Mesopotamia

Serhiy Zhadan; Prose Translated from the Ukrainian by Reilly Costigan-Humes and Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler; Poetry Translated from the Ukrainian by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps

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May 1, 2018
328 pages, 5 x 7 3/4
ISBN: 9780300223354
PB-with Flaps

A unique work of fiction from the troubled streets of Ukraine, giving invaluable testimony to the new history unfolding in the nation’s post-independence years

"One of the most astounding novels to come out of modern Ukraine. Mesopotamia is seductive, twisted, brilliant, and fierce."—Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure and Absurdistan

This captivating book is Serhiy Zhadan’s ode to Kharkiv, the traditionally Russian-speaking city in Eastern Ukraine where he makes his home. A leader among Ukrainian post-independence authors, Zhadan employs both prose and poetry to address the disillusionment, complications, and complexities that have marked Ukrainian life in the decades following the Soviet Union’s collapse. His novel provides an extraordinary depiction of the lives of working-class Ukrainians struggling against an implacable fate: the road forward seems blocked at every turn by demagogic forces and remnants of the Russian past. Zhadan’s nine interconnected stories and accompanying poems are set in a city both representative and unusual, and his characters are simultaneously familiar and strange. Following a kind of magical-realist logic, his stories expose the grit and burden of stalled lives, the universal desire for intimacy, and a wistful realization of the off-kilter and even perverse nature of love.

Serhiy Zhadan has received several international literature prizes and has twice won BBC Ukraine’s Book of the Year award. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Reilly Costigan-Humes lives and works in Moscow, and translates literature from the Ukrainian and Russian. Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler is a translator and poet from New England whose work has appeared in numerous journals. Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps have been translating Ukrainian poetry as a team since 1989 and have received an NEA Translations Fellowship for their work on Zhadan’s poetry.

"One of the most astounding novels to come out of modern Ukraine. Mesopotamia is seductive, twisted, brilliant, and fierce. It brings to mind our own fiction from a time when we still felt like we had something to fight for and a chance we could win."—Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure and Absurdistan

"Unlike Joyce’s Dublin, the cradle of Zhadan’s civilization is a place of refuge for young people fleeing hardscrabble lives in the provinces, and a hardscrabble home for natives buoyed by desire yet adrift amid the flotsam of a spent empire.  The men and women in these comic and heartfelt pages endure the dynamic paralysis that comes over those who are all dressed up with nowhere to go.  They aspire, struggle, fight, fail, drink, fuck, and then they fight some more.  Amid the city’s detritus, they refuse to become part of it by continuing to love and dream.  There is nothing marginal about them.  They insist on being seen, heard, understood.  They will charm and madden you.  They will haunt your dreams, and you will never forget them."—Askold Melnyczuk, author of House of Widows

"To say that Serhiy Zhadan is a poet, a novelist, a rock star, a protester, a symbol of his country’s desire for freedom and change, is to say the truth—but what is truth? Zhadan is a literary master of enormous force. At times he combines the energy of Jack Kerouac and atmospheric spell of Isaac Babel, at other times he is a balladeer of his country’s struggle. 'Such strange things have been happening to us,' he writes, of the streets where 'winters are not like winters / winters live under assumed names.' In Mesopotamia’s nine stories and thirty poems we find ourselves in the newly independent Ukraine, stunned by its grit, its rough backbone—and its tenderness. What do we discover here? That 'Light is shaped by darkness / and it's all up to us.' We also discover that Serhiy Zhadan is one of those rare things—almost impossible to find now in the West—a national bard, a chronicler. This is a book to live with."—Ilya Kaminsky

"Zhadan is the rock star of lyrical melancholy, and Mesopotamia is not just a book of short stories but a cosmos with Kharkiv-Babylon at its center. We meet its lovesick citizens at weddings and funerals; their visceral, fantastical lives unfold in the intensely prophetic atmosphere of the upcoming war."— Valzhyna Mort, author of Factory of Tears

"With tales at once earthy and phantasmagorical, sentimental and anarchic, Zhadan is an exhilarating chronicler of a new kind of borderlands."—Sana Krasikov

"Mesopotamia offers a sublime experience of taking you right to the middle of a very specific world, where you eat and drink and love and fight and die with the characters, until you notice that that world has transcended the time and place and became part of the eternal human story."—Lara Vapnyar, author of Still Here: A Novel

"Serhiy Zhadan’s dazzling novel—here fantastically well translated—evokes voices that get under our skin and take us into the rich inner life of people about whom we have long known nothing."—Marci Shore, author of The Ukrainian Night: An Intimate History of Revolution

"Mesopotamia finds poetry in the most unlikely places––in the bars, tower blocks, and concrete boulevards of a Ukrainian city. By turns funny, shocking, and touching, weaving between the lyrical and the grotesque, Zhadan’s stories provide a lesson in belonging."—Uilleam Blacker, University College London

"To know Dublin, read your Joyce, for Macondo, García Márquez, and for Mesopotamia, Serhiy Zhadan. Of course this Mesopotamia is not the Birthplace of Civilization (or is it?), it’s Kharkiv, the Ukrainian Center of Nothing, located smack-dab on the Russian border, which, in Zhadan’s brilliant vision, is smack-dab in the middle of life lived beyond the fullest because any second could be your last, creaming with joy, madness, war, orgasm, stupidity, and a blinding light that smells like the essence of human spirit. We need to learn from Ukraine. Zhadan is a masterful teacher. The use of poetry as Notes —so far as I know, this has never been done before and is positively Nabokovian. This book is world-class literature. "—Bob Holman, author of Sing This One Back To Me

"Mesopotamia is a portrait of post-Soviet Ukraine’s lost generation, of people who came of age in the disorienting conditions of crumbling Soviet order and stagnating social transformation. Serhiy Zhadan gives voice to his generation from Ukraine’s eastern regions bordering Russia. These are the people who have been missing from contemporary literature, whether in Ukrainian or in any other language. To understand the background to the crisis in this region, which has had such a major impact on the world recently, perhaps no other writer can provide insights as powerful as Zhadan."—Vitaly Chernetsky, University of Kansas

"To say that Serhiy Zhadan is a great Ukrainian novelist of whom you might not have heard does not begin to cover it.  Serhiy Zhadan is one of the most important creators of European culture at work today.  His novels, poems, and songs touch millions. This loving translation is a chance to see Ukraine in terms other than the familiar, but more importantly a chance to allow prose to mend your mind."—Timothy Snyder, author of On Tyranny

"Serhiy Zhadan has written a love song to contemporary Eastern Ukraine — vices, passions, and ghosts included. His Kharkiv is filled with gritty stairwells, red nightgowns, raw love, and a bit of magic. Costigan-Humes and Wheeler have brought Zhadan’s evocative prose to life for the English reader."—Amelia Glaser, University of California, San Diego

Mesopotamia is an impressive collage, less of a city than of its inhabitants, mostly in their twenties and thirties, struggling to make their way through a post-Soviet Ukraine that is still trying to figure itself out.”—M.A. Orthofer, Complete Review
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