The breakthrough creative activity of the Bu-Ba-Bu group is an unprecedented phenomenon in contemporary Ukrainian literary discourse. Translated into many languages, Yuri Andrukhovych’s prose and poetry has been becoming widely known and popular. Viktor Neborak’s recent achievements deserve close attention as well. The Flying Head and Other Poems is one of the first bilingual collections of Neborak’s poetry. It is a tremendous endeavor by numerous individuals, and primarily Michael Naydan should be commended for its English version. In recent years, Naydan, Virlana Tkacz, and Wanda Phipps have become the best translators of Ukrainian literature, much of which has yet to be discovered in English.
The book opens with Andrukhovych’s essay “The Head that Used to Fly,” in which he points out that The Flying Head is the first truly Bu-Ba-Bu book” (20).
The constant wordplay, the neologisms, the explosive use of contemporary slang and jargon, the use of Galician speak, the mockery, and the allusions present an enormous challenge for any translator dealing with Bu-Ba-Bu texts. This book is not an exception. The beauty and creativity of the Ukrainian language is difficult to capture. For example, “pidtsenzurna vydavnycha ptakhorizka” (6) is not quite the same as the English “dreadful publishing censorship” (22).
In Naydan’s essay, entitled “The Poetry of Viktor Neborak: A Conventional Introduction,” we learn that Neborak’s poetry in The Flying Head “is an innovative cutting edge work with a great amount of linguistic and poetic experimentation” (27). Naydan points out that Neborak has “try doni” [three daughters], which is mistakenly cited as “three children” in the English version (27). Naydan adds a second, “Unconventional Introduction,” in which he claims that “Neborak’s language is striking, it collapses into itself” (29) Here, Naydan captures the soul and spirit of Neborak’s unconventional poetry. Those who have heard it (including this reviewer) in Neborak’s own performance will never forget it.
It is very difficult, at times nearly impossible, to translate certain colloquial Western Ukrainian phrases, such as “iakshcho siu khvyliu ne zatkaietes’,” literally, “if you will not shut up this moment,” but rendered here as “if something wasn’t done about it in less than no time” (38-39). Naydan succeeds in preserving the length of the poetic lines and, quite often, even the rhythm. The attempt to preserve “ATAS” in English translation leads to an explanatory footnote: “ATAS is an exclamation that means “look out,” “be careful,” or “run away” (42-43). A bit later, Neborak’s “studenty zakonspecheni” Naydan translates as “burned out students” (50-51). “Zakonspechenyi” is a neologism from the verb “konspektuvaty” [to take notes, usually at a lecture]. The end result might be that you are “burned out,” but the meaning of the verb is lost, as well as the neological nature of the word. Naydan renders “kistiaky”as ’bones’ (52-53), but this is not the common “kosti” or even “kistky.”
Neborak forces the reader to constantly decode allegories, innuendos, and real as well as fictitious facts in his texts. For instance, he writes: “Ia u skafandri, ia proshchaius’ – nu, paiekhali … […],” which is rendered in English as “I’m in a space suit, I’m saying good-bye – let’s get going …[…]” (57). These words were said by Yuri Gagarin and are present even in the famous song “On skazal: ‘Poiekhali!’ Naydan has no choice but to explain in the footnotes for an English-speaking reader the names of numerous streets, cafes, hotels, monuments, etc. Neborak’s poetry is both futuristic and concrete, loaded with realia. The noun “chort” is easily rendered “devil” (64-65), but the verb derived from the same root, “ostochortity,” is translated as “to be of great annoyance” ( 65), which of course loses the underlying meaning. Similarly, the phrase “smaruie huby” is rendered as “puts lipstick on her lips,” but this is not the common “maliue huby” (74-75). Or, the noun “pantsia,” translated as “maid,” is not “panna,” “pannochka”, or even “pannusia” (164-65).
Despite these minor flaws, I highly recommend this excellent volume, especially for students majoring in Ukrainian literature and language. Further, it will become an indispensable tool for those specializing in English-Ukrainian and Ukrainian-English translation.
The first part of the second book, A.H. ta inshi rechi, consists of the writings of a certain A.H., a former Lviv resident, who finds himself in Kyiv. Neborak finds the binder with his notes. This literary technique helps the real Neborak to use all his sarcasm and humor, describing Lviv and its residents, the city public house, Ukrainian phenomenal literature, and more.
The second part of the volume is called “Personalii” [Personae]. Neborak meditates on his personal perception of Taras Shevchenko and Mykola Zerov, analyzes the poetic world of Myroslav Kushnir and Ihor Kalynets’, and provides notes of the pys’mennyts’kyi vel’mozha [writers’ lord] (66) Roman Fedoriv, the encyclopedic Andrii Sodomora, the enigmatic contemporary Volodymyr Iavors’kyi, the Ukrainian folklore scholar Teofil Komarynets’, the seductive storyteller Iurii (Iurko) Vynnychuk, and Viktor’s friend Saia (artistic designer Andrii Saienko).
Part Three is entitled “Zamok” [The Castle]. It consists of essays, like ”Pochatkivtsi” [The Beginners], “Proekt ‘Literaturna agentsiia” “The Literary Agency” Project], “Literaturni vchyteli ta uchni” [Literature Teachers and Students], “Literaturni lytsari i damy” [Literary Knights and Ladies], “Ukraintsi po-anhliis’ky” [Ukrainians in English], “Ukrains’ke slovo” i ukrains’ka shkola [“The Ukrainian Word” and the Ukrainian School], and “Postsotsrealizm” [Postsocialist realism].
In Part Four, “Z arkhivu K.”[From K’s Archive], Neborak presents himself as an avid reader and interpreter of contemporary Ukrainian prose and poetry, analyzing the recent books of Andrii Sodomora, Roman Ivanychuk, Yurii Vynnychuk, Ivan Luchuk, Taras Luchuk, Mykola Riabchuk, Kostiantyn Moskalets’, Oleksandr Irvanets’, Vasyl’ Herasym’iuk, Ihor Rymaruk. He finds his particular vision and discovers minute but important details that other critics do not.
The next part of the volume is called “Dvi rozmovy pro literaturu’ [Two Conversations on Literature], conversation “V. N.” Has with Yurii Tarnawsky and Vasyl’ Habor. These reflect the contemporary Ukrainian literary process, the shrewd remarks and criticism of participants, and an optimism regarding the future of Ukrainian literature. In the final part, “Rizne” [Miscellaneous],. Neborak deliberates on poets, politics, and readers.
Both of these books offer an excellent presentation of Neborak’s diverse literary activity as a poet, prose writer and essayist. All these sides are complementary to each other, and now the English-speaking public will see the versatility of this outstanding author.
Valerii Polkovsky, University of Alberta