Life Went On Anyway: Stories–a Ukrainian novel recommendation
By Chauntel Jacobs
A quick search on Google Trends shows that the keyword “Ukraine” is dominating their search index records.
My own daily Google searches revealed similar results:
Refugee crisis Ukraine, Poland
How to help Ukraine
How to help Ukraine
How to help Ukraine
The feeling of despair is like a desperate itch; there has to be something we can do from oceans away. Something to end the war that’s losing Ukrainian land, something to save the children, something that breeds love for humankind over self gratification.
When it comes to grand gestures, I’m inspired by the heroes in the novels we’ve read together this semester. I wish I was someone influential enough to meet with Putin. I wish my fierce American spirit combined with my broken Russian would be enough to convince him to just stop. иди домой.
Unfortunately, that conversation with Putin will probably never happen. Even if I could somehow drop into Kyiv unannounced, I doubt I could sweet talk my way up Russia’s military chain of command. Instead, I stay home, safe in America, and watch the news, horrified with the rest of the world.
Beyond grand daydreams and doom scrolling news feeds, there is more that we bystanders can do. As global citizens, there is a responsibility given to self-educate on global matters.
Any student who has taken a humanities class knows that just reading about a different country connects us to the people and their culture. A brief look into another country’s history makes us feel more informed and educated. A desire is planted to someday visit the land, to mingle and fit right in with the locals.
With an understanding of the country’s leadership, we can even develop opinions about their politics.
Though we may not have much money to donate, or arms to bear reinforcement, we can still educate ourselves.
I have a book recommendation to get you started on Ukrainian self-education. This week, we are reading Life Went On Anyway: Stories, a partial autobiography by native Ukrainian Oleg Sentsov.
Here’s a little more about the book.
Life Went On Anyway: Stories is the author’s unfinished recollection of his childhood in Crimea, Ukraine. Though he would gain international fame for his 145 day hunger strike, this story is about the joys and depressions of childhood. The term “unfinished” here is important, because this autobiography wasn’t meant to be published as a book. However, Sentsov allowed the essays to be printed, even though it meant that the book would end abruptly. (This might drive you a little crazy to not know what happens next, but there are plenty of his memories that do reach a final conclusion!)
Here’s a little more about the author from the book’s description:
“These autobiographical stories display a mix of nostalgia and philosophical insight, written in a simple yet profound style looking back on a life’s path that led Sentsov to become an internationally renowned dissident artist. [Sentsov] was sentenced to 20 years in prison in August 2015… after he was kidnapped in his house and put through a grossly unfair trial by a Russian military court, marred by allegations of torture.
Sentsov’s final words at his trial, “Why bring up a new generation of slaves?” have become a rallying cry for his cause. He spent 145 days on hunger strike in 2018 to urge the Russian authorities to release all Ukrainians unfairly imprisoned in Russia, an act of profound courage that contributed to the European Parliament’s awarding him the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.”
Life Went On Anyway: Stories is thoughtful, sobering, and humorous. I laughed out loud at parts of his childhood. Here is my absolute favorite line of text provided with zero context:
“One of the best things is to love a dog and a dog to love you. Cats, and especially parrots, are incapable of love. They are only capable of living.”
Although the book’s anecdotes are not related to the current war crisis at large, they do create a nostalgic connection. Sentsov’s childhood stories are faces of experiences shared by humans, no matter where they grew up. Like Senstov, most of us can remember playing with the other kids on our street. We remember the teachers who disappointed us and the types of food served at home. We definitely remember who was the annoying cousin growing up and m. Most of us probably mourned the passing of a beloved pet and the impact it made as a child.
Like Senstov, I remember playing street games with the other kids on my street. I remember being generally shy at school and talking the hours away with my cousin Casey while the other cousins played. I remember when my little black hamster died while I was at school and how my dad buried my pet in a shoe box in the backyard. Later, he planted a rose bush over my hamster’s tiny grave.
I have never stepped foot on Ukrainian soil and I don’t know what it’s like to shield my children in a war zone or to run with nothing but the clothes on my back, but I do know what it’s like to be human. It’s imperative to understand that our uniquely human experiences apply to all of earth’s citizens.
Leaning into these emotional connections, I believe, is what keeps people out of wars and keeps our humanity intact.
Life Went On Anyway: Stories by Oleg Sentsov is a great starting point to learn about Ukrainian culture. Check out the kindle edition of Life Went On Anyway by Oleg Sentsov here.