Yevgenia Belorusets – War Diary
The war in Ukraine is now over a year old. When it began, Yevgenia Belorusets – a Ukrainian author and part-time Berlinerin – began journalling her experiences in Kyiv. Now, her War Diary of words and photographs is available in English, thanks to Greg Nissan’s translation. It is an astonishing record of a terrible time. Daily entries bring home the absurdity and tragedy of a war many people never thought possible.
Readers learn about no-fly zones, humanitarian corridors, news filtering through about the atrocities in Mariupol – but also about buying buckwheat at the grocery store, the young woman looking after her neighbours’ pets, and the uniformed Territorial Defence guard who used to delight visitors at the café where he worked by drawing swans in their milk foam. This is not just a chronicle but a work of genuine literature, the record of one fine mind responding to the madness of world events. The central message emerges unarguable: “Every day of this war is one too many.”
- Available on the New Directions website here.
Clemens Meyer – While We Were Dreaming
Over in fiction, the German literary world has spent 30 years in search of the definitive Wenderoman, the “reunification novel”, that would heal the divided nation’s soul. But what about those books that describe the 1980s and 1990s in a minor key, books that focus on the less glamorous social and economic issues that accompanied the last years of Communism and the first years of capitalism? Clemens Meyer’s While We Were Dreaming is one such book.
This tough, gritty novel features four young men living on the margins of Leipzig. Unflinching yet sensitive, Meyer shows the boys stealing cars and fighting, doing drugs, looking out for each other, running from the police – and meeting a range of sticky fates. Their problems begin before 1989, but reunification offers no salvation. The novel’s treatment of class, masculinity and violence is memorable; yet it is the slangy, adrenal language – brilliantly rendered into English by Katy Derbyshire – that impresses most. Be warned, though: the content’s confronting.
- Available on the Fitzcarraldo Editions website here.
Karosh Taha – In the Belly of the Queen
V&Q Books is a Berlin-based indie press dedicated to publishing diverse contemporary fiction from Germany. In April, they released the powerful In the Belly of the Queen, the prizewinning second novel of Iraq-born German author Karosh Taha. At the centre of this sensitive, wide-ranging work – elegantly translated by Grashina Gabelmann – is a pair of teenagers, Raffiq and Amal.
The novel is actually two stories in one: if you start at one end, you can read Amal’s story, and if you flip the book around, you can read from Raffiq’s point of view. Together, the twin narratives generate a memorable portrait of youth in a Kurdish-German (post)migrant community, one that gains depth and interest from the disagreements and inconsistencies among its narrators. Taha is a talent. Read this, and then read whatever she writes next.
- Available on the V&Q website here.