This is readable: a dopamine dystopia, motivational fairy tales and the Russian-Ukrainian war through the eyes of historian Plohiy

This is readable: a dopamine dystopia, motivational fairy tales and the Russian-Ukrainian war through the eyes of historian Plohiy

Books have a powerful potential to destroy stereotypes. They tell us stories about remote parts of the world and reveal the secrets of people living near us.

UP.Zhyttia recommends a new book review, which was made especially for us by a book expert from “Chitomo” – it contains a new book by the popular historian Serhii Plokhiy, a report on Rwanda, as well as fresh translations of Booker laureates.

Translated prose

Guadalupe Nettel. The only daughter

translated by Anna Markhovska

Guadalupe Nettel is a Mexican author whose book “The Only Daughter” was shortlisted for the International Booker this year. The novel tells about the experiences of modern women and gently breaks the usual views on love, care, marriage and motherhood.

“The Only Daughter” depicts the story of two close friends. In their youth, they were convinced that childbearing is a patriarchal attitude from which girls wanted to escape by traveling, searching for themselves, and self-realization. Time has passed. One of her friends, Laura, had her tubes tied as a precaution so that she would never fall into the trap of pregnancy. And the friend, Alina, on the contrary, decided that she wanted a child above all else. She becomes pregnant with a daughter with a genetic mutation, and even during pregnancy doctors predict that the baby will not live a day.

This book resembles an arthouse film, in which the events are not fast-paced and clearly structured. It is not built according to the usual template, and this effect of amazement makes it possible to break the stereotypical perspective of seeing marriage, motherhood and life as such. Guadalupe Nettel shows how individual the path each person takes in their relationship with children and what a complex complex of feelings and experiences is hidden behind it. Alina’s daughter’s illness is rare. On an artistic level, this emphasizes the uniqueness of the experience of the heroine and every woman in her motherhood. The story of Laura’s love and care is no less atypical and interesting. This heroine has always felt aversion and fear of children, but she takes great care of her neighbor’s son and becomes attached to him.

DBC Pierre. Meanwhile in dopamine city

translated by Natalia Gonchar

How to adapt the good old novel of the 19th century to the modern world of social networks and fast content? 2003 Booker laureate for his novel Vernon Lord Little, DBC Pierre knows how to do it.

“Meanwhile in Dopamine City” is the latest novel of the author, unfolding before us a technological dystopia. Lon is an old-fashioned single father who is nothing but a loser. He is a man of the old worldview, who is not well oriented in the world of modern technologies and information flows. This dad is trying to keep in touch with his modern smartphone-addicted kids, and it’s not easy to do. Already in the first scene of the novel, we see him excessively worried about the frank appearance of his 9-year-old daughter and her knowledge, gleaned from sex education lessons. In essence, Lon behaves like the textbook mother from Natalia Kobrynska’s novel “The Spirit of Time”: she cannot survive the cultural gap between generations.

There was a time when some authors were afraid to introduce mobile phones and computer correspondence into their novels, saying that it kills all the magic of fiction. DBC Pierre is absolutely not bothered by such nonsense. For a significant part of the novel, he presents us with the characters’ words and the news feed in parallel. “How to read that?!” – you ask. Just as we read a news feed while walking down the street, we have to let go of something. So the very form of the novel by DBC Pierre prompts to think about life in the tenets of dopamine habits. This ironic novel about a new world of technology is designed to imitate those very technologies. If you missed the ruthless novels of American postmodernism with their black humor and criticism of modernity, the book of DiBiC Pierre has something to offer you.

Ukrainian prose

Evgenia Kononenko. That crazy year

The new book of the writer Yevgenia Kononenko is a deep and thoughtful autofiction in which the author records her reflections and experiences since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. “That crazy year” should be compared with the books of the 2022 Nobel laureate Anna Erno, which Evgenia Kononenko once translated. And the war is not the only thing that is the focus of the writer’s experiences.

This book reproduces the events, reflections and impressions of 2022, which Yevgenia Kononenko met in Kyiv, but later chose to move to France with her sick daughter Anya. Actually, this book tells equally about the experiences of the war, and about the terminally ill Anya, who suffers from depression and oncology. Kononenko’s writing is slow, deep and skillfully structured, which is especially valuable when we are talking about autofiction.

There are many thoughtful observations on the pages of this book. Kononenko shows how the West lives in the illusion of security. Her Polish friend hides behind protective words about politics, the police and the army, which will surely save her in case of anything. These words themselves, as well as the word “European Union”, form a magical protective circle beyond which no Russian threat will pass. Another magical protective layer around himself is outlined by the author’s third cousin from Moscow, who, like a mantra, repeats the words about the importance of praying in any incomprehensible situation.

And the author constantly notes that the war is becoming the only lens through which the West is able to see Ukrainians. A nurse, a taxi driver, a journalist from Le Monde and many other people immediately attribute Anya’s illness to the war. They are not ready for any other explanations and seem unable to hear them. It seems that military optics, as well as colonial ones, blinds and imposes on all Ukrainians a stereotypical image of a victim of war.

Marychka Play. Black Queen

Translation of motivational literature in Ukraine – even though I’m trying to get it. But the original Ukrainian books of this direction still have to be sought out. Although given the insane popularity of such translated books as “God Always Travels Incognito” or “Cafe at the Edge of the World”, this genre has a lot of potential.

“The Black Queen” by Marichka Play is a small motivational fairy tale for adults. This book, in a light fairy-tale form, works with the problems of unrealization, dependence on the opinions of others and other psychological blocks that prevent us from manifesting ourselves and enjoying life. According to the plot, this is a story about Lida, who always wanted to be a good girl. At some point in the life of this woman, the Black Queen and other fairy-tale characters break in and remind that Lida is not living the way she wanted. This fairy tale for grown-up girls shows that you shouldn’t give in to the temptation to become what your prince handsome sees you as. And it reminds you that there are many people in the world who can break your shaky immunity and impose their image on the world and yourself.

And this book reminds us how often we put evil spells on ourselves. If our life doesn’t work out, it’s easier for us to rationalize it or resort to magical thinking: it’s bad luck, they say, retrograde mercury and evil spells are to blame. In fact, as Maricka Play’s tale shows, we can put much more elaborate curses on ourselves than the most evil witch in the universe.

Read also: The struggle between the impossibility and the right to talk about the war: the new novel “Petrykor” by Volodymyr Rafeenko


Wojciech Tokhman. Today we will draw death

translated by Andrii Bondar

Most of the historical processes of Africa remain distant and little known to us. However, the genocide in Rwanda is one of the most terrible and loudest events of the end of the 20th century – everyone is familiar with it. Polish journalist Wojciech Tochman wrote a report about his visits to Rwanda, where he tries to understand what life is like for the country’s residents years after the tragedy.

On April 6, 1994, the president of Rwanda died in a plane crash. This event activates the long-standing enmity between the Hutu and Tutsi peoples. Within 3 months, the Hutus exterminated a million Tutsis, not stopping at the killing of children, rape of women, torture and abuse. Today, executioners and victims still live next door to each other. Children can know in the face of people who exposed, killed or raped their relatives. Many Tutsis witnessed these tortures with their own eyes and survived only thanks to an accidental or near-fatal blow from a machete.

The attention of the author of the book “Today we will draw death” focuses on modernity. It tells about children who survived the genocide and now band together, creating a kind of alternative to families. They bear a terrible psychological trauma, with which no one can help them. Many Tutsis and Hutus still live in fear. Fear of revenge and retribution, fear of a new cycle of hatred. The fact that 3 decades have passed since the days of the genocide does not mean that this event is forever in the past. Vice versa. Modern Rwandan politics is trying to erase the boundaries between Hutu and Tutsi, to throw these words out of circulation. However, it doesn’t work. In reality, Tutsis reveal their identity very quickly in conversation, while Hutu, on the contrary, silence it. So Tokhman’s book shows that genocide is a question of the present, not the past.

In addition, the report actively dives into the testimony of third-party observers of the events of 1994 and analyzes their actions. In particular, there were missionary priests and UN peacekeepers in Rwanda at the time of the genocide. How do they explain and justify their non-interference? What was their role in the genocide? Tokhman raises many uncomfortable questions and shows the long trail of consequences of the genocide, which do not dissolve over the years and have a strong impact on modern processes in the country.

Sergey Plokhiy. The Russian-Ukrainian war: the return of history

An unspoken book rule: if we see the name Serhiy Plokhiy on the cover of a book, then this book is definitely worth our attention. Serhii Plokhiy is one of the most authoritative Ukrainian historians in the West. His words are listened to, and his “Gateway of Europe” has become almost the most important book that helps Western readers understand the history of Ukraine.

In his new book, Plochii provides a broad historical context of modern warfare. He roots the Russian-Ukrainian war in the ancient historical processes of the demise of the Russian Empire in the 19th and 20th centuries. In particular, the author talks about the sources of the widespread ideology “Kyiv is the mother of Russian cities” and debunks the Kyivan origin of Russia. Therefore, this book proposes to revise one’s own views on history and, if necessary, to cleanse oneself of harmful Russian anti-historical narratives.

Another interesting moment of the “Russian-Ukrainian War” is the reflection on Ukraine’s influence on the world’s future. After all, both the revival of NATO and the rethinking of the military component by all European countries are taking place through Ukraine. In addition, this is the first war in a long time that is perceived unambiguously. After the Second World War, armed conflicts ceased to be black and white with a clear understanding of who is on the side of evil and who is on the side of good. The Russian-Ukrainian war brings this unambiguous moral side back to its place.

Khrystyna Shalak. There is no one in the forest. Stories about people, buildings and psychiatry

Despite the modern world’s interest in psychology and fascination with psychotherapy, psychiatry and mental illness remain marginalized. Most psychiatric hospitals in Ukraine are closed, remote and invisible places. You might not have heard anything about them, even if you lived relatively close. In her book “There is no one in the forest”, psychiatrist Khrystyna Shalak describes what life and treatment are like in psychiatric hospitals. This is a collection of essays and reports from practicing psychiatrists that humanize psychiatry and bring us closer to understanding mentally ill people.

First, the author makes a short but comprehensive excursion into the history of treatment of mental illnesses. It turns out that modern methods of treatment are not so different from those that were offered in the 11th century by “Sviatoslav’s Collection”. It’s still talking therapy. Although over the past 100 years, pharmacology has taken a big step forward.

Do mental illnesses and patients exist if no one tells their stories? Khrystyna Shalak becomes such a storyteller of invisible stories. It relieves psychiatric patients of their marginal status and allows a better understanding of what happens behind the closed doors of psychiatric institutions. The author shows that the department of a psychiatric hospital often turns into a purgatory for patients. Their only home. And the medical history becomes the only document for many unknown passportless people who do not remember their past. It is quite possible that this lack of memory is a defense against unbearable memories and traumas.

It turns out that the modern fear of going to a psychiatrist and becoming a vegetable from treatment is the result of the history of psychiatry and, in particular, the practice of Soviet penal psychiatry. In addition, as the author writes, the practice of increasing the dose of drugs so that the patient behaves “well” also often happens. On the one hand, you can’t just throw away old habits. Besides, with great power comes great responsibility. And the power of psychiatrists over patients is almost unlimited.

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