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Photo: International Book Arsenal Festival, ukraine.ua/imagebank


In a sense, modern Ukrainian literature developed itself as a sharp and vivid answer to the static forms of late Soviet literature.

On the other hand, the new reality of the 1990s became a period of uncertainty and frustration. At the onset of Ukrainian Independence lots of people experienced declining living conditions accompanied by an increased crime rate and high unemployment levels.

To describe and make sense of this inverted reality, some young writers used black humor and surrealistic elements, often letting absurdity play a leading part. Other authors preferred provocative vulgarization and rough, sometimes even dirty naturalism in order to reflect this mixed feeling of the new, inconceivable freedom, natural fear and defragmentation of reality.

Enriching Ukrainian literary language with the real everyday speech from the streets including obscene words, adding realistic gibberish and mixing it in with pathetic idioms, playing with bilingual dilemmas of those years as well as using dialects, they not only mirrored the reality but also formed it by giving society a profound comprehension of itself. Sexual themes finally came out of the shadows and became a legit part of Ukrainian literary and cultural discourse.

Time passed. During that period Ukraine proved its freedom with three revolutions, made its most important geopolitical choice and now as a kind of reaction experiences armed Russian aggression in the Donbas with Crimea still being occupied. Boys and girls born already in independent Ukraine in the 1990s are now raising their own families. All these developments are of course reflected in modern Ukrainian literature which remains, though, ironic and hopeful.

Presenting different regions of the country Ukrainian writers have always forced some of the national discussions and have no doubt made their mark on the establishment of a modern Ukrainian nation. Sometimes not met with the attention they deserve, , some of their books are now considered to have been prophetic.

Visiting one of the major book festivals is a great opportunity to make your first acquaintance with Ukrainian literature:

The International Book Arsenal Festival, Kyiv
Photo: Mystetskyi Arsenal

The International Book Arsenal Festival is an annual event, held in Kyiv, where literature meets visual arts and musical performances. The Festival raises and reflects the most relevant issues of society and civilization. The platform combines aesthetic experience with intellectual engagement, offering masterclasses, lectures, discussions, book presentations, exhibitions, performances, and many other activities.

Video: Mystetskyi Arsenal

Book Forum Lviv consists of the book fair and the International Literary Festival. The program of the Forum includes literary events and contests, presentations of publishing houses and authors, meetings with authors, literary readings, autograph sessions, discussions, round-table meetings, and performances.

The 24th Lviv Book Fair, Potocki palace
Photo: Ruslan Lytvyn, Shutterstock

The Meridian Czernowitz Poetry Festival in Chernivtsi is dedicated to contemporary European poetry. The program includes traditional poetry readings, lectures, theatrical and musical performances, unique wine and poetry readings, cigar evenings, photography and art exhibitions. 

Photo: Meridian Czernowitz

The Authors’ Reading Month isa literary festival held simultaneously in Lviv, Brno, Ostrava, Košice and Wrocław. A series of daily literary events in these cities usually starts on July 1st ending on August 4th. In 2020, Hungary became the festival’s special guest. 

All streams can be accessed online.     

The time to read has finally come. The list below includes the most well known masterpieces by the real Ukrainian literary geniuses. Choose and enjoy your trip.

Serhiy Zhadan Voroshilovgrad, Depeche Mode, Mesopotamia, Selected Poems 
Oksana Zabuzhko Museum of Abandoned Secrets, Your Ad Could Go Here
Yuri Andrukhovych Perverzion, Moskoviad  
Sofia Andrukhovych Felix Austria, Amadoca
Andrey Kurkov The Grey Bees, Ukraine Diaries, Death and the Penguin  
Taras Prokhasko Unsimple 
Tanja Maljartschuk Blauwal der Erinnerung

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