U.S. Book Show: Ukrainian novelist Andrey Kurkov on wartime reality for writers and publishers

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U.S. Book Show: Ukrainian novelist Andrey Kurkov on wartime reality for writers and publishers

May 24 2022

The 2022 U.S. Book Show opened this morning with a conversation between Jim Milliot, editorial director of show sponsor Publishers Weekly, international editor Ed Nawotka and Andrey Kurkov, a Ukrainian novelist in Kyiv whom Nawotka termed the “literary ambassador for 40 million people.”

[D]uring the interview, Kurkov employed a literary lens to provide an overview of Ukraine’s history with Russia leading up to this war and why Ukrainians are so passionately defending their homeland.

Kurkov noted that about 20 years ago—coinciding with the 2000 election of Vladimir Putin as president of Russia—Russian science fiction writers began writing novels that envisioned war between the two countries; in those novels, “Russians would always defeat Ukrainians and destroy Ukrainian independence,” Kurkov said. This scenario, which had expanded beyond fiction to other media, evolved into a narrative promoted by the Putin regime that Russia and Ukraine were “brother nations,” which further morphed into a narrative that Russia and Ukraine were one nation, and that Ukraine as an independent entity did not exist.

Describing Ukrainians as highly individualistic people who think for themselves rather than blindly follow their leaders as he said Russians do, Kurkov recalled that for years, this anti-Ukrainian propaganda was not taken seriously, and that he and other Ukrainians “were just laughing” at it... “Ukrainians are used to taking everything with irony or humor,” Kurkov said. “This is a positive thing, but it was misused by the enemy.” Russia regarded Ukraine’s response to its propaganda as a “lack of reaction,” and recently stepped up its rhetoric, defending the invasion on grounds that Ukraine is a fascist state and Ukrainians are Nazis—despite 73% of the population having voted in the last election for a Russian-speaking Jew, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy...

As for American booklovers, Kurkov urges them to read three “wonderful and very truthful books” about Ukraine: Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder; The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine by Serhii Plokhy; and Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine by Anne Applebaum.

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