Ukraine

Vita Nostra

Vita Nostra — a cross between Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian is the anti-Harry Potter you didn’t know you wanted.” -The Washington Post

Vita Nostra has the potential to become a modern classic of its genre, and I couldn’t be more excited to see it get the global audience in English it so richly deserves.” - Lev Grossman

Winner of Best Book from both Amazon & Paste Magazine

“The definitive English language translation of this internationally acclaimed novel—a brilliant dark fantasy combining psychological suspense, enchantment, and terror that makes us consider human existence in a fresh and provocative way.

Our life is brief . . .

Sasha Samokhina has been accepted to the Institute of Special Technologies.

Or, more precisely, she’s been chosen.

Situated in a tiny village, she finds the students are bizarre, and the curriculum even more so. The books are impossible to read, the lessons obscure to the point of maddening, and the work refuses memorization. Using terror and coercion to keep the students in line, the school does not punish them for their transgressions and failures; instead, it is their families that pay a terrible price. Yet despite her fear, Sasha undergoes changes that defy the dictates of matter and time; experiences which are nothing she has ever dreamed of . . . and suddenly all she could ever want.

A complex blend of adventure, magic, science, and philosophy that probes the mysteries of existence, filtered through a distinct Ukrainian sensibility, this astonishing work of speculative fiction—brilliantly translated by Julia Meitov Hersey—is reminiscent of modern classics such as Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, Max Barry’s Lexicon, and Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale, but will transport them to a place far beyond those fantastical worlds.”

View on Amazon (US) | (UK)

Depeche Mode

“The Ukrainian version of Trainspotting, bluntly nihilistic and unexpectedly hilarious.

In 1993, tragic turbulence takes over Ukraine in the post-communist spin-off. As if in somnambulism, Soviet war veterans and upstart businessmen listen to an American preacher of whose type there were plenty at the time in the post-Soviet territory. In Kharkiv, the young communist head quarters are now an advertising agency, and a youth radio station creates a feature on the Irish folk band Depeche Mode and the role of the harmonica in the struggle against capitalist oppression. And so the Western songs make their way into ordinary Ukrainian homes of ordinary people.

In the middle of this craze, three friends—an anti-Semitic Jew Dog Pavlov, an unfortunate entrepreneur Vasia the Communist and the narrator Zhadan, nineteen years of age and unemployed—seek to find their old pal Sasha Carburator to tell him that his step-father shot himself dead. Characters confront elements of their reality, and, tainted with traumatic survival fever, embark on a sad, dramatic and a bit grotesque adventure.”

View on Amazon (US) | (UK)

Execution by Hunger

News of the death by starvation of millions of Ukrainians by Stalin was actively suppressed & denied for decades. It was only in the late 1980s that the world truly became aware of this atrocity & it wasn’t until 2006 when it was defined as a deliberate act of genocide. Soon after, a survivor broke his silence to provide the chilling details in this well-written & well-reviewed book which reads like a novel.

“Seven million people in the ‘breadbasket of Europe’ were deliberately starved to death at Stalin's command. This story has been suppressed for half a century. Now, a survivor speaks.

In 1929, in an effort to destroy the well-to-do peasant farmers, Joseph Stalin ordered the ‘collectivization’ of all Ukrainian farms. In the ensuing years, a brutal Soviet campaign of confiscations, terrorizing, and murder spread throughout Ukrainian villages. What food remained after the seizures was insufficient to support the population. In the resulting famine, as many as seven million Ukrainians starved to death.

This poignant eyewitness account of the Ukrainian famine by one of the survivors relates the young Miron Dolot's day-to-day confrontation with despair and death—his helplessness as friends and family were arrested and abused—and his gradual realization, as he matured, of the absolute control the Soviets had over his life and the lives of his people. But it is also the story of personal dignity in the face of horror and humiliation. And it is an indictment of a chapter in the Soviet past that is still not acknowledged by Russian leaders.”

View on Amazon (US) | (UK)

Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex

Through stream-of-consciousness writing, this literary work is an “inspired exposition of one woman’s fight to catch her bearings and land on her feet, after life has thrown her a particularly nasty curve ball. At the heart of the story is a failed relationship, and here the author’s unflinching courage in dissecting the how-and-why is gripping. The larger story that envelops the love affair is, of course, the story of Ukraine itself, so unexpectedly liberated with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, coming to grips with its suppressed history and martyrology searching for its identity together with the heroine.

Called ‘the most influential Ukrainian book for the 15 years of independence,’ Field Work in Ukrainian Sex by Oksana Zabuzhko is the tale of one woman’s personal revolt provoked by a top literary scandal of the decade. The author, a noted Ukrainian poet and novelist, explains: ‘When you turn 30, you inevitably start reconsidering what you have been taught in your formative years—that is, if you really seek for your own voice as a writer. In my case, my personal identity crisis had coincided with the one experienced by my country after the advent of independence. The result turned explosive: Field Work in Ukrainian Sex.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Shivalaxmi Arumugham for the suggestion.)

View on Amazon (US) | (UK)

Hardly Ever Otherwise

“Everything eventually reaches its appointed place in time and space. Maria Matios’s dramatic family saga, Hardly Ever Otherwise, narrates the story of several western Ukrainian families during the last decades of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and expands upon the idea that ‘it isn’t time that is important, but the human condition in time.’

From the first page, Matios engages her reader with an impeccable style, which she employs to create a rich tapestry of cause and effect, at times depicting a logic that is both bitter and enigmatic. But nothing is ever fully revealed—it is only in the final pages of the novel that the events in the beginning are understood as a necessary part of a larger whole, and the section entitled ‘Seasickness’ presents a compelling argument for why events almost always have to follow a particular course.

In Matios’s multi-tiered plot, the grand passions of ordinary people are illuminated under the caliginous light of an ethereal mysticism, and digressions on love, envy, transgression, and atonement are woven into the story. The reader is submerged into a rich world populated by a grand cast of characters and ideas, which Matios animates with her prolific imagination and subtle wisdom.

Each character in this outstanding drama has an irrefutable alibi, a unique truth, and a private conflict with honor and duty. Her characters do not always act in accordance with logic and written-law, as the laws of honor clash with the laws of the heart. And this is why it is hardly ever otherwise.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Leslie Tchaikovsky for the suggestion.)

View on Amazon (US) | (UK)

Mesopotamia

“A unique work of fiction from the troubled streets of Ukraine, giving invaluable testimony to the new history unfolding in the nation’s post-independence years

This captivating book is Serhiy Zhadan’s ode to Kharkiv, the traditionally Russian-speaking city in Eastern Ukraine where he makes his home. A leader among Ukrainian post-independence authors, Zhadan employs both prose and poetry to address the disillusionment, complications, and complexities that have marked Ukrainian life in the decades following the Soviet Union’s collapse. His novel provides an extraordinary depiction of the lives of working-class Ukrainians struggling against an implacable fate: the road forward seems blocked at every turn by demagogic forces and remnants of the Russian past. Zhadan’s nine interconnected stories and accompanying poems are set in a city both representative and unusual, and his characters are simultaneously familiar and strange. Following a kind of magical-realist logic, his stories expose the grit and burden of stalled lives, the universal desire for intimacy, and a wistful realization of the off-kilter and even perverse nature of love.”

View on Amazon (US) | (UK)