cover image Voroshilovgrad


Serhiy Zhadan, trans. from the Ukrainian by Reilly Costigan-Humes and Isaac Wheeler. Deep Vellum (Consortium, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (406p) ISBN 978-1-941920-30-5

A homecoming is by turns magical and brutal in Zhadan's impressive picaresque novel. Herman Korolyov, an aimless 33-year-old urbanite, is summoned back to the rural town in Eastern Ukraine where he and his brother, Yura, grew up, and where Yura has been running a successful gas station%E2%80%94until his unexplained disappearance. At home, Herman finds Injured, an adroit ladies' man, and Kocha, the beloved town criminal, manning the station, despite intimidation from gangsters who want to buy the property. Together with Injured, Kocha, and his accountant, Olga, Herman attempts to save the business, and with each step becomes more enmeshed in the town's relationships and the landscape itself. He sees drug-induced, hallucinatory visions, goes drinking with the nutty aviation aficionado Ernst, plays soccer with old friends who may be phantoms, finds fellowship with the local (Christian) Shtundist sect, and has amorous adventures nearly everywhere. But Herman's occasionally absurdist, reliably funny world is also deeply violent: corn farmers war with the locals, and an anonymous, bloodstained businessman hints darkly at the future awaiting the region. For Zhadan, loyalty and fraternity are the life-giving forces in this exhausted, fertile, near-anarchic corner of the country, and though his expansive imagination and rich lyricism contrast unfortunately with his stereotypical female characters, readers will be touched by his devotion to a land of haunted beauty, "high sky," and "black earth." (Apr.)