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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex

Oksana Zabuzhko

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To purchase Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex

Title: Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex
Author: Oksana Zabuzhko
Genre: Novel
Written: 1996 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 161 pages
Original in: Ukrainian
Availability: Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex - US
Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex - UK
Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex - Canada
Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex - India
Feldstudien über ukrainischen sex - Deutschland
Sesso ucraino: istruzioni per l'uso - Italia
  • Ukrainian title: Польові дослідження з українського сексу
  • Translated by Halyna Hryn

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Our Assessment:

B : solid entry in what has become a familiar and well-worn genre

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 28/3/2006 Kerstin Holm
NZZ . 4/3/2006 Jörg Plath
TLS . 2/3/2012 Uilleam Blacker

  From the Reviews:
  • "Wer an die Schlüsselstelle gelangt, hat eine Reise von hundertsechzig Seiten hinter sich, die in einem assoziativ breit flutenden Prosastrom eine Art erotischen Passionsweg durchexerziert. Wie Riffe kristallisieren sich darin amouröse Begegnungen und Erregungen, ohne welche die Autorin ihre selbstgestellte Aufgabe, der ukrainischen Sprache neues poetisches Leben zu geben, gar nicht erfüllen könnte." - Kerstin Holm, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Es ist eine eigenwillige Mischung aus Tradition und Postmoderne, Christentum und weiblicher Fleischeslust, die Oksana Sabuschko durch einen nervösen inneren Monolog glaubhaft macht. (...) Man muss die Feldstudien über ukrainischen Sex, fünf Jahre nach der Unabhängigkeit des Landes erschienen, als Aufbruchsdokument einer jungen, weiblichen Literatur und einer anderen Ukraine lesen, die dann in der «orangen Revolution» ihren Kopf erhoben hat. Solch ein Buch besitzen die meisten Nationalliteraturen, und dieses hat Oksana Sabuschko zu Recht berühmt gemacht." - Jörg Plath, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "It was the way their affair was described that shocked readers in 1996, when this debut novel was published. Zabuzhko took the Ukrainian language, so fiercely protected by its speakers through centuries of colonial denigration and prohibition, and lovingly ravaged it, producing a chaotic interior monologue in which gender, sex and national identity are constantly intertwined (.....) Ukrainian literature had never seen such a frank expression of female bodily experience" - Uilleam Blacker, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex tells the story -- in first, second, and third person -- of a Ukrainian writer (named, liked the author, Oksana) who is part of the semi-itinerant international literary community (she has a gig teaching at Harvard, for example (as did the author)) but is unmoored, her native country newly independent yet still dealing with an identity-crisis and inferiority complex that is shared by many of its citizens. This type of eastern European novel of the immediate post-Soviet future -- a future not of limitless possibility but of great uncertainty -- faced abroad by a writer isn't something new; Drago Jancar's Mocking Desire (1993) or the works of Dubravka Ugrešić are notable examples in the by now well-worn genre, while Zabuzhko-compatriot Yuri Andrukhovych has offered creative (and more domestic) spins on it in works such as Perverzion and Таємниця
        Zabuzhko's narrative is just short of stream-of-consciousness, its headlong rush appropriate for the protagonist searching, somewhat desperately and somewhat frustratedly, for something. There is a sense here of constant flight, but also an effort to get somewhere. Men are part of the problem: she lets herself be carried away by passion, but she certainly can't find the right one.
       Her identity as Ukrainian -- and more specifically as a Ukrainian writer -- is also a burden, but one she knows she has to work with. So, for example, she knows she has: "no choice but to write in Ukrainian, although this is probably the most barren choice under the sun at present", as Ukrainian language and literature is as peripheral as any (as it remains fifteen years after the original publication of this novel, as demonstrated by the fact that Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex appears to be the only literary work originally written in Ukrainian to be published in English translation in 2011).
       Indeed, she suggests:

the Ukrainian choice is a choice between nonexistence and an existence that kills you, and that all of our hapless literature is merely a cry of someone pinned down by a beam in a building after an earthquake -- I'm here ! I'm still alive ! -- but, unfortunately, the rescue teams are taking their time and on your own -- how the hell are you supposed to get out ?
       Then there's also her identity as poet and writer, as she wonders not just what the use of it all is if the best she can hope for abroad is the stray publication in some literary magazine, but also about the (artistic) responsibility of the author. For example:
might it not be time to stop and ponder over the question of authorial rights -- over what we truly can do, and what we shouldn't ?
       Addressing, in part, an American audience (literally, in parts of the novel, since she is a lecturer, after all), Oksana relates her very foreign experience, but does not find a viable alternative here either: she remains a stranger in a strange land (and largely defined by her strong sustained ties to that even stranger land she comes from).
       Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex is very much a book of its times -- though the place and dates it was written, noted at the end ("Pittsburgh, September-December, 1994") are also significant (tellingly, too, Pittsburgh is not a major locale in the novel itself; instead it is mainly only the place of its writing): it is a book whose writing clearly required sufficient distance from her homeland. Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex also charts a poet adapting to prose, and a woman trying to figure out her female role -- as lover and loved one -- in a time of rapid change that ranged from the political to gender roles; as both the novel and the current Ukraine suggest, these transitions have not only been far from seamless, they have been (and continue to be) very messy.
       A strong and what feels like a very honest voice, as well as a quite creative touch make Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex a worthwhile work of fiction, though obviously its impact is not as great as it might have been a decade or more ago (or in Ukraine, where it obviously hits much closer to home). Still, it is certainly still considerably more than a mere literary-historical curiosity, and Zabuzhko is clearly a writer worth paying attention to.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 October 2011

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Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex: Reviews: Oksana Zabuzhko: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Ukrainian author Oksana Zabuzhko (Oksana Sabuschko, Оксана Забужко) was born in 1960.

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