Best-Selling Ukrainian Novel Now Available in English

On the fifth collaboration to the WHAT'S NEW section, I'm here today to publish an article written by Stephen Komarnyckyj and Susie Speight, partners at Kalyna Language Press.

In March 2013 Aventura E books, London will publish a translation of Vasyl Shklyar's best-selling Ukrainian language novel, Raven, edited and translated by Stephen Komarnyckyj and Susie Speight, from Kalyna Language Press, a translation and literary agency. This will be the first time that an ordinary non-specialist press has published a Ukrainian language novel in translation. 

'Raven' (or Чорний Ворон, Chornyj Voron in Ukrainian) was published in 2009 and sold over 100,000 copies before several pirate versions were released. The book tells the story of how, in 1921, when Ukraine had been overwhelmed by vast numbers of communist troops after four years of war, a small army of Cossacks battled on in the forests of Central Ukraine, an area known as Kholodnyi Yar (Холодний Яр) or "Cold Ravine." There they built huge underground chambers which could conceal hundreds of men and horses in between their attacks on Soviet forces. They were finally suppressed in 1926.

When award-winning author Vasyl Shklyar―born in 1951 and known as the "father of the Ukrainian best-seller"―was growing up in a village in the woods where these warriors had fought, all mention of them in public was forbidden. He only heard about them from furtively whispered tales. When the Soviet Secret Police files were eventually declassified, he used the secret reports on this Guerilla war, which he has included in the book, to piece together the jigsaw of these men's tragic lives.   

In 2011, he was awarded the Shevchenko National Prize, Ukraine's highest literary honour worth $32,000, but refused the cash award in protest to the educational policies of the Ukrainian government. The accolade that means the most to him, however, is the fact that he is the author whose books are most often stolen from bookshops.

The novel mixes fact and fiction, police reports and imaginative prose, as Shklyar tells the tale of Raven and Veremii, two of the Cossack chiefs who battled on after Ukraine had fallen. When Veremii dies in battle, the communists secretly follow three Cossacks and a priest, who bury his body in the forest. When the communists dig up the coffin later, they only find a cryptic note instead of the corpse. Meanwhile Raven, thinks his life has ended when a grenade blows him off his horse, so he is surprised to wake up in the house of Yevdosia, a witch. The book follows Veremii's wife as she tries to find her husband, who keeps sending her enigmatic messages, and Raven as he and his men dodge grenades and bullets while trying to free their country.

Click here to read a sample of the novel, which will be available through the Aventura e books site. For information about the translation service provided by Kalyna Language Press, visit their literary translations section or their business translations section.


STEPHEN KOMARNYCKYJ is a British Ukrainian writer and linguist who has lived and worked for most of his life in his native Yorkshire, while maintaining strong links with Ukraine. His literary translations and poems have appeared in Poetry Salzburg Review, Vsesvit magazine (Ukraine's most influential literary journal), The North American Review, The Echo Room and Modern Poetry in Translation. His book of selected translations from the Ukrainian poet Pavlo Tychyna was published by Poetry Salzburg in 2012 and a selection of his own poems will be published, with the work of two other authors, in the first edition of Fjords Arts and Literary Review's 3x3 series. He is also the featured poet in issue 163 of Envoi. The first collection of his own poetry will be published in 2013.

SUSIE SPEIGHT is an experienced English language teacher, who has been working in education since graduating in 1997. Her work has included establishing and managing community education projects. In addition to being a tutor to people who wish to improve their English language skills, she is an experienced proofreader and editor, specializing in literature and educational texts. She is currently working on her first novel.

Together, they own Kalyna Language Press, a translation, language teaching, and literary agency.