I had other plans for the evening, but when I heard that Yuri Andrukhovych was in town I changed my mind immediately. I had read his literary essays “Disorientation and Locality” and “My Europe” (co-published with the Polish writer Andrzej Stasiuk) in the German translation and often found myself laughing out loud while reading. I had read his novel, Twelve Rings, which many consider his best work in the German translation. A few years ago Barbara Epler, editor-in-chief of New Directions, asked me to read the book, write a report and make a recommendation if his work might do well in the American market. Despite my enthusiasm and praise, New Directions decided against translation and publication. Yuri Andrukhovych’s work has been published in Poland, Germany, Canada, the United States, Hungary, Finland, Russia, Serbia, Italy, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Croatia, and Bulgaria. Unfortunately, he remains largely unknown to the American reader.
Cosponsored by the Ukrainian Studies Program at the Harriman Institute of Columbia University and the Kennan Institute this event was not advertised anywhere. Nevertheless the room on the top floor of the International Studies building with the spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline was packed mostly with native Ukrainian speakers.
Yuri Andrukhovych had forgotten his reading glasses. So he read little and told stories instead, thereby revealing his unique sense of humor and remarkable talent as a raconteur. He spoke about the origins of his poem “Werwolf Sutra.” In 1986 he had a grant to stay in an East German artist residency. In the surrounding forests of Wiepersdorf he found the ruins of a former Soviet army town with its barracks, firing ranges, and outhouses covered with graffiti.
He recounted the background story of his novels Recreations (CIUS Press, 1998), Perverzion (Northwestern University Press, 2005) and The Moscoviad (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2008) and read selected excerpts.
He touched on the problems of translation. “Werwolf Sutra,” for example, had not been translated into English from the Ukrainian original but from the Polish translation. Of the four prestigious international literary awards he won; three were awarded to him in Germany, the other in Poland. Asked why he was so well received in Germany, Yuri Andrukhovych pointed out that Germany stood out in Europe for its knowledge about Ukrainian literature. Highly professional translators are available to translate from Ukrainian into the German language. He noted that Germany historically had always looked East and to the Russians, idealizing a quality they thought they lacked. I thought about my love for Slavic literature and Slavic people (I married a Ukrainian!), my travels to Eastern Europe (my favorite destination) and the first friend I made in New York, Polina from Moscow. When she introduced me to her Russian friends I found them so much more passionate than the Germans. When the Russians were sad, they were desperate; when they were happy, they were ecstatic. In Germany wearing your heart on your sleeve was frowned upon.
At 9:00 PM the organizers of the event urged the audience to leave, but the majority remained. Most mingled, shared their reactions to the reading and lined up to have books signed, to take photos, and to question Yuri Andrukhovych. All the available books were sold immediately.
“It is more important to live than to write,” Andrukhovych stated at one point during the evening and the crowd seemed to take his word for it. It was a great event featuring an inspiring writer. It was a privilege to have met the author of this distinctive literature.
Before coming to New York Yuri Andrukhovych appeared at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. A video of that forum can be accessed at
He is scheduled to go to Cleveland next. If you get a chance to hear and see him in person, by all means take it.