Together with her husband, they traveled around Ukraine on the old “ZAZ Zaporozhets”. She does not consider herself a feminist, she is skeptical about translations into Russian and wants to write as much as possible. An interview with her is a rare chance. On the life and principles of the legendary writer, modern literature, translations, Chernobyl, language and lack of fear – the way Lina Kostenko herself sees it in the section “Who is …” from Opinion.
About life and her own principles
My husband and I traveled all over Ukraine on his little “ZAZ Zaporozhets“. Believe me, this car can go where Mercedes gets stuck. Sometimes the writer believes that Ukraine should know him. And I always thought that I needed to know Ukraine. My husband understood that. He took an “iron horse” from the garage and drove me along the banks of the Dnipro, further and further.
Mom helped me a lot. I remember I was wondering: how can she do everything? And my mother replied: “I did not know anything as long as my mother was alive.” And now she’s gone… And for me to bake a cake – is similar to advanced maths, because I am a mess at housekeeping. Well, I thought, come on, I can cook a nice lunch for my man. I have read all the cookery books, recalled all mommy’s pieces of advice.
“Atypical” Ukrainian! By the way, I did not accept the appeal of one of our poets: “Ukraine should rise from its knees!” I remember asking my husband: “Have you ever been kneeling”? “No”. “Me neither,” I say. So, we are “atypical” Ukrainians.
It is very difficult for me when my forecasts come true. I do not want them to come true.
It would be nice if you could say: “That’s it, I am now harmonizing myself.” If it was possible, like with biceps, pump yourself with harmony, beauty, and other good things.
It seems to me that I’m not a very harmonious person. I always feel something, I’m worried about something, and I want to do something.
My credo: “And you, Mark, play”. That’s what my grandmother used to say.
I cannot be a feminist because I had such a husband and I have such a son. A woman can give her man the joy of being a man. And he gives her the joy of being a woman… But at the same time, I understand well why women become feminists in our men’s world. This is what my post-Chernobyl novel “Notes of a Ukrainian Madman” is about, which may offend men. And, without being a feminist, I humbly thank my colleague writers, men who have never been to Chernobyl and give credits for my courage.
I did not spend time on meetings at the presidium (I did not exist in the official literature), on writers’ parties, restaurants, and cafe “Aeneas”. I only had my work at a desk and my family.
I’m happy that the expensive road of temptations and rewards was always alien to me. That I had the moral right to write: “The artist does not need awards. He has been rewarded by destiny. When a person has a people, then he is already a man… My freedom is always with me “.
About writing, literary process and “modern Ukrainian literature”
The writer must have a destiny, not a career.
Once upon a time, in the Soviet era, at a symposium, everyone spoke, made speeches and wanted Steinbeck to say something. And he kept silent. Finally, he was pulled out and he said his famous speech, which consisted of four words: “The writer must write!” That’s all! And sat down! I always have this condition.
They say that we have no literature, no reader, and no culture for nothing… We have it all. You just need to understand it.
The prose is very difficult to write. Poems are created in parallel, even if you write them with your left hand, you always write them, because all you can hear and see is poetry. I repeat: you write a poem, but prose writes you.
My form of communication – I want to write more to make it. And will it be printed or not… it does not matter.
Who can become one of the classics? People do not get there. Time passes, history divides. Do you think that when we came to literature, we knew that we were the Sixtiers? Never in life! We were young people. Talented people were among us. And then the history made its move…
Do you know what is the name of today’s literary process? Postmodernism? No. Indifference? No. Underground? Once again no. What is it, when everyone says what he wants? It hurts me very much.
Thanks to someone who have said the following abbreviation: it is Ukrsuchlit. And you know that the root of that word – such. means modern, that is, “Ukrainian modern literature” …
I would not want talented people to start such an ugly trend – Ukrsuchlit. Let them be Ukrainian modern writers.
Politics is a matter of today, and poetry is eternal. In the beginning, there was a Word. At the beginning of mankind. And at the beginning of every nation. The end of the Word can be the end of the nation. And as a stork Homer didn’t bring us, as “The Tale of Igor’s Campaign” was written by Musin-Pushkin, and not, let’s say, by Ivan Vyshenskyi, it is so difficult for us now.
About translation of texts
I know that my texts were translated into Armenian. My poem “Cavt tanem”. I really love this Armenian goodbye. Cavt tanem, as you know, while saying goodbye, means: I will take your pain. Armenians are such wise people! And they translated this “Cavt tanem” into Armenian. Belarusians translate me very well, translate by heart. Poles are “hit and miss “. If a person is talented, then the translation will be talented.
In Soviet times I could not stand translations into Russian. They “write hurriedly”, they are such professionals, they translate everything: prize winners, socialist realists, got Symonenko – also translated. And translation is also a creative work such as poetry, as prose. And they, as my grandmother used to say, used the principle “Where one goes, the other goes, too”. Symonenko has such a poem “Swans of Motherhood”. “Cocks were singing … Swans were dancing on my mother’s wall.” The Russian translator, quite well-known, translates: “Cocks were singing… Dancing swans were deaf”. I wrote an article “Dance of the Deaf Swans”. I did not have time to publish it, because the arrests, persecution began and so on, I still have it. That’s what I think of translations into Russian: this is the dance of the little swans…
At the University of Michigan, there was a seminar, very good people, so interesting professors… I did not even know that the professors from the department of Russian literature knew me, I was very moved. But there was one specialist in Russian philology. And he made some kind of chauvinistic moves: “We are one and the same people, Ukrainian? Spoiled Russian!” And I was so calm – I’ve long stopped worrying about all these problems – I said to him: “Can you translate into Russian a simple line from Ukrainian song “закувала та сива зозуля.”He, poor, wanted to translate, but he couldn’t! Because every language has its secret, its own greatness, it just needs to be loved.
About Chornobyl zone
When I was still a member of the Writers’ Union, after a meeting I got angry, I was sick… And I thought that let me sing “Ukraine has not died yet,” and I’ll go to where it is already dead. And I went to the Chornobyl zone.
It seems like a tragedy… But from the Chornobyl zone, I returned so light, cheerful, harmonious. I saw there a tragedy in comparison with which all our troubles are so small.
I was asked whether I’m scared to be there, in the Zone. I do not know, but I do not know, I’m not scared. It is my nature – I do not feel the fear.
About language, people, youth and the murder of Gongadze
And isn’t it too late for Ukrainians to ask what to do? It was necessary to predict it from the very beginning of Independence. We had to monitor what to do with it.
This is a brilliant nation. Let’s make sure that this people are no longer offended. Let’s stop all the stupid things happening in Ukraine.
We need to create an atmosphere to evoke the best in people, and then we will help each other. Again, I repeat: all the authorities must know that there is the most serious opposition – honest, decent people who will fight for their dignified life.
When we are together, we share a common aura. And then everyone goes to his life. But a person needs his circle. If there were such circles that would unite, then there would be another situation.
An awful pressure of Russification has led to pathological mutations. Therefore, we do not need the apologia of these mutations, but we need their diagnosis and treatment.
Language is also the face of the people, it is heavily distorted.
How to convince young people not to leave? We have been educating youth for 20 years as if no patriotism is needed, nothing is needed. During these years Indifference has developed – that is why the young people leave.
The youth knows everything. No recommendations should be given to them; one can only wish them a good road, sense, conscience, and talent. That is happiness. Show me a decent person who has his own specialty, his job and wants to be in politics. We need young people who are consciously going to politics. Not for power and money, but for the idea, and then we will have good politicians.
The story of Gongadze will always be in our hearts. Always. Because it’s a crime because when generals kill journalists, it’s a collapse. That is all. The End. And it is necessary to look directly into the eyes and make them to deal with the case: so that all the insolvents become known. Do not let the society forget Gongadze, Chernobyl, and the Holodomor, this is a duty, first of all, of journalists.
There is such a Japanese proverb: “The one who will stand 15 minutes longer will win.” I wish you all to keep it all 15 minutes longer. And then at 16th minute, we will all be fine.
By Dmytro Zhuravel
The publication was collected from numerous interviews, speeches, and appeals of the material’s protagonist.