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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Anarchy in the UKR

Serhiy Zhadan

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Title: Anarchy in the UKR
Author: Serhiy Zhadan
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005
Length: 217 pages
Original in: Ukrainian
Availability: Anarchy in the UKR - France
Anarchy in the UKR - Deutschland
  • Ukrainian title: Anarchy in the UKR
  • Anarchy in the UKR has not yet been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B+ : entertaining take on late- and post-Communist Ukraine

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Die Welt . 26/1/2008 Wieland Freund

  From the Reviews:
  • "Doch, Fetzen an Fetzen gefügt, wird auch in diesem Prosaband ein roter Faden kenntlich -- und was für einer. Aus einer Laune heraus haben sich der Ich-Erzähler und ein Freund auf die Spuren Nestor Machnos begeben, der während des russischen Bürgerkriegs, also zwischen 1917 und 1920, für eine anarchistische Ukraine kämpfte. War am Ende etwa auch er ein Punk (und Johnny Rotten schon anno 1977 hoffnungslos von gestern) ?" - Wieland Freund, Die Welt

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:

[Note: Anarchy in the UKR has not yet been translated into English; this review is based on Claudia Dathe's 2007 German translation of the novel; all quotes are my translations from the German version.]

       Anarchy in the UKR is a four-part novel, the author clearly identifiable as the unnamed first-person narrator. Covering the periods from the narrator's youth -- the second part is titled 'My 80s', and offers, year by year, scenes from his youth in the then-still Soviet Union -- through the 2004-2005 Orange Revolution, it offers a mix of reminiscence and restless exploration in a country as it undergoes a variety of transformations.
       Early on, the narrator mentions that years earlier he had said in an interview that he wanted to write a book about anarchism and that while, in fact, at the time he had no interest in writing a book on the topic, 'that's no reason not to write it'. This novel's title might suggest that this then is what he has done here -- but the term is very loosely applied in this portrait of 'anarchy in Ukraine', which proves much a broader concept in contemporary times.
       Still, the first section of the novel has the narrator and a friend travel around vaguely on the trail of the Ukrainian anarchists of -- and prominent in -- the time of the Russian Revolution, notably Nestor Makhno. They meander haphazardly about via rail, bus, and hitchhiking -- 'sleeping through absolutely everything that can be slept through, without really missing anything'. These parts of Ukraine feel forsaken, almost everything in a dark slumber (with alcohol, here as practically everywhere else in this chronicle, accompanying life as naturally as water and air). The Ukrainian anarchists ultimately failed, and this sense of not having been able to fully follow through pervades to this present the narrator describes, of these (what amount to) fringe places.
       The second part has the narrator reflect on scenes from his youth. Author Zhadan was born in 1974, and the narrator reflects on stages of his childhood and youth through the 80s, a time of attempted economic reforms and slow Soviet collapse in the background. Zhadan style can seem casual and even laconic, but is surprisingly penetrating, the stories and descriptions of encounters he presents sharp even in their seemingly shapeless way, as in describing the hard- (and always) drinking football (soccer) coach they had in school and his devil-may-care attitude.
       This second part ends with an early-morning look at the streets in the spring of 1992, a new time dawning in now-independent Ukraine, and the third section leaps ahead more than a decade, focusing on the Orange Revolution, more or less as it happened, seen from Zhadan's perspective in Kharkiv. He recognizes it as a revolution -- even if, as he puts it, it's a 'soft version' of one, and it comes without the large-scale unrest and destruction of the Russian Revolution and the like. (The narrator thinks it wouldn't be the worst thing to reduce some of the old grand buildings of the city to rubble -- sections that now read rather differently, now that Putin's criminal forces have done just that .....) Among the amusing riffs is one on the various statues of Taras Shevchenko found throughout Ukraine, and how they contrast to the one in Kharkiv.
       The final section is a collection of: 'Ten tracks that I'd want to hear at my funeral', each one accompanied by a related episode or memory. The last one, closing the book, is the Sex Pistol's Anarchy in the U.K., bringing the novel, which opens with an epigraph from the song, full circle.
       It makes for a somewhat loose collection, but the sense of shapelessness is appropriate to the novel, the narrator never quite able to muster the strength of will to make much of a quest out of his roaming in this nation that remains consistently, across these times, in so many ways indeterminate: there's an aimless to almost everything -- an anarchic tendency away from any sense of order. . For all the movement and the road-trip aspects to it, so much in the novel is also remarkably static; the characters manage, with some difficulty, to get to various places -- and yet so many of them are, if not dead ends, places of limbo; there's rarely much sense of having gotten somewhere, or most any other form of accomplishment.
       Zhadan has an appealing, easy-going style, capturing a kind of omnipresent fatalism not so much with an indifferent shrug but one of powerlessness against all the greater forces that impose it. Ukraine has undergone additional changes in the meantime -- culminating in the present-day cataclysm that is changing everything -- but Anarchy in the UKR still resonates as a solid foundational portrait of late- and post-Communist Ukraine through the Orange Revolution, and an enjoyable read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 May 2022

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Anarchy in the UKR: Reviews: Nestor Makhno: Other books by Serhiy Zhadan under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Ukrainian author Serhiy Zhadan (Сергій Вікторович Жадан) was born in 1974.

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© 2022 the complete review

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