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  • Writer's pictureThe Publishing Post

Spotlight on: Eastern European Literature

By Rob Tomlinson and Megha Alam

Eastern Europe is a region teeming with diverse cultures, histories and languages. While a few Eastern European works have recently become popular in the Anglophone sphere, much translated literature from the area is still overlooked. Expand your reading horizons by checking out our selection of Eastern European books!

Voroshilovgrad by Serhiy Zhadan, translated from Ukrainian by Reilly Costigan-Humes and Isaac Wheeler

Set in the eponymous Voroshilovgrad, a town now known as Luhansk in Ukraine’s Donbas region, this critically acclaimed novel follows Herman, a student who returns to his hometown to run his brother’s petrol station after his sudden disappearance. Reconnecting with his origins and befriending his employees, he eventually chooses to remain in the area, despite the uncertainty of the future. Voroshilovgrad explores life after the Soviet Union in a dreamlike fashion, emphasising the neglected post-industrial landscape of the Donbas. 

The Door by Magda Szabó, translated from Hungarian by Len Rix

Magda Szabó is one of Hungary’s most celebrated authors from the 20th century, and her 1987 work The Door was published with a new English translation in 2015. In this fictionalised autobiography, the author recounts her complicated friendship with Emerence, the older housekeeper whom she has employed for over twenty years. Emerence is strong-willed and takes an unusual approach to her work, deciding her own pay and hours. Despite the differences in social class and age, the author and her housekeeper form a close relationship over the years. Through this unlikely bond, Szabó delves into the good and evil of humanity, as Emerence harbours a dark past and her secrecy drives Magda to obsession, pushing their friendship to the limits.

Collected Stories by Bruno Schulz, translated from Polish by Madeline G Levine

Despite being regarded as one of the great Polish prose writers of the early twentieth century, and as a central figure to European Jewish literary tradition, Bruno Schulz’s impact on the English-speaking literary world is somewhat limited. By collecting all of his short stories in one place, this volume gives the new reader an ideal entry-point into the work of a writer that has been compared to Kafka and Proust and has influenced writers such as Phillip Roth, Salman Rushdie and Roberto Bolaño. 

Winner of the 2019 Found in Translation Prize, which recognises work translated from Polish to English, Collected Stories brings these masterworks to a wider audience, exposing the Anglophone public to the originality, complexity and profundity of Bruno Schulz.

Life After Kafka by Magdalena Platzová, translated from Czech by Alex Zucker

Life After Kafka tells the story of Felice Bauer, Kafka’s one-time fiancée, who is the central figure of his Letters to Felice, where she’s depicted as a woman with a raucous laugh and a bourgeois interest in the finer things in life. Here, Platzová allows Felice to become a fuller person, describing her 1935 escape from Berlin with her family. When a man claiming to be Kafka’s child finds Felice’s son in Manhattan, confusion surrounding Kafka’s letters begins to unfold. This is a tender book ruminating on the nature of memory, both enchanting and harrowing, and the strength required to move on when our lives are utterly shattered.

Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex by Oksana Zabuzhko, translated from Ukrainian by Halyna Hryn

Often considered one of the most controversial Ukrainian books, Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex remains one of the most best-selling pieces of Ukrainian literature. Narrated by a Ukrainian poet, Oksana, the novel details her relationship with a Ukrainian artist which starts shortly before she travels to the US to teach. She reflects on the love and passion she felt for him as well as the abuse she faced. 

Through long, complex monologues and poetic prose, Zabuzhko examines the narrator’s grief in tandem with Ukrainian culture and identity, especially that of a Ukrainian woman. Switching between first, second and third-person perspectives, these monologues explore the fractured state of Ukrainian history and culture, and the impact of this on Oksana’s identity as a Ukrainian woman. Initially published in 1996, Zabuzhko’s poetic feminist novel caused significant controversy but is now considered a modern classic. 

Shadows on the Tundra by Dalia Grinkeviciute, translated from Lithuanian by Delija Valiukenas

At 14 years old Dalia Grinkeviciute was deported with her family from Lithuania to a Siberian Labour camp, where she was made to do over 12 hours of manual labour every day in sub-zero temperatures on very little food. At the age of 21, she escaped and lived in hiding in Lithuania, where she wrote an account of her life in the gulag before she was rearrested. Shadows on the Tundra is Dalia Grinkeviciute’s incomplete memoir of her survival in a gulag. Found in 1991, four years after Dalia’s death, it was written on scraps of paper, put in a jar and buried in the garden in fear of the KGB.  



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