June 1, 2022: Addition to original post
Andrey Kurkov Recommends...
A New York Times article published May 24 provides a window into Ukraine's most famous living novelist's tireless work on behalf of his country. Article author Giles Harvey noted that "Keeping up with Kurkov is an endurance sport."
"I think everybody should do what he can do best for the country...What I can do is write and tell things, and that is what I am doing." —Kurkov, to NYT
Also on May 24, Kurkov spoke at the U.S. book show. He urges American book lovers to read three books, listed below, which we had previously included in our Collection Spotlight Learn More About Ukraine. Kurkov calls these books "wonderful and very truthful," and we at NPL also urge you to read them.
Elevate Ukrainian voices
On March 10, a New York Times article described the current effort to quickly translate work by Ukrainian novelists into English. “It does help people who are suddenly stuck under bombardment to feel that their voices are being heard,” said Boris Dralyuk, the editor in chief of The Los Angeles Review of Books.
To that end, here are a few important works of Ukrainian fiction already available in English.
Ukranian Fiction Available in English Now
Andrey Kurkov is perhaps Ukraine’s most famous novelist. He has been compared to Murakami, Kafka, Vonnegut, and Beckett, and is known for his dark humor. This new English translation of Grey Bees, about a beekeeper determined to take care of his bees during wartime in Ukraine's Grey Zone, is coming out March 29.
Death and the Penguin was Kurkov’s first novel in English translation.
"No summary can do justice to the strange appeal of this unusual, short book, which is at once a crime novel, a comic novel, and a serious political satire on contemporary Ukraine," says Anne Applebaum of The Wall Street Journal.
"Death and the Penguin successfully balances the social awkwardness of Woody Allen, the absurd clashes of Jean-Luc Godard and the escalating paranoia of Franz Kafka," according to Vikas Turakias in The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Zhadan is another major Ukrainian novelist and its most famous poet. The New Yorker opined: "Zhadan is a writer who is a rock star, like Byron in the early nineteenth century was a rock star." Of The Orphanage, a Publishers Weekly starred review said: "Zhadan presents a nightmarish, raw vision of contemporary eastern Ukraine under siege from Russian-backed separatists...[Zhadan] unblinkingly reveals a country's devastation and its people's passionate determination to survive."
This is the story of a man who goes to take over his brother’s rural gas station after the brother goes missing, a mix of magical realism and road novel with a splash of the absurd. Newsweek described it as, "Trainspotting set against a grim post-Soviet backdrop."
This novel spans sixty years of Ukraine’s recent history, from Stalin’s regime in World War II to the mass protests of the Orange Revolution in 2004, which brought Ukraine to the brink of civil war. Sofi Oksanen in Lit Hub said, “To me reading the novel was almost a physical experience—just like memory can be.” Zabuzhko also wrote the recent short story collection Your Ad Could Go Here.
Oleg Sentsov is a Ukranian filmmaker and writer from Crimea. He was sentenced to twenty years in prison on trumped-up charges of terrorism after he participated in protests against Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014. In May of 2018, he went on a 145-day hunger strike to protest the incarceration of Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. He has been awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award. He was released from prison in a prisoner swap in 2019, days before Life Went on Anyway, his collection of autobiographical stories, was set to print.