Yuri Vynnychuk is a master storyteller and satirist, who emerged from the Western Ukrainian underground in Soviet times to become one of Ukraine’s most prolific and most prominent writers of today. He is a chameleon who can adapt his narrative voice in a variety of ways and whose style at times is reminiscent of Borges. A master of the short story, he exhibits a great range from exquisite lyrical-philosophical works such as his masterpiece “An Embroidered World,” written in the mode of magical realism; to intense psychological studies; to contemplative science fiction and horror tales; and to wicked black humor and satire such as his “Max and Me.” Excerpts are also presented in this volume of his longer prose works, including his highly acclaimed novel of wartime Lviv Tango of Death, which received the 2012 BBC Ukrainian Book of the Year Award. The translations offered here allow the English-language reader to become acquainted with the many fantastic worlds and lyrical imagination of an extraordinarily versatile writer.
Translated from Ukrainian by Michael M. Naydan
(with one translation by Askold Melnyczuk and two translations by Mark Andryczyk)
Translations edited by Oksana Tatsyak
Ukrainian writer Yuri Vynnychuk was born in 1952 in Stanislav, Ukraine. The city is now called Ivano-Frankivsk (affectionately known as “Frankivsk” by the local inhabitants). Vynnychuk’s father was a doctor for the anti-Stalinist and anti-Nazi Ukrainian partisans during World War II, and his uncle on his mother’s side Yuri Sapiha was killed by the Soviet secret police (the Cheka) in 1941.Vynnychuk was named in memory of his murdered uncle. In 1973 Vynnychuk completed the Stanislav Pedagogical Institute where he developed the reputation of a prankster. At that time he became involved in student publications as well as in the literary underground. In 1974 the KGB conducted a search of his house but found no materials that would have incriminated him in the eyes of the Soviet regime. In order to avoid inevitable arrest, he moved to the larger city of Lviv, where he hid at apartments of several friends, constantly covering his tracks from the all-seeing eye of the KGB.
Until 1980 Vynnychuk was blacklisted and not allowed to publish in official sources. Till then he published works under the names of various other writers and ghost wrote books on occasion. He eked out a living from the honoraria from his various pseudonymous publications, a practice which, by habit and by design, he continues to this day. During the 1980s he held readings of his works in the apartments of friends and became well-known for his satiric poetry and stories about a mythical country called Arcanumia – a land where the streets and, in fact, everything, are paved with fecal matter. Any association of Arcanumia with the Soviet Union or Soviet Ukraine, of course, would have been purely coincidental. “The Island of Ziz” (“Ostriv Ziz”) is the best-known story from this cycle. From 1980 on, Vynnychuk was allowed to publish his articles and translations in the Ukrainian periodical press. He made a number of enemies among the Soviet literary establishment for his merciless attacks against hack writers. In 1987 Vynnychuk was instrumental in the creation of a stage singing and performance group “Ne zhurys’!” (Don’t Worry!), which rose to swift popularity in Ukraine. After a tour to Canada and the United States in 1989, Vynnychuk decided to leave the group and devote his time exclusively to literature. Off and on he has continued to participate in concerts with the group. Under Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika-perebudova and subsequent Ukrainian independence, Vynnychuk emerged from the underground (always keeping one foot there even to this very day) to occupy an eminent place in the new Ukrainian literature. His collection of fantastic stories The Flashing Beacon (Spalakh; 1990) sold out almost immediately. He also published a collection of poetry Reflections (Vidobrazhennia; 1990) and compiled and edited two anthologies of Ukrainian fantastic stories from the 19th century. His pulp fiction novellas Maidens of the Night (Divy nochi, 1992) and Harem Life (Zhytiie haremnoie, 1996) enjoyed extraordinary popularity. His love of storytelling and of his adopted hometown is combined in several volumes – Legends of Lviv (Lehendy Lvova, 1999), Pubs of Lviv (Knaipy Lvova, 2000), and Mysteries of Lviv Coffee (Taiemytsi lvivskoi kavy, 2001). His fantasy novel Malva Landa (the heroine’s name) appeared in 2000 and a collection of fantastic tales Windows of Time Frozen (Vikna zastyhloho chasu) in 2001. And his novel Spring Games in Autumn Gardens (Vesniani ihry v osinnikh sadakh, 2005) won the 2005 BBC Ukrainian Book of the Year Award. His collection of autobiographical works, Pears a la Crepe (Hrushi v tisti, 2010) also was nominated for the BBC Prize. His book Tango of Death won the 2012 BBC Ukrainian Book of the Year Award and has been garnering an extraordinary amount of attention both in Ukraine and in European circles, particularly in German and Czech translations. His most recent novel The Apothecary appeared in 2015. Its plot harkens back to seventeenth-century Venice and Lviv.