Translated by Halyna Hryn/Askold Melnyczuk/Nina Murray/Marco Carnnyk/Marta Horban.
This is a collection of short stories from Ukraine, published in 2020, and many published elsewhere separately from 1998 (the majority since 2017), which no doubt explains the long list of different translators. It was book 6 of the 20 books I’ve set myself the challenge of reading this summer.
Short stories aren’t my favourite form of fiction, and I found most of these quite difficult to engage with. Zabuzhko’ sentences are long, sometimes bewilderingly long – several Kindle pages long! Many of the stories feel like fables or fairy tales, written in purple prose, and dealing with female familial rivalries and insecurities – mums and daughters misunderstand each other, sisters fight over men.
There was a good story (An Album for Gustav) on the Maidan protests in 2014, the first sign to most in the West of Ukraine’s definitive break with the Russian political sphere of influence. This story was written in an ironic style, flagging up the ignorance of Western commentators and the patronising diplomats in their views on this hitherto fairly little-known ex-Soviet state, the people of which were regarded as some kind of “Albanian-Belarusians”. It also captured the excitement and fervour of revolution (although, as you can see, with Zabuzhko even text in parentheses can go on and on – I cut off the quote long before the end bracket!):
“…and then suddenly you hit this current, a massive underwater gulfstream, and it grabs you and carries you with impossible speed, with a thunderous, might roar (The sound! That’s what’s missing from these pictures, damn it! The round-the-clock hum of the crowd, the clapping thunder of chants that echoed from the buildings’ walls and reverberated to the far shore of the Dnieper and, after several days of insomnia, began to rumble inside your own head…”
The title story, alluding to the merciless obliteration of the past by encroaching capitalism and simple human greed, is also great. But mainly I found this book a bit of a plod, though I had been very keen to like it: Zabuzhko was awarded the Shevchenko National Prize in 2019, Ukraine’s most significant state prize for works for art and culture.