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Tastes might differ but can sometimes be truly eloquent

Max Siry from the RockerJoker duo was the first of our musicians whom I asked to tell me about his favourite Belarusian writers and poets. Despite being aware of his reputation for being brutally honest, I was slightly taken aback. “I don’t enjoy reading our classical writers,” notes the alternative singer and video-maker, without hesitation. “Whatever anyone says, we don’t have a writer who could become known in Columbia as Marquez is known in Belarus.”

By Klim Olegovsky

During the Year of Book, such a comment could have aroused a small scandal; if my remaining interviewees shared the same view, the situation would be quite unfortunate. With relief, I found that they had only praise. “Vladimir Korotkevich’s works are really cool,” states Dmitry Sosnovsky from Stary Olsa band. “If a musician devotes themselves entirely to their work, without sparing themselves or being lazy, listeners are sincerely grateful. Korotkevich worked his fingers to the bone, revealing his deepest emotions, so this may be why he ‘burnt out’ early. He is a masterful writer: alive, open and bright. It’s pleasant to reread his works, although he can depress the spirits.”

Dmitry adds, “I’ve long enjoyed reading Yugasya Kalyada’s poetry. Undoubtedly, she’s a talented woman. However, in my opinion, her prose writing of recent years lacks the richness of her ‘purely frost-bitten’ poetry. It’s interesting to read Kalyada’s prose, as it resembles non-rhyming verse: rather like a melting ice cream (the same ingredients with a different taste).”

In turn, tastes of blues-rocker Yuri Nesterenko, from White Night Blues, are colourful, inspired by his love of reading. He draws excitedly on Leonid Daineko’s historical theme in Duke Vyachka’s Sword and Charodey’s Path, as well as the Last Emperor’s Ring by Lyudmila Rublevskaya. He also loves Algerd Bakharevich and Korotkevich and has enjoyed Victor Yvanov (the reckless nonconformist and former punk musician) for the past year. He is also complimentary about Tatiana Zamirovskaya and Dmitry Kolas’ translations of Robbe-Grillet and Hermann Hesse. Meanwhile, he adores Vasil Bykov’s Long Way Home.

Vladimir Korotkevich could soon become a bestselling author, as Olga Akulich (Werasen project) agrees. She tells me, “Korotkevich writes literature with a capital L, being brilliantly stylised. He respects the history of our state and is keen to see the revival of Belarus. His is the kind of writing that will echo with you at various periods of your life.”

Listening to Drozdy band, you can see that their songs are influenced by Vasil Bykov’s works. Band leader Vitaly Karpanov has loved them since his school days. Meanwhile, Yanka Mavr’s adventure stories have inspired the band’s present direction.

Natalia Tamelo is now a firm believer in the wonder of Belarusian poetry, but this wasn’t always so, as she was born in Kaliningrad. She explains, “Naturally, I didn’t study much Belarusian literature but, on moving to Minsk, I entered the Culture University, where we were taught poetry and prose. I then began to compare Russian and Belarusian classical writers, of which there are many, and became especially keen on Kolas and Kupala. It’s vital to be able to create vivid images: in songs and books. Maxim Bogdanovich is especially good at this. I love his lines: ‘Long dry sticks burnt through the night, as I sewed a shirt for Artem, with the sun in the middle and small stars around’. It sounds very beautiful.”

These idyllic thoughts were a little disturbed by Leonid Narushevich (of Knyaz Myshkin), who agrees with Mr. Siry that few true Belarusian writers exist. He makes an exception for Korotkevich (‘my number one’) and Yanka Mavr — whom he calls ‘a true romanticist of marshes and forests’. He also loves to ‘penetrate’ the fantasy world of Yuri Stankevich.

Valery Bashkov (from Fors-minor) studied in Soviet times, reading all the Belarusian classical writers: Kolas, Kupala, Krapiva, Bryl, Bogdanovich, Brovka, Kuzma Chorny and others. “I like the verses for children created by my father-in-law — writer Leonid Shirin (who, unfortunately, died in 1994),” notes Valery. “I’ve read Maxim Luzhanin — whom I knew personally — but most enjoy Korotkevich (The Savage Hunt of King Stakh and The Black Castle of Olshany) and Bykov (Sign of Trouble). I like their characters and language and how they manage to present an emotional atmosphere.”

Singer Olga Plotnikova also has her own ideas regarding Belarusian literature, based on her school days. Her firm favourite is …again Vladimir Korotkevich. “His talent manifested itself in various directions — as a poet, writer and playwright,” she notes, explaining her choice. “He wrote interestingly and clearly while glorifying the Belarusian nation, making us feel proud. His mysticism and historical components are alluring. True proof of his greatness lies in our desire to reread him. I do so with great pleasure; my favourites are Ears Under Your Sickle and The Black Castle of Olshany.” From contemporary literature, Olga mentions Tamara Lisitskaya.

In conclusion, I’d like to address my good acquaintance Max Siry and all those who, like him, are sceptical towards our prose and poetry. Yes, Belarus is not rich in Gabriels Garcia Marquezs. Moreover, I don’t know any writer with such a name born in Slutsk or Vitebsk. However, don’t disregard our Belarus. Who knows, Vasil Bykov’s Sotnikov may soon appear on your book shelf near The Autumn of the Patriarch. To rephrase Vissarion Belinsky: ‘go, go to Belarusian literature, live there and die in it, if you can’.

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