Understanding the Ukraine
As Euro 2012 continues, take a fictional wander around the host country with our top reads
Euro 2012 is driving hoards of tourists to Ukraine's capital and the surrounding countryside - but before changing pounds into hryvnia it’s advisable to find out a little about the country, its culture and customs. Our choice of Ukrainian-themed titles might help:
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka. Set in England, this comical novel follows the inner politics of an ordinary Ukrainian family. In her debut novel, a winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Writing and a nominee for the Orange and the Man Booker, German-born author writes about family feuds, old buried secrets and a grand history of the tractor through which the narrator responds to the world around her.
And then there is Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. Recounting the travels of a young Jewish American man searching in the depths of the Ukraine for the woman who saved his grandfather’s life during the Second World War, Foer like nobody else depicts the nature of rural Ukrainian countryside and its contrasts with the West.
If you are in search of something light to read on the plane try Christina Dodd's Touch of Darkness series. Highly romantic, these sexy, fantasy novela have a trace of the supernatural with shape-shifting Ukrainian characters and an old prophecy.
Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov would also make a brilliant choice. It depicts Kiev – at its worst – wracked by poverty and violence with the main character having no one in the world to rely on but his only friend Penguin, whom he rescued when the local zoo closed down.
And finally, Nikolai Gogol’s The Night Before Christmas. This wonderful classic can easily be enjoyed even in the heat of Ukrainian summer. With the ironic light touch that marks most of his work, Gogol tells a tail of blacksmith Vakula, living in a small Ukrainian village, in love with Oksana, the capricious local beauty. In a fit of temper Oksana declares that she’d marry Vakula only if he gets her the slippers off the Tsaritsa’s feet and it takes all the wit of the brave blacksmith to achieve his heart’s desire.
Ukraine's captain Andriy Shevchenko in action.