We wait summer for so long, but it passes quickly instead. Readers’ summer – and even more. Therefore, you should get rid of the illusions that you can read all the novelty books over the long summer days, and realistically focus on the necessity for the “survival” of the reader: current literature. Two prosaic Ukrainian books, two translated prose, two Ukrainian poetry books – and the rest of the summer will be short, but hot.
The historians needed centuries to understand: the great history is not interesting for people. The reader is attracted to those events and figures that remain encrypted in a long dash between two significant dates. Artistic prose understood it more quickly and began to produce family stories, explaining the large-scale historical processes with small private plots. Now Ukrainian prose has been replenished with one more such book – skillful, sincere and, at the same time, devoid of excessive sentimentality. The fate of a Volyn family from the 1940s to the 2000s.
Ivan, Marta, Marusya, Maksym. Two couples of peers from one family. Ivan, who was shot as a teenager by Soviet “liberators”, will go to the woods during the war. In the end, he will be in America, where he will work in Hollywood. But his family will learn about his fate much later because it was safer to keep silent about such a relative. Maksym will be mobilized by the “red army”. And after the war, he will be put behind bars on charges of banditry, and, it seems, will perish during the period of his sentence. In Siberia, Marta also will be imprisoned for 20 years. Marusya will marry a religious guy from the farm and will give birth to twins. Her boy will survive and become the father of the narrator. Back in, probably, the early 2000s, while traveling abroad, the narrator will meet a young man wearing an embroidered shirt, in which her grandfather Maksym should be buried. Young Roman got that shirt from his grandfather from Poltava region. So, there will be one more family in the novel, and it will have enough secrets too.
Two families are close-knit for half a century. The secrets they hide are so terrible, and their exposure is so random that Zakharchenko’s novel could be ignored by artificial intrigue. But it seems that this is how it happens in real life. After all, the family secrets in the “Booth” come down to the choice of the side. To be on the side of those, who are beaten, or on the side of those, who are already beating. A viable choice but very difficult.
Each of the leading characters in the novel draws: they have diaries or albums, where they secretly (!) are making their sketches. They say that this is the curse of the family: if you draw – wait for trouble. Even that fatal shirt of Maksym was embroidered by Marta on the same brother’s sketch. The girl-narrator is also an artist, by the way. Only a few characters do not draw (not only draw), but also write those diaries. There are two such: this girl and her great-grandfather-teacher. They will survive here. As if the word – the ideal material, so as not to tell the whole truth, and to save yourself. As if the drawing is deprived of such characteristics, it is not able to lie, and therefore is dangerous a priori.
All the characters from the older generation are accompanied by the characteristic “angry”. They have grounds for that rage.
Dorje Batuu, “Francesca: The Lady of Trajectories” (The Old Lion Publishing House)
You laugh, you are embarrassed by that stupid laughter, but you continue to laugh. On this effect, the prose of Dorje Batuu (Andrii Vasyliev) is built. The author of “Francesca” (as well as the characters) works at the Mission Control Center of the National Aeronautics Administration in the USA. This book is a collection of fables-anecdotes from their everyday life. For example, Giorgio (and this is Andrii) and Francesca (that from the name) – operators of correction of trajectories, some dispatchers of satellites. Would you rest if you knew how those, on whom the success of flights to space depends, get weird? Now you will know this, and live with that, therefore, nervously glancing at the sky.
We have de facto a reportage prose about the military base of aeronautics. There will be a biographical sketch for each character, to say, the story of a gangster, who became a corporal, or the story of a ballerina, who became a sergeant-quartermaster; there will be problematic essays on how to fight against gender, sexual, racial discrimination in the American society, how from the heterogeneous predominantly immigrants produce a “fused” community of citizens. They do not yet sing the US anthem in chorus, but they are already close to that. And here such pathetic prose has diluted the reprise of one girl with a funny character.
Francesca is 25 years old, she is an American of Sicilian origin with exceptional mathematical abilities. And it is so eccentric that here it was not without a diagnosis (about the disorder of attention). Her adventures are not that extraordinary, rather childish: she will break a glass with a baseball in the control center, then she will close herself inside the service toilet, then she will stick to the paint, which she tries to wipe with wooden splinter pallet, then she will throw peels from oranges at colleagues. But the reaction to this is all really super-ordinary: she meets with a stream of tears and a drama of the level of the conditional Zhytomyr Youth Theater any event. Who is Francesca here (who in fact is a very talented and skillful worker) will tell one of the author’s remarks at the beginning of the book. Here it is: “Is there a “protection from a fool”? Of course, there is”. A girl is a “fool”, against whom the Center’s team works out the defense during the novel, who is the element that stimulates the team, “by contradiction” so to speak.
Actually, this book is written about the value and complexity of teamwork. How you can unite the most diverse people and make them functionally useful – at the level of one labor collective and at the state level. The topic of work ethics and communication is more atypical for Ukrainian prose, therefore Francesca is read as a kind of translation within one language. Pretty exotic to be interesting, that is.
Hervé Guibert, “To a friend, who did not save my life” (translated by Ivan Ryabchii, Pinzel)
Few people already remember this, but in the late 80’s to die of AIDS was not only scary, but also embarrassing. The epidemic of the new virus was called “God’s punishment to sodomites” and hoped that it would separate once and forever all “pure” from “unclean”. Guibert, a famous and influential French writer, was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988. At the same time he began to write this book.
It’s a very intimate book. Its inconvenient openness is not due to the process of dying itself (which would have been enough for a difficult conversation), but with our psychological and cultural prohibitions to talk about dying, the more, from incurable the disease. Guibert in one of his first notes will tell how long he hesitated: to inform friends and relatives about the threat to his life. “It seemed”, he writes, “I tell them and immediately will lose control of the disease, and lose the freedom at the same time”. It turned out that the very direct talk about illness and dying provided the author of “Friend” with colossal inner freedom.
“Friend” is detailed and refined in its chronicle. Not the chronicle of illness, no. The chronicle of a person, who, despite all the non-optimistic predictions, is sure: he is able to overcome the ailment, against which all the others have been powerless. In addition to Hervé himself, in this book there is another character – Muzil. This is not a real name. His real name was also avoided by Musil – it was too loud. Guibert describes the last years of Michel Foucault’s life, his friend, who died from the same, but outstripped the author of this book. He writes not only a biography of Foucault (somewhat scandalous, by the way, and ethically ambiguous) but also unfolds the famous Fukian’s thesis. We have provided any disease (especially infectious) the status of the institution, so much so that it’s not even a clinic, but the disease itself de-humanizes the human body. The sore body automatically ceases to be a human. Cruelly? The narrator of “Friend” also thinks so.
Accurate, almost scientific fixation of symptoms of the disease, a detailed diary of events – day after day, truthful (who knows?) stories of AIDS-deceased friends. And this is perhaps the first among the books that gave AIDS the status of the “illness of the century” and simultaneously made HIV a deep poetic metaphor: rapprochement with another person, “exchange of humanity”, threatens with death. So the friend, who did not save his life – did not save not because he was too far away, namely, because he approached too much. The novel is surprisingly densely populated: friends, lovers, colleagues, rivals, enemies. And then everything, as in Haydn’s “Farewell” (which Guibert remembers): begins from a harmonious orchestra and one of the instruments disappears along the way until the last breath of the last surviving musician is heard. Hervé’s own voice.
Mitch Cullin, “Tideland” (translated by Natalya Gonchar, Babylonian Library)
The protagonist of Cullin’s cult novel is an eleven-year-old girl. Jeliza-Rose arrives with her dad at the abandoned house in Texas, where her grandmother lived. The girl tells herself aloud “Alice in Wonderland”, which she loves very much, and therefore remembers it by heart. Gorging sandwiches with peanut butter. Playing the princess in the mother’s long undershirt. She tries to make friends with local deer and arranges a hunt for impudent squirrels. Happy childhood. There is one “but”. Jeliza-Rose’s parents are junkies: once famous musician and his band. The girl does not know how to read, but she has mastered the habit of preparing an injection of heroin in the morning. Her mother, died of an overdose in a big city the other day. Father promised a trip to Denmark, but now he is sitting in the grandmother’s living room – and also is very inanimate.
Cullin’s black novel is shocking, and he knows about it. Here, the rhetoric of a happy childhood is always stumbling upon a reality in which the moments of horror and happiness that the child has experienced will determine the entire future life of a person. We know this, but the orphan has not yet realized this. And the moments of horror-happiness are provided: 11-years old fell in love with a neighbor – a mentally defective adult man, also a demolition terrorist. Observational girl and her special friend: “To Kill a Mockingbird” in the current version, which we all deserve. By the beginning of the 2000s, when the “Tideland” appeared, there were no illusions about “human” mankind.
The novel is atmospheric, and the atmosphere is psychedelic. Fiction cannot be distinguished here from reality, and one is more terrible and more disgusting than another. Quite naturally: a lonely girl talks to the heads of her dolls, and those answer her. Madwoman neighbor does stuffed animals and deceased relatives and talks to them. It’s also natural, isn’t it? There is one point. The girl is a child of drug addicts, she received from them a light version of the dependence by inheritance. The world that we see with her eyes is not just a measurement of a rich childhood fantasy, it’s such a kind long “bad trip”. One way or another, the reality that emerges behind all these dreams, arises so unwieldy that it is impossible to escape from it in any way. A mother, who mocks at her daughter. A sister, who stabs her brother-epileptic as a barbarian. An old neighbor rapes a child. It’s better to imagine that you fell into a rabbit hole and come up somewhere in Jutland.
Father of Rose names Noah. Her fiancé, a pedophile, considers himself captain of a submarine and hunts sharks (who are part-time passenger trains). A room, where young lovers (too young, as for a girl-partner) caress each other, is decorated with the seabed map. Here will be the Ark for all “creatures”. For a long time, it’s not good for serving as a salvation for anyone.
Artem Polezhaka, “Suspended Songs” (Lyuta Sprava)
If you have ever heard how Polezhaka reads his works live, then this voice will sound to you from every page of “Suspended Songs”. This is what is called the author’s intonation, and it either is or it is not. Fortunately, there is. Who once sincerely laughed at ridicule, directed at himself, then will laugh, while reading “Songs”. Who knows the difference between ironic poetry and sarcastic, will be lost: to what should this book be attributed. The wicked irony is directed at the reader, whose fault is that he is able to correctly read the author’s intonation? Distilled sarcasm. However, the worlds that Polezhaka writes about are unjust in principle. “Well, is it really so difficult, Lord, / That instead of Kobzon – Caruso? / And the nearest neighbors are French, / Imagine, solid French?!.”.
Bilingual book (Ukrainian and Russian), consisting of poems and short prose, which here serve as a commentary to the poems. By the form “Songs” – the same as the content: the mess. The central work of the collection is the poem “Jenna”. It is written about the long-planned meeting of an adult single man and Jenna Hayes, who is already an old woman and completed her career. Someone, who knows the name of Jenna Hayes, of course, pretends that does not know this. This is the famous porn actress. And you know, despite all the absurdity of the topic, the poem is piercing, sincere and not without a social problem.
One phrase – and before us a large picture of aging: “Our porn stars will grow old together with us“; ultimately embodied, extremely clear old age, which does not happen differently. And further in the poem: the interaction of two bodies at the maximum approximate. No, not sex “to show off”, but a sincere conversation. He will come up with Jenny’s biography quite in the traditions of the poetry of the Enlightenment realists: a girl from a poor family, an immigrant, who has achieved all the hard work. And then it will be replaced by some Ukrainian girl, “Natasha”, who did not manage to earn a Hollywood mansion at a shameful work. And again a step back – and again old age: and an acute sense of being a “socialized” body that has no more unfulfilled desires. A counterpoint – some elderly couple in the rain on the Red Army Street, and he-in-a-pair, who “will not complain”. Complain, man, pornstars know how to listen. Especially, if they are a photo on the wall.
Symbols-obsessions, numerous repetitions at the level of rhythm and sound recording – all these pieces fit a book, in the title of which there are both obsession and song. Rhetoric becomes poetry and the one, who speaks, generously shares his idea-fix with the reader. For poetry, this technique actually seems both spectacular and naive, but it only seems so. “Vitya was picking the shit with a broom. / Apanas Germanovych was quoting Rilke”.
Oksana Lutsyshyna, “Poems of Felicity” (The Old Lion Publishing House)
In this book there are five poetic cycles: “Sea” (in which everything sprouts rapidly), “Garden” (where the metaphors of water are the main ones), “Mountain” (here herbs will swarm and stems will be crocheted), “Star” (here on all poems are scattered cold stones), “Lava” (and all breaks into the heavens). Aim inversion: “archetypal” cycle names contradict at first glance the content of poetic images in the most works. The artistic world thus becomes not only more complex, but also integral. This book is about exchanges and gifts.
There is such a strong idea about poetry as a surrogate of religion, about the last one of the Sacred. This opinion will have to be updated more than once by reading “Poems”. And again, I secretly argue with this thought. “I’m obsessed – just ask me with whom – a son of a foreigner or my sharp-sighted god”. In this good poetic book, I will say, two moods compete for a sense of sinfulness and guilt. The first – just come from Christianity, the product of “the son of other people’s stories“. The second here is some kind of radically pagan one. That sense of guilt arises in the “Poems” as a powerful act of mistrust of addictions, the damage from which, they prefer not to notice.
Only one poem is called “I lost”. The sun god influences sailed on the boat to the underworld. Winters are feeding birds from the hands. The seas, like coins, fall on the eyes. And this state: no land, no sea – from there you cannot fall, you cannot fall out. It is possible to blossom with inspiration, while the sun, which is borrowed from the Land of the Dead, is not cool. This is the loss “I lost – I lost (always lose!)“. On-break-poetry of Oksana Lutsyshyna continues in a moment, as anxiety, even despair, will come. Something broke, no matter how or why it happened, then the very perception of the world “the first-moment-after-something-has-been-broken”.
“Songs” – is rich with mythical images and subjects: from antiquity to the Bible. But more precisely not so: it is a myth that the literature has carefully read. And if next to Amphitrite, Edward Cummings will emerge, you should not be surprised: all those, who produce exact words, here eventually became a word (but not letters!). In the end, Cummings has nothing to do even in that poem, where he is mentioned (and he warns about it). A poor Amphitrite will be talked by a smart dolphin. And Aphrodite decided for the better, simply to remain a foam. The voice in the palate is alive, the voice in the sky is gone. And if Salome in the previous verses requires her husband to sacrifice the head, then in the next – he will just take off his shirt; and this is some very honest exchange.
The woman here is equal to the gods, she gladly accepts gifts. The moment, when she refuses the gift and becomes the moment “like-something-has-been-broken“. They say that Cain killed Abel because the Lord did not notice his gift. The gods of Lutsyshyna are more merciful. They are women, maybe that’s why?
Text: Hanna Ulyura