The Blue Whale of Memories
BBC Ukrainian Book of the Year Award 2016
Translated from the Ukrainian (original title: “Zabuttya”)
Foreign rights are with Kiepenheuer & Witsch except for the Ukrainian language
English sample translation available
An impressive literary novel about a young woman’s quest for her identity, artfully interwoven with the life story of a forgotten Ukrainian national hero
Reeling after an unhappy relationship, a woman suffers from panic attacks and doesn’t leave her apartment for months at a time. She finds direction and support in a historical figure that played a major role in the history of Ukraine but has since been forgotten completely, devoured by the “blue whale of memory” that feeds on time and people instead of plankton: Vyacheslav Lypynsky, a fervent historical philosopher and politician, was born into a noble Polish family in what today is the Ukraine and at the time, the early 20th century, was the Russian empire. Already early on, he identified with Ukraine and insisted on the Ukrainian form of his name. After his university studies, he turned his political and historical focus to this country, torn between Poland and Russia, obsessively demanding its independence as a nation, an idea that both the Polish and Russians found ridiculous at best. This battle took him across various countries and he paid for it with personal sacrifice. For a while he had been an influential figure but when he died at only 49, after many years of poor health, his star had already waned.
Sickly like this historical figure and, also like him, in search of belonging, the narrator follows this proud, uncompromising, hypochondriacal man’s life story in order to defy Soviet uprooting through memory. By following his life and by remembering her own family’s roots, she tries to resist the blue whale of memory and its merciless devouring of time. A literarily impressive novel that shows what it means when one’s own identity is composed of fear, obedience and forgetting.