Just read the New Yorker’s Letter from Ukraine on how and why incumbent, Viktor Yushchenko, lost the Presidential election despite winning the Orange Revolution in 2004. The writer, Keith Gessen, is shown around by Sergey, a translator of foreign films and TV shows including Miami Vice, which results in Sergey showing off two-day old stubble.
I can’t help but recall Alex, the young Ukrainian translator, in Jonathan Safran Foer‘s Everything Is Illuminated – one of the first books I picked up when I came to New York and was looking to discover new American writers. It is unclear if Sergey has the same originality with the English language as the fictional Alex:
“My legal name is Alexander Perchov. But all my friends dub me Alex, because that is a more flaccid-to-utter version of my legal name. Mother dubs me Alexi-stop-spleening-me!, because I am always spleening her. If you want to know why I am spleening her, it is because I am always elsewhere with my friends, and disseminating so much currency, and performing so many things that can spleen a mother.”
Beneath the humour is the moving story of Safran Foer going back to Ukraine to look for the woman who may have saved his grandfather from the Nazis and the New Yorker goes to Lviv to look for the vestiges of the Jews in today’s Ukraine. Gessen writes that Yuvchenko was also searching for Ukraine’s past in order to create a new country but was ultimately unable to cope with the demons that he raised:
“Jeered and whistled by at be a crowd of fifty thousand at the opening of Donetsk’s magnificent new soccer stadium, last year, he’d still got a cheer when he concluded with ‘Glory to Ukraine!’ Now, at last, he’d managed to unite the country in its rejection of him.”