WOMEN'S FACES OF BELARUSIAN LITERATURE

On 8 October, 2015, the Belarusian writer Sviatlana Aleksijevich was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage of our time.” Ever since this moment, thousands of people from around the world have been actively looking for information about Belarus, its culture and literature.

However, despite the abundance of the literary heritage, the official canon of the Belarusian literature and its "pantheon of classics" is still represented by male names: Janka Kupala, Jakub Kolas, Maksim Bahdanovich, Vasil Bykau, Uladzimir Karatkievich.

Throughout the twentieth century there was a clear gender imbalance, and the situation only slightly changed with the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Belarus gained its independence. At the same time, gender issues began to be widely discussed and to affect various spheres of public life.
The Nobel Prize awarded to Sviatlana Aleksijevich is also very important for Belarusian literature due to the fact that it drew attention to other women’s voices in Belarusian prose and poetry.

What is it like, the women’s face of modern Belarusian literature?

We present only a cross-section, just a few of the great authors who work in various genres: Valancina Aksak, Sviatlana Aleksijevich, Alena Brava, Nasta Kudasava, Maryja Rouda, Tanya Skarynkina. They all are distinguished Belarusian writers, each of whom has a distinct style of her own, and a unique approach to life.
They have something to tell the world.

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

Valancina Aksak

Born in 1953 in the Minsk region. She is a journalist at the Belarusian Radio Liberty Broadcasting Service. The author of the collections of poetry The Cemetery (1992), The Chapel (1994), Antique Rain (1999), Wine from California (2003), Rosary Woman (2008), A Wild Plum (2015). Her works have been translated into Swedish, Polish, Lithuanian, French, Russian and English.

Valancina Aksak’s lyrics represent the quintessence of the contemporary meditative vers libre, brought up in the ironic transparency of Szymborska’s poetry and full of Christian, Classical and floristic symbolism.

A Wild Plum

The collection of poems

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.

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.

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.

Alena Brava

Born in 1966 in the town of Barysau in the Minsk region. In the second half of the 1980s, she left for Cuba with her husband and daughter. Since 1990, she has lived and worked in Barysau as a journalist. Author of The Curfew For Swallows (2004), The Heaven Has Long Been Overpopulated (2012), Forgiveness (2013). The winner of independent literary awards and Franc-Tireur USA International Award - Silver Bullet (2013), she was also long-listed (2013) and short-listed (2014) for the Jerzy Giedroyc Literary Award. Her works have been translated into Russian, German and English.

Making her debut in the early 2000s with The Curfew For Swallows – the story of the life of a Belarusian emigrant in Cuba– Alena Brava immediately attracted the attention of literary critics. However, exotics and orientalism, important themes in Belarusian literature of that time, hidebound in its internal problems, were rejected by the author in subsequent works. The writer chose a different path, which led inside, into the depths of the female consciousness and the subconscious, packed with abstractions and generalizations, symbols, archaic models and archetypes.

Heaven is Already Overcrowded

Novel

The Heaven Has Long Been Overpopulated is a collection of stories by Alena Brava, written in the 2000s, the apotheosis of experiments on female psychology. In these works, set against a background of harsh Soviet architecture and the hopeless poverty of a provincial town, the classic mother-daughter conflict meets the psychological trauma of World War II, intimate nymphomanias and women’s shameful dependence on their men. All this has little to do with politics: time is of little interest to Alena Brava, the main element in her prose being space and the woman in this landscape, with all her phobias and complexes.

Nasta Kudasava

Was 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.

Majo Nievymaulia

The collection of poetry

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.

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 Na?a 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.

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..

Tania Skarynkina

Born in 1969 in the city of Smarhon in the Hrodna region. She worked as a postwoman, journalist and illustrator. She writes poetry in Russian and essays in Belarusian. Her series of lyrics have been published in various Belarusian, Russian, Israeli and German editions. The author of the collections of poetry A Book For Reading Inside And Outside (2013), Portuguese Triplets (2014, New York, Ailuros Publishing). Her works have been translated into English, Polish, Czech and Hebrew.<p>

Tania Skarynkina is a master of the stereoscopic picture, where each detail plays a crucial, fateful role for the personality of the author and is one of the engines of the plot. Quick flipping through backgrounds and reality framing is typical both of her lyrics and her essays. The reality that comes forth in her texts is so mysterious and magic, that an encounter with any thing and any person is filled with a myriad of hyperlinks to the author’s past subjective experience.

A lot of Czeslaw Milosz, a bit of Elvis Presley

Stories

This book, A lot of Czeslaw Milosz, a bit of Elvis Presley is described as a collection of essays, but includes, in a certain sense, small stories with a plot or specific non-fiction works. The book can be seen as an alternative chronicle of life in a provincial Belarusian town, which is ignored by the dwellers of the capital and neighbouring countries, but constantly restores its forces for full-value and worthy existence..

Contacts

Books from Belarus