An Excerpt from Kaharlyk by Oleh Shynkarenko
“The excerpt from Kaharlyk is published with the kind permission of Kalyna Language Press (KLP). KLP wishes to express their gratitude to Index on Censorship, who published an excerpt from the novel in their Summer issue. They are also grateful to everyone who sponsored the Kickstarter project that financed the translation of the novel and Euromaidan Press, who backed the project.”
Oleksandr Sahaidachnyi has regained consciousness in a mysterious hospital-like building. We join him as he explores a corridor and meets the only other person in the building.
The sun reached noon. The clock on the wall barely moved lethargic hands to eleven. Four minutes or four days had passed since the beginning; it’s hard to say. I go to the door, push. It opens on a long, spectrally-illuminated corridor with a dead end. I follow it, peering right and left for an exit. The doors are closed; then an open door. Someone is sitting at a table in the room. His thick-lensed glasses make his eyes like those of a fish. He had clearly been looking at the door for a while, hearing my footsteps.
He looks with interest but without empathy, like people look at cockroaches. “Have you seen the girl in the green cap?” I ask. “I think she was on the street just now.” “I have only seen a girl in a red cap, but not today.” He stands and comes towards me. “If you saw something on the street, amend the time. It was long ago. Think of it as them showing you archive video footage.” I understand nothing. “How can I find her?” “Best leave here and look in Kaharlyk. She is probably there.” “Understand me, I must find her.”
- Oleh Shynkarenko is a Ukrainian writer, artist, and blogger who lives and works in Kiev. As a journalist he has written for a variety of Ukrainian media, as well as The Daily Beast, The Institute for War and Peace Reporting, and Future Challenges. He also published the book How to Disappear Completely in 2007 and the novel Kaharlyk in 2014, during the Ukrainian Revolution. In the initial stages of Kaharlyk’s publication, he was interrogated by Ukrainian government officials and his controversial blog posts criticizing then-president Viktor Yanukovych were censored. He now works for the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union in Kiev.
He wore a very rumpled suit he had probably slept in. Cracked spectacles. “Why? Time has passed. She has probably forgotten you.” “And what is Kaharlyk?” “A town in Kyiv Province, its name comes from the Hungarian words ‘Khazar’ and ‘Lyuk’ meaning Khazar Hole. During the Khazar Khaganate it was a western province. Have you read the Kyiv Letter?… I advise you to exit carefully when everything on the street halts. There are moments when speeds align. Exit then, but don’t linger by the building. No, better let me lead you out. It’s like leaping from one carriage to another.”
THE KYIV LETTER
We, the people of Kyiv, inform you of the lamentable case of Oleksandr Sahaidachnyi, one among the sons of good people. He was a giver and not a taker, until a cruel decree was issued which meant he became wanted by the law. Oleksandr was traveling along a road when state functionaries seized and held him. He remained with them for one year, then we bailed him. We paid sixty, and forty remains outstanding. So we send this letter to sacred communities who might take pity on him. Lift up your eyes and act in accord with godly custom.
“I’m called Birgir Hansen. Remember, you will need that later,” he said. “Why?” “We will meet after a while. Understand, readers are enriched by other’s memories at the expense of their own. Characters generally do not have memories, so should gradually acquire them.” “I understand nothing.” “Leave it there. Do you play the harmonica?” It was a completely rusted Hohner. Confusedly I blew a few bars of Champs Èlysèes. “Super! Play for health! When you play, much is recollected.” “I feel as if I was recently hit on the head.” “Something similar happened, but long ago. Everything is over now.”
“Who are you?” “I’m nothing here because my role in this case has not yet commenced, but I must help you take the first step. Of course, if you want …” “I want to find Olena. You probably know something about her?” “Unfortunately not, but the peculiarity of the area is such that she could only get to Kaharlyk.” We go down to the first floor and stop by the window. “You see what’s happening?” asks Birgir. Clouds flew, as if in time-lapsed filming, shadows streaked along the road. The moon cannoned between stars and disappeared instantaneously over the horizon.
My gaze is drawn to one, almost static, point amidst this chaos, hovering behind the window. It is hard to believe this is a sparrow waving its wings slowly; a lazy swimmer at the pool. It watches with one eye, unthinkingly, because we are one in a sequence of millions of daily observations. Each lasts a second and is immediately forgotten. The world paused with this sparrow. An old man on a horse-drawn carriage in the street swung his whip, frozen in this strained position. Coils of smoke from a cigar hang in the air forming a weird flower.