On June 13, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development announced the winner of its 2022 literary prize – Ukrainian writer Serhiy Zhadan, a native of eastern Ukraine who has been writing about the region for more than two decades.
The EBRD jury decided to recognize Zhadan novel Orphanage, published in English in 2021, as a distinct work of modern Ukrainian literature.
The short-list of finalists included Zhadan, Slovak novelist Monika Kompanikova, and Greek writer Auguste Corteau.
Toby Lichtig, fiction editor at The Times Literary Supplement and chairman of the EBRD literary prize jury, gave his own explanation for why Orphanage won the prize:
“A teacher travels through the war-torn Donbas in Ukraine to get to his nephew, who’s attending a school for orphans. Then both make their way back. Illusory naivete of this literary setting is the basis for Zhadan’s novel, which is truly outstanding, explosive, tender, irate, and poetic at the same time. This is a novel about exhausted land, about absurdity, banality, fear and moments of real unity among people that occur during the war. Orphanage was a very timely novel when it was first published in Ukrainian in 2017, and it was still timely last year, when its English-language version, prepared by the wonderful translators Reilly Costigan-Humes and Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler, appeared. Nowadays, the novel is as timely as it’s ever been.”
After Costigan-Humes and Stackhouse Wheeler translated Zhadan’s novel, it was published by Yale University Press in the United States.
EBRD president Odile Renaud-Basso announced Zhadan’s victory, awarding the writer a sum of EUR 20,000 ($20,800). This sum will be split between Zhadan and his two translators.
Zhadan recorded a video message from Kharkiv, a major city in eastern Ukraine currently under attack by Russian missile strikes, for the award ceremony.
“We really need whole world’s attention, currently,” he said in his acceptance speech
“We really need your support. We do care about your solidarity and how you express it. That’s why this prize is in fact a prize for all the Ukrainian men and women who are now fighting on the front lines or supporting the fight wherever they are – fighting against Russian aggression.”
The mood around Donetsk
The EBRD literary prize is an annual event which grants EUR 20,000 for the best English-language fiction book written by an author who lives in a country where the EBRD is operating, established in 2017. The winner is chosen by an independent jury.
Zhadan is a Ukrainian literary celebrity who appeared on the literary scene in late 1990s, with provocative poetry that was supported by Smoloskyp, a publishing house in Kyiv funded by the Ukrainian diaspora. Since then, Zhadan has written five novels and numerous volumes of poetry.
Throughout his literary career, Zhadan paid a lot of attention to eastern Ukraine – mainly Donbas and Kharkiv Oblast. This region is a place of complicated culture, wide-spread rural poverty, and used to have major problems with criminal activity.
Amazon’s review of Orphanage calls Zhadan “one of Europe’s most promising novelists”.