Understand Ukraine Through the Literature


10 Contemporary Ukrainian Books in English

In this article, we want to share with you some contemporary Ukrainian literature that will better open the world of Ukrainians to you.

  1. Your Ad Could Go Here: Stories by Oksana Zabuzhko

Translated by Halyna Hryn, Askold Melnyczuk, Marco Carynnyk, and Marta Horban

Oksana Zabuzhko is one of Ukraine’s most celebrated contemporary writers and the author of more than twenty books. She graduated from Kyiv’s Shevchenko University and obtained her PhD in philosophy. One of her most influential novels is Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex (1996, published in 2011 in English translation by Halyna Hryn).

In this breathtaking short story collection, she turns the concept of truth over in her hands like a beautifully crafted pair of gloves.

The author takes on what it means to be a woman, recent Ukrainian political events, the Crimea, sexuality, the impact of wars, modern life, etc. The author certainly covers many issues, and her writing style ranges from deep and meaningful to light and frivolous.

2. Voroshilovgrad by Serhiy Zhadan

Translated by Reilly Costigan-Humes and Isaac Wheeler

Serhiy Zhadan, one of the key figureheads in contemporary Ukrainian literature and the most famous poet, has become the voice of Ukraine’s “Euro-Maidan” movement. He lives in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

Voroshilovgrad is about an aimless 33-year-old urbanite Herman Korolyov. He is summoned back to the rural town in Eastern Ukraine where he and his brother, Yura, grew up and where Yura has been running a successful gas station” until his unexplained disappearance. At home, Herman finds Injured, an adroit ladies’ man, and Kocha, the beloved town criminal, operating the station, despite intimidation from gangsters who want to buy the property. Together with Injured, Kocha, and his accountant, Olga, Herman attempts to save the business and, with each step, becomes more enmeshed in the town’s relationships and the landscape itself.

3. Carbide by Andriy Lyubka

Translated by Reilly Costigan-Humes and Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler

Andriy Lyubka is a prize-winning Ukrainian poet, writer, and essayist and has published ten books of poetry, essays, travel writing, and fiction. Carbide is his debut novel.

The novel explores the underbelly of the Ukrainian smuggling industry. The protagonist, Tys, a merciless yet loving parody of Ukrainian nationalism, concocts a harebrained scheme to dig a tunnel from the imaginary western Ukrainian city of Vedmediv to Hungary and force the European Union to grant Ukraine admission by smuggling its entire population into a member-country. Hilarity inevitably ensues, along with danger, when Tys, the would-be ‘Moses of Ukraine’, recruits a gang of local smugglers, including a latter-day Icarusdetermined to fly over the border and a femme fatale who traffics human organs.

This timely novel offers a funny yet tragic take on increasingly urgent topics such as the meaning of borders, nationalism, and European identity.

4. Mondegreen: Songs about Death and Love (Harvard Library of Ukrainian Literature) by Volodymyr Rafeyenko

Translated by Mark Andryczyk

Volodymyr Rafeyenko is an award-winning Ukrainian writer, poet, translator, and literary and film critic. Having graduated from Donetsk University with a degree in Russian philology and culture studies, he wrote and published it entirely in Russian. Following the outbreak of the Russian aggression in Ukraine’s east, Rafeyenko left Donetsk and moved to a town near Kyiv, where he wrote Mondegreen: Songs about Death and Love, his first novel in Ukrainian, for which he was nominated for the Taras Shevchenko National Prize.

The novel tells the story of Haba Habinsky, a refugee from Ukraine’s Donbas region, who escaped to the capital city of Kyiv at the onset of the Ukrainian-Russian war. His physical dislocation―and his subsequent willful adoption of the Ukrainian language―place the protagonist in a state of disorientation during which he is forced to challenge his convictions. Written in a beautiful, experimental style, the novel shows how people―and cities―are capable of radical transformation and how this, in turn, affects their interpersonal relations and cultural identification.

5. A Biography of a Chance Miracle by Tania Maliartschuk

Joe Reimer (Illustrator), Zenia Tompkins (Translator)

Tania Maliarchuk is a Ukrainian-born author who writes in Ukrainian and, more recently, in German. Her hallmark style blends searing social commentary with heartwarming humour and an appreciation for the human condition.

A Biography of a Chance Miracle is Tania’s first novel and the sixth book. The story еxplores the life of Lena, a young girl who is growing up in the somewhat vapid, bureaucracy-ridden and nationalistic Western Ukrainian city of San Francisco. Lena is a misfit from early childhood due to her unwillingness to scorn everything Russian, her propensity for befriending forlorn creatures, her aversion to the status quo, and her fear of living a stupid and meaningless life.

6. Unsimple by Taras Prokhasko

Taras Prokhasko is one of Ukraine’s most enigmatic writers. A biologist by education, he writes his texts as if they were penetrating the very mysteries of life. As a result, he sits comfortably in the tradition of Western mystical writers like Meister Eckhart, among European fin-de-siècle poets like Hofmannsthal, and in the French nouveau roman tradition with its non-linear structures and broken narration.

Unsimple, tells a story of strange people living through wars – but “story” is hardly a proper word for this text. It is closer to meditation or prayer.

7. Life Went on Anyway: Stories

by Oleg Sentsov (Author), Uilleam Blacker (Translator)

The stories in Ukrainian film director, writer, and dissident Oleg Sentsov’s debut collection are as many acts of dissent as they are acts of creative expression. These autobiographical stories display a mix of nostalgia and philosophical insight, written in a simple yet profound style looking back on a life’s path that led Sentsov to become an internationally renowned dissident artist.

The themes of the stories vary from childhood relationships, dogs, childhood illness, and hospitalization over time. The stories share a growing consciousness and morality, perhaps sensing what Sentsov would endure in the 2010s as a political prisoner. Straightforward stories, relatable and engaging – small peeks into life in Soviet-era Ukraine.

8. Sweet Darusya: A Tale Of Two Villages by Maria Matios (Author), Michael Naydan (Translator), Olha Tytarenko (Translator)

Maria Matios is a Ukrainian poet, novelist and official. She was born in the village of Roztoky in the Bukovina region and presently resides in Kyiv. She authored 12 volumes of fiction and poetry, including the novel Sweet Darusia (2003) and the collections of stories titled The Short Life (2001) and Nation (2002). Her prose works have been translated into Russian, Polish, English, Serbian, and Belorussian.

The novel reveals a family saga that is much more dynamic than classical sagas and, at the same time, is much more touching and engaging. It is an emotional history of Ukraine with a very well researched and vivid historical background that allows the reader to understand the characters and their drama and the entire drama of the country/countries in which they lived without leaving their village.

9. Grey Bees

by Andrey Kurkov (Author), Boris Dralyuk

Andrey Kurkov is, perhaps, the most well-known Ukrainian writer outside of Ukraine. He’s more famous internationally than he is domestic. He writes in Russian but considers himself a Ukrainian author; he has openly defended Ukraine during the Euromaidan and the fight against Russian aggression.

Little Starhorodivka, a village of three streets, lies in Ukraine’s Grey Zone, the no-man’s-land between loyalist and separatist forces. Thanks to the lukewarm war of sporadic violence and constant propaganda that has been dragging on for years, only two residents remain: retired safety inspector turned beekeeper Sergey Sergeyich and Pashka, a rival from his schooldays. Sergeyich’s one remaining pleasure is his bees. As spring approaches, he knows he must take them far from the Grey Zone so they can collect their pollen in peace. This simple mission on their behalf introduces him to combatants and civilians on both sides of the battle lines: loyalists, separatists, Russian occupiers and Crimean Tatars.

10. Sound: Shhh…Bang…Pop…BOOM! by Romana Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv. Translated by Vitaly Chernetsky

The husband and wife team Romana Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv, share an art studio, AGRAFKA, in Lviv, Ukraine. The authors of kid’s books written in Ukrainian and now also in English.

Sound will appeal to young readers who enjoy Animalium, Botanicum, Eye to Eye: How Animals See the World, and Human Body: A Visual Encyclopedia.

The book is full of informative infographics and explains to curious children how sound works, from singing to intricate and accessible diagrams of the ear to the music and melodies that surround us.

What books by Ukrainian authors have you read? What is your impression? Please, share with us in the comments.

And enjoy your reading!

Leave a Comment

Ask questions on Instagram Ask questions on Telegram