aging and war in “Where the Sun Sets” by Olena Pshenichna

aging and war in “Where the Sun Sets” by Olena Pshenichna


Question with an asterisk: how many books where a dozen old people are in the middle of events can you remember? What about books where two traumatic experiences coexist in their own way: old age and war? We are sure that the answer will be unequivocal: not so much.

That is why an author who dares to write both war and old age deserves careful reading. This applies in particular Olena Pshenichna and her novel titled “Where the sun goes down”. Literary columnist UP Culture of Arina Kravchenko I have already read the novel and am ready to tell a little more about it.

In short, the new novel by Olena Pshenichna is a story about old age during the war. Working with such a topic for a debut author is an extremely risky step, because old age, even on the pages of what we are used to calling the classics of world literature, is marginalized and driven into fairly predictable images and motifs.

According to the literary critic, researcher of old age in literature and the author of the “Truth and Falsehood” podcast, Angelina Stolotnaya,if we talk about Western culture and literature, it can be called somewhat gerontophobic: old age causes great fear in it. For quite a long time, the West did not dare to write about her other than as a huge threat.”.

The feeling of such a threat, however, does not mean the complete absence of old people from the pages of the classics. The researcher notes thatit is only necessary to change the optics, and we will see that texts where old age is shown exist, and they are not so few”. This also applies to Ukrainian literature, whereeverywhere, from Kotlyarevsky’s “Aeneid” to Zhadan’s “Bread Armistice”, somewhere at least on the margins, but there is an old character or character”.

Francisco-José de Goya. Two elderly people are eating

Therefore, the key question remains how much we talk about old age, how often we notice it and in what way we represent it. Angelina Stolotnya believes thatwe still deal with the stigma of helplessness that prevents us from seeing old people as living people”in particular on the pages of favorite texts.

All these observations only prove that “Where the Sun Sets” by Olena Pshenichna is a bold text. Courageous not only because it is almost the first time that a novel populated mainly by elderly people has been written in Ukrainian, which means that it is a novel with extremely unusual optics and a set of questions that are not usually voiced.

The author of the novel is Olena Pshenichna

The author of the novel is Olena Pshenichna

The novel is also brave because, almost for the first time, someone was interested in how the elderly people, who were left in stardom children.

After all, it takes a lot of courage to write such a novel, because it is, in fact, a novel. Artistic. With a plot. With a lot of characters. With pace and drama appropriate to a fiction novel.

Vira Petrivna is a retired teacher of Ukrainian language and literature. It is around her that the plot unfolds. It was her with the beginning of a full-scale invasion that her beloved son surrendered to stardomwhere she meets people like herself – abandoned ones.

Olena Pshenychna manages to show the whole spectrum of emotions that can be felt by people left in a home for the elderly: resentment towards their relatives, self-condemnation for not being able to become necessary enough for their own children, shame in front of others due to humiliating abandonment, the search for a kindred soul inside the House, the formation of a new ” family” among the elderly and despite all the hope that one day it will be possible to leave the new “home” and reunite with the family of which you are a part. Was there?

An elderly person with his illnesses, attachment to all manifestations of past youth, sometimes contradictory views and additional needs, the list of which only increases in proportion to age, such a person rarely gets into the lens and even more rarely can honestly talk about his experiences without fear of being ignored, devalued, unheard. All this is part of the everyday life of Olena Pshenichna’s summer heroes. And it is from such a perspective that it is possible to create bright, memorable, but also scary scenes.

At the same time, “Where the Sun Sets” is not a novel from the pages of which old people speak. Rather, it is the author’s story about the life and feelings of old people. An author who always decides where to give the character a word, and where to tell his story for him:Having received permission to speak, Nina Mykolaivna very quickly fills the room, and the longing that was hiding in every crevice a few minutes ago is forced to retreat. In the future the neighbor will never be silent. Fast therapeutic help in the form of her chatter will drive away sadness Vera Petrivna after every conversation with Tolik, Olea and children”.

This is just one of the passages where the old character is once again deprived of subjectivity, not given to speak the same healing words: a strong author’s voice controls the characters like figures in a puppet theater, denying them independence, full-bloodedness, the right to manage their own destiny and even make decisions that cannot be predicted (the inalienable right of every young character!):Vera Petrovna doesn’t know yet, how many tragedies have gathered under the roof of this gazebo. How many tears did these people cry? How many screams of terrible pain? He doesn’t know, but he will find out later. And for now she is concentrating on peeling beans”.

Such denial of subjectivity to old people is one of the key problems that worry researchers of old age. Angelina Stolotnya notes:The way we talk about old age is often dehumanizing. We try to place old people in a museum and look at them as exhibits, as objects, to dissect them under a certain anthropological perspective. At the same time, what is the view of an old person? Are we not depriving her of subjectivity? It is good when you are noticed, but the question is exactly how: is the old person not looking at us with the despairing gaze of an exhibit that does not have its own status, that cannot in any way materialize into something physical”.

Barrier-free guide

Therefore, most of the characters remain rather sketchy not because of the lack of details from their biographies, but because the reader often learns about these details from the author’s narrations. The fact that many of these extremely interesting and well-thought-out stories are scattered throughout the text is another manifestation of the characters’ dependence on the author’s voice. Because old people speak the way a young person would like: without decades of fused and indigestible fear of saying “something is wrong” and being punished, without political disorientation, without confusion in details, without incurable imprints of the time in which they should have lived most of their life these people. And even some somewhat stereotypical characters, although written with love and attention, do not change this general impression.


Be that as it may, the world of the novel “Where the Sun Sets” does not pretend to be a documentary: it is a world that is no more than two years old. This is a world that was born as an attempt to heal wounds at least a little, to comfort and remind everyone of the values ​​close to them: love, family, life, peace – for which we must continue to fight.

A story about witty, indomitable, patriotic old women will not help to understand the real life of those who remained under daily shelling in the front-line territories, because “who needs me, an old woman, somewhere else”, nor those who suffered complete loneliness due to the death of their children in the war, nor those who lost their independence due to a forced radical change in their own life and lifestyle. It won’t help, because life, unlike fiction, cannot yet afford a happy ending.

Amnesty International

“The crisis of talking about old age, the tension about which is beginning to subside little by little, in particular because of the war and the fact that we are returning to the idea that growing old is a privilege, can be helped by reportage literature. Reportage opens us up to old people as storytellers, and perhaps , from here we should turn to fiction, to the artistic elaboration of these images”– believes Angelina Stolotnya.

Thus, Olena Pshenichna’s novel turned out to be a bold but not fully realized attempt to write about old age and war. At the same time, it seems that this is perhaps the most successful appeal to children, a good and patient reminder that everyone needs all the time: do not forget to call the parents and ask how they are. Honestly. Just now.


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