went on Anyway (stories; review at Kirkus)

Valerii Shevchuk
Птахи з невидимого острова (Birds from an Invisible Island) (review from Maria Burdastykh)
На полі смиренному… (The Meek Shall Inherit) (text)
Око Прірви (Eye of the Abyss) (text: Part 1; Part 2

Vasyl Shhevchuk
Григорій Сковорода (Precursor)
Побратими (Blood Brothers)

Oleh Shynkarenko
Кагарлик (Kaharlyk) (Wikipedia review)

Natalka Sniadanko
Колекція пристрастей (Collection of Passions)

Oles Ulianenko
Stalinka (text Part 1; Part 2)

Zinaida Tulub
В степу безкраїм за Уралом (The Exile) (summary by publisher

Yuriy Vynnychuk
Танґо смерті (The Tango of Death)
The Fantastic Worlds of Yuri Vynnychuk

Volodymyr Yavorivsky
Чорнобильська Мадонна `(The Chornobyl Madonna) (brief review from East/West)

Oksana Zabuzhko has had two novels published in English.
Польові дослідження з українського сексу (Field Work in Ukrainian Sex ) (review at the Complete Review))
Музей покинутих секретів (The Museum of Abandoned Secrets) (review at Language Hat)

Note that some of her fiction and poetry have also been translated into English

Various online translated short stories can be found here and here

There are various collections of Ukrainian stories of which I would particularly recommend Herstories: An Anthology Of New Ukrainian Women Prose Writers

Translations into other languages (a few random ones I have come across; there are undoubtedly many more)

Liubko Deresh
Культ (Kult – German), Culte – French)
Поклоніння ящірці. Як нищити ангелів – Die Anbetung der Eidechse oder Wie man Engel vernichtet
Намір (Intent! oder Die Spiegel des Todes)

Dzvinka Matiyash
Історії про троянди, дощ і сіль (Histoires sur les roses, la pluie et le sel)

Oleksandr Irvanets
Рівне/Ровно (Pralinen vom roten Stern)

Links to other sites on Ukrainian literature on my Ukraine page

Ali Smith: Companion Piece

The latest addition to my website is Ali Smith‘s Companion Piece. As the title implies, this is an appendage to her brilliant Seasons tetralogy and is somewhat similar, in that we follow current events, with Smith criticising what is happening in the UK. However, we also follow the story of Sandy Gray, a not very commercially successful artist (she paints poems) and her relationship with Martina Pelf, with whom she was at university. Martina phones Sandy (after thirty years of no contact) because of something strange that happened to her while she was detained at Heathrow airport. Sandy, who is in covid lockdown and struggling with her aged and ill father, gets caught up with Martina and her family. At the same time we learn of a seventeenth century young woman and her struggles and her tangential link to Martina’s story. Above all this novel is about women telling stories, about the horrors of modern Britain, about the ill-treatment of women, about language and about how life is not always as straightforward as it seems. It confirms Smith as one of the foremost British writers of this century.

Pat Gray: The Redemption Cut

The latest addition to my website is Pat Gray‘s The Redemption Cut. In one respect this is your standard detective story – maverick cop ignores his bosses, the rules and “modern policing techniques” to solve the crime. However, it is set in Belfast in 1976 during The Troubles in Northern Ireland and the cop, McCann, has to deal with strong partisan feeling not only from the criminals but also from the police and other officials. The vast majority of the characters, police, criminals and others, are Protestant and therefore determined that Ulster remain a part of the United Kingdom and will do what it takes to ensure that happens. This makes the investigation (into a brutal murder) more difficult, not helped by the fact that it is all too easy for the police and criminals to blame the IRA for every misdeed. Gray tells his story well and shows up the horrors of that era in Ulster.

Volodymyr Rafeyenko: Мондеґрін. Пісні про смерть і любов (Mondegreen : Songs about Death and Love)

The latest addition to my website is Volodymyr Rafeyenko‘s Мондеґрін. Пісні про смерть і любов (Mondegreen : Songs about Death and Love. Both Rafayenko and his hero Haba Habinsky moved away from the Donbas region when fighting broke out in 2013/14 and came to Kyiv. Haba seemingly has no friends or relatives in Kyiv and though he has a Ph.D and was a university lecturer, he ends up working in a supermarket. However, though there is an element of realism in this book, it uses post-modernism/fantasy/absurdism in many parts of the book. Haba, for example is pursued by aMare’s head, a traditional Ukrainian mythical creature and spends much of his time dipping in and out of the real world and the fantasy/post-modernist world. His love life, his meeting with his boss’s niece who may be his boss’s nephew and numerous literary, fantasy, mythical references appear. Language is also key. And is it all a dream? Like most people from Donbas, both Rafayenko and Haba have Russian as their first language. This is Rafayenko’s first book in Ukrainian (previous ones were in Russian) and Haba learns Ukrainian and makes good progress and discusses the language issue throughout the book. This is certainly an original book but one well worth reading.

Andrey Kurkov: Серые пчелы (Grey Bees)

The latest addition to my website is Andrey Kurkov‘s Серые пчелы (Grey Bees). This a superb novel from Kurkov about a beekeeper, Sergeyich, who lives in a small village in the grey zone on the Ukrainian-Russian border. Post-2014, after the Russian occupation of Crimea, most people have moved away and there are only two people left in this village. Sergeyich decides his bees need warmth and quiet, away from the frequent shelling, so he takes them on a journey and we follow his adventures, particularly his journey to meet a fellow beekeeper in Crimea, a Crimean Tatar. Sergeyich is fairly easygoing but clashes somewhat with the Russian authorities in now occupied Crimea. This is a first-class novel showing the Ukrainian-Russian border area prior to the illegal invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Xue Yiwei: 希拉里, 密和, 我 (Celia, Misoka, I)

The latest addition to my website is Xue Yiwei‘s 希拉里, 密和, 我 (Celia, Misoka, I). Our unnamed narrator is from China. He, his wife and daughter had migrated from China to Montreal, nominally to get a better education for the daughter. It had not worked out. The marriage was not happy and the wife could not get a decent job They ended up owning a convenience store. At the beginning of the novel, the wife had died of pancreatic cancer and the daughter wanted nothing to do with him. Neither he nor we know why. He takes up skating where he meets (separately) the two eponymous women. Celia is the older and a local. She is divorced. Misoka is in a wheelchair and is a French-speaking South-east Asian immigrant. Both women are fairly private but do soften during the book. Both women seem to have a keen interest in China. The book recounts their three-way relationship over the one winter period and how all three are affected by it. Xue Yiwei tells an excellent story about immigration, loneliness, failed relationships and how meeting random strangers can perhaps change you.

Javier Cercas: Terra Alta (Even the Darkest Night)

The latest addition to my website is Javier CercasTerra Alta (Even the Darkest Night). Cercas has now turned to crime novels – two more in this series have been published in Spanish. We are following a Spanish police officer – Melchor Marín – who had been a drug dealer for which he was sent to prison. When his mother, a prostitute, is brutally murdered and he reads Les Misérables in prison, he sees the light and, with help from his lawyer, is able to conceal his background and become a police officer. When he shoots four Islamic terrorists, it is decided to move him to a remote region – Terra Alta, where nothing happens. When something does happen – the richest man in the area and his wife are tortured and killed – he is on the case, and continues when his superiors have closed the case. Inevitably, things are not as they seem and, also inevitably, the Spanish Civil War creeps in. However, it is the colourful Melchor Marín that makes this book interesting.

Fernanda Melchor: Paradais (Paradais)

The latest addition to my website is Fernanda Melchor‘s Paradais (Paradais). The novel is set in an exclusive gated community in Mexico. The sixteen-year old Polo has dropped out of school but his mother has forced him to take a job at Paradais, where he has to clean up, garden and keep the place tidy, a job he hates almost as much as he hates his controlling mother and his pregnant cousin who lives with them. His only friend is Franco, whom he nicknames Fatboy, grandson of Paradais residents, who has also dropped out and provides cigarettes and alcohol. Fatboy lusts after one of the residents, Marian Marono, wife of a TV star, while Polo cannot wait to get away, for which he needs money. Both can be obtained from the Maronos home and Fatboy knows how to get in. Violence, crime, drugs, alcohol consumption and the huge disparity between rich and poor are all themes of this book, where no-one seem content and poverty and wealth clash.

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