BOOKS FROM BELARUS

Books From Belarus is a non-commercial project aimed at promoting the best contemporary Belarusan literature abroad. It presents best fiction, recently published by independent Belarusan publishers.

Authors

Valiancina Aksak

Born in 1953 near Niasvizh. She is a historian by education. She works as a journalist with the Belarusian Radio Liberty Broadcasting Service. She is the author of six books of poetry. Her poems have been translated into Swedish, Polish, Lithuanian, French, English and Russian.

photo by Ivan Besser

A Wild Plum

poetry collection

A Wild Plum is unexpectedly a very tragic and bitter book: a story of a tree bidding farewell to its roots – the parents who leave forever, and its shoots – the children who grow up and leave to create families of their own. As a result, there appears a zone of colossal existential cold, in which can be sensed a hardly perceptible fragrance of garden flowers and the warmth of human understanding.

Valiancin Akudovich

Born in 1950 in the town of Svislach. He is a philosopher, writer and literary critic. Since 2001 he has been a tutor on the literature and philosophy programme of the Belarusian Collegium – an independent educational forum in the field of the humanities.

photo by Ivan Besser

Waking in the morning in a country you can call your own

essay collection

“Say what you like about the Belarusians – it will be untrue.” Akudovich is here quoting the words of a philosopher friend; he goes on to explain: the Belarusians have a tradition of viewing themselves as a nation that goes back no more than thirty years. The author is convinced that this is too short a time for them to have been able to grasp their newly-discovered thousand-year-old history adequately. Nevertheless, everything that Akudovich has written in Belarusian over the past thirty years offers the reader the fullest, most detailed portrait of contemporary Belarus – a country that the Belarusians cannot themselves see. European readers have had an opportunity to gain some insight into the author’s Belarusocentric ideas thanks to the appearance of his book: Valentin Akudowitsch. Der Abwesenheitscode: Versuch, Weisrusslandzuverstehen (edition suhrkamp), 2013. Waking in the Morning is yet another another “untruth” about the Belarusians. This “Collection of texts” –as the author himself calls his book – covers a wide range of genres: from verses in prose to philosophical disputes, memoirs and lectures delivered in a variety of occasions. In true Belarusian style Akudovich expounds his philosophy in highly poetical language reminiscent of the works of Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Sviatlana Aleksievich

Born in 1948 in Ivano-Frankivsk. She worked in the editorial offices of various media in Minsk as a reporter and wrote essays. Since the early 1980s she has been creating the cycle of non-fiction books Voices From Utopia: War’s Unwomanly Face (1985), The Last Witnesses: A Hundred of Unchildlike Lullabys (1985), Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afganistan War (1989), Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster (1997), Second-hand Time (2013). She is a laureate of dozens of international literary awards and prizes, including the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature. Her works have been translated into dozens of languages. She currently lives and works in Minsk.

Integrated in the cycle Voices from Utopia, books by Sviatlana Aleksievich are neither monographs on oral history, nor collections of interviews, but form a unified, musically composed text, which can be rather called a philosophical treatise on the Soviet “Red Man”. The isolated and sporadic collisions of people with the deceptive abyss of human nature caution the reader against the temptation of yet again creating "the only right idea" – the temptation that leads to loss of dignity, and then loss of freedom.

photo by Alena Kazlova

Second-hand Time

documentary novel

The Soviet Union itself in this last book is dying, rushing to its end and convulsively paving its way with the bodies of thousands of the disappointed. Second-hand Time is a kind of encyclopaedic reference book of all Aleksievich’s work: in addition to the central theme of this book – the collapse of the Soviet Union – the writer introduces us to themes from previous “releases” in this cycle, using keynotes, refrains and accents: the war in Afghanistan, World War II, and Chernobyl. The monologue stories of Second-hand Time are interspersed with real "voices", which sometimes are not even attributed; this seems like the nameless, but not faceless, talk of the street. This chorus of voices, quotes and fragments of overheard conversations is manifested in the fullest way in the last book by Sviatlana Aleksievich.

Uladzimir Arlou

Born in 1953 in Polack. By education he is a historian. He has written more than twenty books of non-fiction about Belarusian history, short stories and poetry. Arlou’s books have been translated into twenty five languages. The winner of various awards, Arlou also holds the distinguished title “European Poet of Freedom” (Gdansk, 2010).

photo by Ivan Besser

The Most Noble Order of the White Mouse

short story collection

This book brings together all of Arlou’s most important prose works, which can be said to have set the tone for the development of a renewed Belarusian literature since the 1990s. Two extremes can be observed in the author’s stories. Some of them are firmly rooted in a childhood and youth spent in the happy, slow-moving pace of everyday life in a Soviet province (“Polack tales”, “A Siberian story”). Others are characterised by the phantasmagorical and irreal (“Landscape with a menthol smell”, “Genius Loci”). These two extremes are balanced out by the author’s indefatigable libido, which brings his prose dangerously close to the point where it would be suitable only for readers over the age of 16. Arlou’s works all have a common starting point – his native city, Polack – the cradle of Belarusian statehood (first mentioned in the chronicles under the year 862). The author brings his training as a historian to bear in constantly drawing parallels between the past and the present. In 1563 the troops of the Muscovite Tsar Ivan the Terrible laid waste to Polack. The confrontation with the Eastern Empire, which still continues in Belarus to this day, is another important motif in Arlou’s prose writing. The title of the collection as a whole is taken from the ironic parable “The Most Noble Order of the White Mouse”. This tale of an arrogant king was aimed directly at the political regime in Belarus in 2001. It cost the writer his job with a state publishing house.

Ihar Babkou

Born in 1964 in Homiel. He has a PhD in philosophy and is engaged in postcolonial studies. He is the author of three poetry collections, two books on philosophy and two novels. His novel Adam K?akocki and his shadows (1999) was short-listed for the Angelus Central European Literature Award of the city of Wroclaw in 2009. Part one of his novel Chvilinka [Moment] won the Jerzy Giedroyc Literary Award in 2013.

photo by Ivan Besser

A Cafe called Moment

novel

“Moment” is the name of a real cafe that existed in Minsk in the 1980s at the height of Gorbachev’s perestroika. Since then the Belarusian capital – both externally and internally – has changed out of all recognition. Belarusian society has also changed. For this reason the novel enchanted readers who were already thunderstruck by all the changes happening around them. To them the book seemed like a time capsule. The book tells three stories of three regulars of the cafe called Moment; they went in thirty years ago and since then have been unable to find their way out. The heroes are a poet, a political activist and a singer; each of them remains loyal to the way of life they have chosen whatever happens. In spite of all the planners’ visions for the future development of the city the cafe called Moment has been at the same address for decades, and the barista grows no older.

Alhierd Bacharevich

Born in 1975 in Minsk. He is a writer and translator, and was frontman of the 1990s rock-band Pravakacyja. He is the author of fifteen books of prose, including novels, short stories and essay collections. His novel The Magpie on the Gallows has also been published in German (Die Elster auf demGalgen, Leipzig, 2010). He is the winner of the Hliniany Viales literary award (2002). His novel Dzieci Alindarki won the Belarusian PEN-centre award Kniha hodu (2014) and was short-listed for the Jerzy Giedroyc literary award in 2015. His books A Concise Medical Encyclopedia and The White Fly, Killer of Men won second prize of the Giedroyc award in 2012 and 2016 respectively. In 2007 he left Minsk for Hamburg, but since 2013 has been living in Belarus.

photo by Ivan Besser

Lilac and black: Paris seen through the lens of Belarusian literature

novel-essay, guidebook

There are two dimensions to Bacharevich’s latest book. It is a description of the time he spent in Paris on a literary grant, interwoven with an account of the image of Paris and France in 20th- and 21st-century Belarusian literature. The author uses a simple device to bring the two elements – diary and literary essay – together: the book reads like a story he is telling his beloved wife Julia, who shared his travels and at the same time became the book’s main hero. The black-and-white photographs taken by the poet Julija Cimafiejeva are an intrinsic part of the book. They transform it into a guidebook to Paris as a Mecca for writers. The title of the book is a quotation taken from a verse by the Soviet Belarusian poet Pimien Panchanka, who was in Paris at the end of the 1950s during a cruise along the shores of Western Europe.

Alena Brava

Born in 1966 in Barysau. She is a writer and journalist. She is the author of several books of fiction. Her first novel Curfew for Swallows won the Hliniany Viales award in 2004.

photo by Ivan Besser

 

Curfew for Swallows

travelogue, diary

Underlying the story “Curfew for Swallows” is the diary that Aliena Brava kept when she was living in Cuba. She left for there with her Cuban husband and young daughter. She abandoned her husband one year later and returned to Belarus with her daughter. The reasons for this were ideological differences within the family, differing views of the role of women, and the poor living conditions on the “Isle of Freedom”. All this finds a place in a travelogue that is rich in its portrayal of everyday life in Cuba, giving the reader a picture of life there in 1989. The story is told by the author’s alter ego, the Belarusian girl Aliesia. Brava reflects on the freedom of women in a totalitarian society. She also records the life stories of Belarusian women who have married Cuban men. The author compares them with birds for which Fidel Castro’s Cuba has become a cage. In the view of the researcher Tacciana Ficnier Brava’s heroine conducts her struggle in two guises: the first is the woman-as-lover who is helped by another culture to discover her own sexuality, and the other is the woman-as-mother who decisively rejects a socialist future for her daughter.

Julia Cimafiejeva

Born in 1982 near Brahin. She is a poet and translator. She has published two poetry collections. She translates prose and poetry from English, Spanish and Portuguese. She is moderator of the literature section of the “Remarka” programme on the independent TV channel Belsat.

photo by Ivan Besser

Circus

poetry collection

Julia Cimafiejeva’s second book is thoroughly imbued with her involvement in gender issues. The author speaks in metaphors of corporality and employs symbols and terms that she takes bodily from feminist criticism and bends them to the purposes of her poetry. Cimafiejeva displays her true poetic talent in the way she handles metaphor; her poems possess massive energy. The central nerve of this collection is the poet’s recognition of herself as poet, and awareness of herself within the poetry and of the poetry within herself.

Andrej Fiedarenka

Born in 1964 near Mazyr. He is a writer and editor. He is the author of about ten books of prose. In 1995 he won the Ivan Mieliezh Literary Prize for his novel Smuta (Discord). He was awarded the “Zalataja Litara” (Golden Letter) prize in 2009 for Nichyje (No one claims them), and the “Hliniany Vialies” prize in 2014 for Cisha (Quiet).

photo by Ivan Besser

The village

short story collection

Andrej Fiedarenka is regarded as one of the youngest “old school” prose writers, an author who consistently adheres to realism, the dominant trend in Belarusian literature in the 20th century. He is an outstanding literary stylist, and his prose is considered exemplary in its use of the Belarusian literary language. After the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986 the area around the town of Mazyr – where Fiedarenka comes from – found itself in the zone affected by radioactive contamination. It is not by chance that the Chernobyl disaster is central to the author’s work; it is something that he took very much to heart. The story Bliacha [literally ‘tin-plate’] concerns the lives of those who decided to remain in the “zone”, from which most of the people had been resettled. It focusses in particular on the life and death of a man living on the margins of society, nicknamed “Bliacha”. He is a “little man”, so typical of Soviet literature. Fiedarenka’s treatment of his life raises it to the proportions of Greek tragedy. Bliacha has been translated into several foreign languages. There was a curious incident in 2010: a translation of the story into Japanese was published in a collection of “fantasy fiction” short stories; murky events that could indeed have occurred in the Chernobyl zone at the end of the 1980s were presented to readers at the other end of the world in a completely unrealistic manner.

Adam Hlobus

Born in 1958 in the town of Kojdanava. He is the author of about twenty books of fiction and poetry. In his books he develops different genres of short story and works with contemporary folklore.

photo by Ivan Besser

Just Don’t Tell My Mum

short story collection

In Just Don't Tell My Mum the author as protagonist raises topics of which his mother would certainly disapprove. Hlobus takes the reader through his first kiss at school, an attempt to kill a cat and his first visit to a prostitute. He talks to the reader like a friend about all the forbidden joys of his Soviet childhood and post-Soviet manhood, revealing subconscious fears and phobias in a soothing voice. The readers wind their way through Belarus' newly gained independence in the 1990s in a book that is generously flavoured with humour and irony. The book first appeared in 1995 and became an instant sensation. It had previously not been possible to talk about sex in Belarusian literature because of the Soviet ideological principles that had been foisted upon it. Hlobus was one of the first to break the taboo.

Paval Kasciukievich

Born in 1979 in Minsk. He is a writer and translator. He studied psychology in Tel Aviv and spent more than 10 years in Israel. He has been living in Minsk since 2008. He translates prose from Hebrew and English. He has published two short stories collections and a novel. His first book Зборная Беларусі па негалоўных відах спорту [The National Team of Belarus for the lesser types of sport] (2011) won the Jerzy Giedroyc Literary Award in 2012.

photo by Ivan Besser

The Perseus Syndrome

novel, family saga

The main hero of the family saga The Perseus Syndrome is the young psychotherapist Iharok, who has no choice but to live in a dormitory district of Minsk in a flat with three generations of women – his great-grandmother, his grandmother and his mother. In order to create an opportunity to head westwards away from his joyless, post-soviet, humdrum life, he and his German girlfriend Roni devise a means of “selling Belarus” at European cultural fairs by creating a distinctive brand out of the medical condition known as “Polish plait”. In the nineteenth century “Polish plait” (Plica polonica) symbolized just how backward and downtrodden Belarusian peasants were, because they believed that matted hair held magic properties and refused to allow themselves to be cured of it. Anyway this topic is no more than a trap for the reader who is destined to have to follow a whole course of grandchild therapy, Iharok’s own method of psychoanalysis which consists of clarifying the relationships between grandparents and grandchildren.

Nasta Kudasava

Born in 1984 in Rahachou, in the Palessie area of the Homiel region. She authored the collections of poetry The Leaves Of My Hands (2006), Fish (2013), and Majo Nievymaulia (My Unuttered Infant) (2016). Her works have been translated into Russian and Bulgarian.

Nasta Kudasava’s lyrics of the early 2000s stood out due to their accentuated desire for musicality and inspirations from Marina Tsvetaeva, albeit preserving a certain distance. At the same time, this modernist musical tradition was confronted with the anarchic imagery of 1960s and 1980s ‘rock idol’ texts, giving Kudasava’s poetry a certain non-local colour.

photo by Alena Kazlova

Majo Nievymaulia

poetry collection

The collection of poetry Majo Nievymaulia seems to be painted in watercolours: it consists of small-format sketches of a person’s mental state. Nasta Kudasava’s meditations are focused on identifying the language itself, on an ecstatic echoing of the word forms with the internal state of the author – both disturbing and encouraging.

Viktar Marcinovich

Born in 1977 in Ashmiany. He is a writer and journalist. He holds a doctorate in art history and works as a professor in the European Humanities University in Vilnius. He has published five books of fiction and one non-fiction book. He won the Maksim Bahdanovich Debut Award for his first novel in Belarusian Sciudziony vyraj [Migrating to a Cold Country] in 2012. His first novel Paranoya (2009) was written in Russian and later translated and published in the USA, Finland and Germany.

photo by Alina Krushynskaya

The Lake of Delight

novel

In a note to the novel The Lake of Joy the book is described as a ‘road movie’. The novel tells the story of Jasia, a graduate of a Belarusian university, who is all at once smothered by an avalanche of misfortunes. Her family rejects her, and she is compelled to go and work off her compulsory post-graduation work assignment in a village called Malmyhi. Unable to tolerate the awfulness of provincial life, she returns to Minsk where she learns that by law she has to pay the state for her five years of university education. The only place where she can earn the necessary amount is Moscow. The Lake of Delight is Marcinovich’s fifth book and, as the author himself asserts, is “the most candid and most adult of the novels [he] has written hitherto”. He also describes it as “an attempt to remove the filters that exist between the heart and a literary text”. It is also an attempt to sum up the development of Belarus over the past twenty five years. The pages of the book reveal an entire epoch, albeit a brief one, and anyone who has lived through it will unavoidably grow more mature. This process of maturation is accompanied by disappointments, delusions and the bitter blows of fate. People should strive for the Lake of Delight on the Moon, for only this lake is capable of helping them not to lose themselves entirely in the problems thrown up by everyday life.

Maryja Martysievich

Born in 1982 in Minsk. She is a poet, translator and literary critic. She is the author of two books: one combines poetry and essays, the other contains her own poems and translations. She is well-known in Belarus for her provocative writings about contemporary literature.

photo by Ivan Besser

The Embassy

poetry collection

In her lyrical poetry the author displays her preference for social topics, but she also reflects on culture and traditions, and the role they play in people’s lives. She is a close observer of the clash between old and new, western and eastern, male and female, high and low, and describes the tragicomedy of this clash. The title of the author’s second book is taken from the name of the long poem “The Embassy” in the collection. The poem consists of the telephone conversations of Belarusians with a woman who works in the call centre of the consulate of a small European country called Polabia. The country is a member of the European Union and its officials issue Schengen visas. For many Belarusians a Schengen visa is synonymous with personal freedom, and the refusal of such a visa may be perceived as a major tragedy. The poem comprises dialogues in prose and monologues in verse. Each call begins with a standard automated reply. This explains why the author chose to classify the genre of her polyphonic work as a “serial”. In the final season of the “serial” the system redirects the phone call of one of the heroes to the other world.

Tacciana Niadbaj

Born in 1982 in Polack. She is a poet and translator. She works as a cultural manager on various projects. In 2006 she was arrested in Minsk for participation in post-election protests and had to finish her philological studies in Poland. She came back to Belarus in 2015. Her first book of poetry The Sirens sing Jazz won the Maksim Bahdanovich Debut Award in 2014.

photo by Ivan Besser

The Sirens sing Jazz

poetry collection

This book is essentially a love story told in verse. The reader has an opportunity to experience the story alongside the author, from the beginnings of love to the time love dies, to follow the author as she passes through the waste land that comes after parting, and then finds peace and recovery. Niadbaj’s poetry is clearly inspired by the writers Uladzimir Arlou and Liera Som, who also come from Polack, and by the Society of Free Writers which too is based in that city. The intellectual and aesthetic climate of the 1990s exerted an influence on the young woman, before whom the whole world lay open in the following decade. The allusion to the Odyssey in the title of the collection is deliberate – the leitmotif running throughout the book is travelling, for the most part along the road between Warsaw and Minsk.

Barys Piatrovich

Born in 1959 near Chojniki. He is a journalist by education. In 2002 he was appointed Editor-in-Chief of the independent literary journal Dziejaslou. Since 2011 he has been the Chairman of the independent Union of Belarusian Writers. He is the author of ten books of prose. His book Not afraid to live won the Hliniany Vialies award in 2008.

photo by Ivan Besser

Not afraid to live. Frescoes

short stories

This is a collection of short stories which the author describes as ‘frescoes’. His stories “are written in one go, in the same way as frescoes are painted in a church – before the plaster dries”. According to the critics, the book combines elements of “village prose” and intellectual writing – two genres of Belarusian literature that before the 1990s were regarded as mutually exclusive. The vast majority of Belarusian town dwellers, just as in many other places in the world, originally came from the countryside. In the 20th century people in Belarus were ashamed of their rural origins: peasants, despite all the communist party’s slogans, were on the lowest rung of the hierarchical ladder of Soviet society. It is only in recent years that Belarus has been affected by the pan-European tendency for representatives of the so-called creative class to return to the countryside. As teenagers might write on the internet, Barys Piatrovich gave new meaning to the Belarusian village before it became trendy to do so.

Alies Razanau

Born in 1947 near Biaroza. He is a poet and translator. He made huge impact on Belarusian modernistic canon by invention several poetry forms. His first book was published in 1970. He is an author of about 20 poetry collections. He translates poetry mostly from German and Lithuanian. In 1969 Razanau was excluded from the Belarusian State University for organising a petition in defence of using Belarusian as the language of instruction in the university, and for his support for the dissident poet Larysa Hienijush. Thanks to the intercession of the influential poet Maksim Tank he was able to complete his university studies in Brest. In 1990 he was given the highest award that a Belarusian poet in the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic could receive – the State Janka Kupala Prize. He has also been awarded the Herder Prize (2003) and the Zalaty Apostrof [Golden Apostrophe] Prize (2013).

photo by Ivan Besser

Forest Road. Versets

versets

It was only in the 20th century that Belarusian poetry began to develop intensively. The role played by Razanau in that development is akin to that played by Tomas Transtromer in Swedish poetry or Paul Celan in German. Between 2005 and 2011 seven books of poetry by Razanau appeared, reissues of poetry from different years arranged according to genre. Forest Road is a collection of versets, a poetical form that entered Belarusian poetry at the beginning of the 20th century, and which Razanau polished and perfected. The rhythm and composition of the versets are reminiscent of folk tales and very often sound like a kind of mantra. The poet derives his metaphysics from the Belarusian countryside, from the landscapes of his native village Sialiec in Belarusian Palessie, and from chance encounters and events. Any translation of Razanas’s versets will force translators to construct an appropriate poetic style using the resources of their native language. Now would that not be something wonderful?!

Maryja Rouda

Born in 1975 in Minsk. She teaches History of the English Language and Theory of Grammar courses at Minsk State Linguistic University. She underwent training courses in the UK and Germany. Translated Margareth Atwood’s prose and Tom Stoppard’s plays from English into Belarusian. Her short stories and short novels have been published in magazines and newspapers, and included in several anthologies, An Anthology of Belarusian Stories (Antologie bieloruskich povidek), published in Brno in 2006, among them. She is the author of the book of prose, A Clinical Case, or A Vain Escape (2015). Her works have been translated into Czech and Esperanto.

The greatest discovery of a hidden treasure of Belarusian literature: a postmodernist author who made her debut at eighteen, in the cult Nasha Niva monthly magazine, and spent the next two decades in voluntary reclusion and solitary writing of her new works. On the eve of New Year 2016, she broke her “vow of silence” and published a voluminous collection of her prose.

photo by Zoya Sazonava

A Clinical Case, or A Vain Escape

stories

Maryja Rouda could be called a “minstrel of pathological love”, after the title of one of her short stories. Experimenting with modernist techniques known from Virginia Woolf and James Joyce’s works, Rouda brought into the Belarusian prose of the 1990s the theme of passionate love, in its most acutely felt and madness-inducing version. In the 2000s, the author immerses herself in an investigation of social-critical issues, satirically embracing the Belarusian reality of the “new stagnation” era. In recent years, Ro?da has been writing family saga prose, preserving her psychologically sharp writing method. A Clinical Case, or A Vain Escape is a full collection of short stories and short novels written between the 1990s and 2000s..

Ludmila Rublieuskaja

Born in 1965 in Minsk. She is a writer, poet and literary critic. She is an architect and philologist by education. She is the author of more than ten books of prose and poetry. She works in genres of popular fiction, producing widely varying types of historical novels, eg romance, crime and detection, horror. She has recently been writing a great deal for teenagers. She won the “Golden Apostrophe” Prize in 2004 and the Francishak Bahushevich Prize of the Belarusian-PEN Centre in 2011 for her novel Sutarenni Romula [The souterrains of Romulus].

photo by Ivan Besser

Daguerreotype

horror novel

Rublieuskaja’s new novel is set in the decadent years at the end of the nineteenth century, but opens in our times. The young journalist Sierafima is setting off to inspect a flat that she wishes to rent from a young man, the biologist Haljash, with whom she is secretly in love. He is getting ready to leave for the USA, where his fiancee is waiting for him in one of the universities there. The two of them are sorting things out in the flat when Haljash discovers among his grandfather’s papers a daguerreotype and a diary that belonged to an unknown woman… Mysterious events dating back to the 1890s unfold before the reader. The owners of a photographic studio in a small provincial Belarusian town – the beautiful, independent-minded Bahuslava and her father Varaksa Nichiel – specialise in portraits of the newly deceased; they have to set off on an expedition to photograph a unique ethnographical collection on the remote, sinister estate of Zhuchavichy. The current owner of the estate, Prince Shymon Kahaniecki, is believed by the local villagers to be a werewolf. The novel encompasses elements of the Gothic, the horror story, a passionate love affair in spite of everything, and the merciless baseness of humanity. A solution to this romantic and terrifying story is found only in our day.

Uladzimir Sciapan

Born in 1958 near Homiel. He is a painter, writer and screenwriter. He has published three short story collections.

photo by Ivan Besser

One copeck

short stories collection

“One copeck” is a collection of short stories, each of which focusses on events in a small, nondescript Soviet town. The writer’s own place of birth served as the prototype. The collection includes stories penned by the writer over a period of eight years. The book was well received by critics and readers alike. The blogger Julija Sharova writes: “I am astounded by the author’s ability to write short stories about the people who live in the village of Kasciukouka near Homiel in such a way as to make readers feel that they are watching short art films from Georgia. We find the selfsame simple “little” people, each one of whom is a home-spun philosopher, a whole universe and a religion. This is a scattering of short human stories full of tragedy almost at the level of the ancient Greeks.” The story “One copeck” lends its title to the collection as a whole. A nine-year-old boy quite by chance finds eighty seven Soviet copecks. He gives way to an inner impulse and gives them all to the local cripple Barysok, who promised to grant “one wish for each copeck”. Astoundingly he carried out his promise. But the boy did not give the cripple all the copecks. There was still just one lone copeck in his pocket. So it was that the boy deprived himself of one wish fulfilment, and the thought of this one unfulfilled wish haunted him for the rest of his life.

Tania Skarynkina

Born in 1969 in Smarhon. She is a poet and essayist. She is the author of two poetry collections and one collection of essays.

photo by Ivan Besser

A lot of Czeslaw Milosz, a bit of Elvis Presley

essay collection, diary

Skarynkina writes her poetry in Russian, but this engaging book of essays written in 2014-2015 for the website budzma.org [Let’s be Belarusians] was published in Belarusian (apart from quotations in the original language taken from her poetry). The book is made up of recollections of her childhood in Smarhon, interwoven with events that have happened to the author while she was writing the book, also in Smarhon, the town to which she returned after spending several years in Portugal. In principle Skarynkina notes down everything that comes into her head; the charm of this book lies in the fact that she has the head of a genius. The title of the book comes from an ironic memoir of how the author, when young and enthused by a translation of Milosz’s poetry into Belarusian, spent the last of her money on a trip to Krakow in an attempt to meet him. She never did manage to find his address, and so Milosz is still for her an idol beyond reach, dressed in a gold lame suit just like Elvis Presley.

Jeva Viezhnaviec

Born in 1972 in the town of Sluck. She is the author of two books of fiction. Her creative personality was shaped in the colourful bohemian melting pot of Minsk in the 1990s. She currently works as a journalist in Warsaw. The author has at last produced her second volume of prose, which she describes as about the gardens of Paradise and the Earth. She works as a volunteer in the Warsaw Botanical Garden.

photo by Maria Soderberg

Arboretum

novel written in the form of a series of linked stories

“Arboretum” may be translated from Latin as a “garden of trees”. It is a name given to artificial forests, laid out in accordance with the principles of a botanical garden. The fundamental idea underlying the book is the incompatibility of the two concepts “garden” and “forest”. A garden is an attempt to instil order into nature and to reconcile the worlds of the botanical, zoological and human. A forest, on the other hand, represents untamed nature, the struggle for existence. The tiny settlement of Voupa nestles on land surrounded by marshes, peat bogs, forest and an experimental nursery garden. Arboretum is a book about people who are cut off from the world and live submerged in their own past and their own secrets. The book is also about how they can grow away from all that. Arboretum is a novel written in the form of a series of linked stories.

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Books from Belarus