Ukrainian Author Wins EU Literature Prize
For the first time, the European Union Prize for Literature was awarded to a Ukrainian author, Lviv writer Halya Shyyan.
“When you receive such an award, the first thing you feel is euphoria,” Shyvan said at the Book Arsenal fair in Kyiv.
Shyyan was named one of the 14 laureates of the prestigious award for “Behind the Back,” her second novel, which is set in contemporary Ukraine. She tells the story of a successful young woman, whose boyfriend is sent to fight in Russia’s undeclared war in Donbas.
“I’m not quite used to being called a writer, still getting accustomed to it,” Shyvan said.
Shyvan began working on the novel which took a year-and-a-half to complete, in July 2016.
“It’s the story of young successful woman, a 27-year-old Ukrainian, who works in IT and makes good money. She stays out of politics, but then suddenly her boyfriend joins the army,” Shyvan said.
Shyvan’s protagonist then joins the volunteer movement along with other women to help the underfunded army with supplies as Russia launches its war in the east of Ukraine.
“It was very important for me to give those women a voice, those, who were left behind, and who are typecast by society – how they are supposed to behave, react, that they have to accept the decision of their husbands. That’s pretty much what the book is about,” Shyvan said.
Although the characters are fictional, the book is set in real-life Ukraine. Most of the material was collected in 2015, when Ukraine suffered its great losses against the regular Russian troops in Donbas.
“There aren’t any direct prototypes, except perhaps for a few supporting characters. Mostly they are composite prototypes. There were so many stories all around me. And they inspired me,” Shyvan said
However, the book is not just about the war. The writer said, “Behind the Back” is about broader issues, such as the illusion of security in the modern world.
“Even the safest, the most idyllic and heavenly place can suddenly become the site of a terrorist attack. The modern world, in spite of its convenience and ease of communication, can be very fragile,” Shyvan said.
Shyvan will accept her European Union Prize for Literature on Oct. 2 in Brussels.