The place is Kharkiv, the year is 1993. As if in somnambulism, Soviet war veterans and upstart businessmen listen in the concert hall to an American preacher of whose type there were plenty at the time on the post-Soviet territories. What once were the young communist head quarters is now an advertising agency. A youth radio station of this eastern Ukrainian city in collaboration with their London colleagues 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, who only by a mere chance happen to listen to these tunes that tell them nothing.
In the middle of a craze three friends, an anti-Semitic Jew ‘Dogg Pavlov’, an unfortunate entrepreneur Vasya ‘the Communist’ and the narrator Zhadan, nineteen years of age and unemployed, seek to find their old pal Sasha ‘Carburetor’ to tell him that his step-father shot himself dead.
Their search leads them to a decaying factory site where they steal a Molotov bust – archaic, but historically significant and dear to someone who was willing to pay just enough for the band to buy a cart of liquor; then they turn up in a Roma neighborhood where they know a friendly dealer, and then they take a local train to the pioneer camp 'Chemist' where Carburetor allegedly works as a supervisor. When Zhadan finally meets Sasha, he does not have the guts to tell him the truth.
The novel is set at the time of tragic turbulence that took over the country – Ukraine – in the post-communist spin-off. Zhadan places his characters in controversial confrontation with elements of his reality such as corrupt militia, surges against the Roma community who, in turn, were involved in a game of their own, troubled and radically criminal youth, angry and hunted by the city’s authorities. Tainted with traumatic survival fever, the novel is a combination of sad and somewhat poetic drama and a black comedy, dark and ultra-humorous. The book, though telling a desperately hopeless story in retrospect, is optimistic due to its light and playful ornament that envelopes deep and tearful events, and the author’s voice in it is clear and strong.
Born in 1974, Serhiy Zhadan is Ukraine’s celebrated novelist, poet, essayist and translator. His own works have been translated into German, English, Polish, Serbian, Croatian, Lithuanian, Belorussian, Russian, Hungarian, Armenian and Swedish.
A graduate of Kharkiv University, Serhiy Zhadan studied philology for three consecutive years, taught Ukrainian and world literature for four years after that, and then retired from teaching. He now lives and works in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Today, Zhadan is a critically acclaimed most prominent poet of the 1990s in his country. In 2008 the Russian translation of his novel Anarchy in the UKR was shortlisted by the National Bestseller Prize in Russia.
Interesting fact about Serhiy’s writing, as noted by critics, is that his prose is very poetic and his poetry is very prosaic. This, along with masterful improvisation and play on words that received a flattering ‘the verbal jazz’ tag, has been noted in all his works and is, by far, considered his trademark. Theme wise, he writes about his generation and the epoch he is living in, he is its witness and he neither cares about the weight of literary authority over him, nor about the impression his words might have on another; Serhiy Zhadan simply creates.
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