Photos: British Ukrainian Society (c) 2008
Leading Ukrainian authors take part in round table discussion
19 June 2008
Leading contemporary Ukrainian authors Andrey Kurkov, Katerina Khinkulova and Rio Kunder took part in a debate discussing their works against the theme, “The Writer and Society in Post-Soviet Ukraine” on the 19th June.
Headed by Dr Robert Pyrah, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Oxford through the CEELBAS Programme, the event was organised in cooperation with the Ukrainian Institute London, the British Ukrainian Society, and Ukraine International Airlines.
The forum was opened by Prof. Robin Aizlewood, Director of CEELBAS and the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES). Robert Pyrah (St Antony’s College, Oxford) thanked the co-organisers, including Marta Jenkala of the Ukrainian Institute London and Olga Kerziouk of the British Library, and introduced both discussant Uilleam Blacker (UCL-SSEES), and authors.
Andrey Kurkov spoke during the evening and lively discussion ensued about the state of contemporary Ukrainian writing including a playful exchange about A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka. Katerina Khinkulova read an extract from a new work, in English, and spoke about her position as a “Ukrainian” author based in Britain. Kunder also read an extract from Panicoffski, where the protagonist is confronted by a baffling array of questions and clichés about his country of origin, presented in satirical form.
The Group discussion, led by Uilleam Blacker, concerned mainly the question of Ukrainian literature, its status, and the authors’ own perspectives on the country.
Afterwards there was a reception where the authors mingled with guests.
Andrei Kurkov is Ukraine’s best-known contemporary writer. His novels, including the bestselling Death and the Penguin, have enjoyed huge international success. Kurkov was born in the Leningrad region of Russia, but has spent most of his life in Kyiv. The tense balance of these two cultures, Russian and Ukrainian, is one of the characteristic features of his work. Although he writes in Russian, Kurkov’s work is very much informed by his Ukrainian experience. Kurkov’s fiction is at once accessible, entertaining and thought-provoking.
Panellist Katerina Khinkulova is a writer and broadcaster from Kyiv, working in the UK. She has published two novels, 36 Songs about Life, and Drifters, or Lubomyr Kasyn, Kasia Bon and their acquaintances. 36 Songs deals with the experience of a young Ukrainian woman trying to make her life abroad, in London. Khinkulova’s work is also steeped in the cultures to which she feels closest, Ukrainian and English, and slips seamlessly between them, giving an intriguing narrative point of view that is at once estranged and involved, a point of view that only the experience of diasporic existence can provide.
Rio Kunder is a nom de plume of the poet known in Ukraine as Semen Lybon. As part of the group Propala Hramota, Lybon was one of the leading lights in the mini-revolution in Ukrainian poetry which took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s, introducing a new, playful, carnivalesque aesthetic into the solemn stand-off between official Soviet and Ukrainian oppositionist literatures. In 1991 Kunder left Ukraine for the UK, where he wrote a PhD in literature at the University of Leeds. Under the new alias of Rio Kunder he published the debut novel Panicoffski, which combines its author’s Ukrainian roots, his love of Latin-American culture, particularly Salsa dancing, and his experience of his adopted homeland, England, resulting in a playful, at times explosive mixture.