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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Tanja Maljartschuk

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To purchase Forgottenness

Title: Forgottenness
Author: Tanja Maljartschuk
Genre: Novel
Written: 2016 (Eng. 2024)
Length: 258 pages
Original in: Ukrainian
Availability: Forgottenness - US
Forgottenness - UK
Forgottenness - Canada
Blauwal der Erinnerung - Deutschland
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Ukrainian title: Забуття
  • Translated by Zenia Tompkins

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Our Assessment:

B : engaging, but falls a bit wide of its mark

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Atlantic . 1-2/2024 Judith Shulevitz
Frankfurter Rundschau . 21/2/2019 Frank Junghänel
The Kyiv Independent . 25/1/2024 Kate Tsurkan
Süddeutsche Zeitung . 31/5/2019 Nico Bleutge
Die Welt . 9/2/2019 Richard Kämmerlings

  From the Reviews:
  • "Tanja Maljartschuk’s novel Forgottenness broods upon what I’d call zombie history (.....) (T)he past in this novel rises from the grave and takes possession of the bodies of the living. Memories resurface as tics, gestures, obsessions -- the condensations of meaning that Freud called neurotic symptoms. (...) Resurrection is the great theme of Forgottenness. (...) The tone is distraught rather than wry, at times oppressively so." - Judith Shulevitz, The Atlantic

  • "Je weiter sie sich in das fremde Sein vortastet, desto persönlicher wird ihre Perspektive. (...) Das Tröstliche an diesem Buch ist seine Untröstlichkeit." - Frank Junghänel, Frankfurter Rundschau

  • "Forgottenness is part of a larger and ongoing trend in contemporary Ukrainian literature where authors are looking to the past in an effort to better understand the present. (...) (T)he novel ultimately underscores the importance that lies with those who, acknowledging this possibility, still confront the proverbial gigantic blue whale, steadfast in their resolve not to be relegated to oblivion." - Kate Tsurkan, The Kyiv Independent

  • "Eigentlich ist es eine schöne Idee, die Entwicklung eines eigenen ukrainischen Staates mitsamt den Bruchstellen und Verwerfungen, die mit der Vorstellung einer Nation verbunden sind, mit der Wiedergewinnung eines seinerseits hochlabilen Ichs zu verknüpfen und das eine im anderen zu spiegeln. Aber leider gelingt es Tanja Maljartschuk nicht, einen genaueren Zusammenhang zwischen Lypynskyj und ihrer Erzählerin herzustellen. Die Verbindung bleibt beliebig. (...) Wie aus dem Nichts ploppen Abstraktionen oder stark raffende Passagen in privaten Erzählungen und zeitgeschichtlichen Ereignissen auf. Das ist nicht nur spannungstötend, sondern untergräbt auch den Anspruch des Romans auf historische Genauigkeit. Noch störender sind die metaphorischen Schrägflächen, die das Buch durchziehen." - Nico Bleutge, Süddeutsche Zeitung

  • "Maljartschuk hat sich in die Quellen hineingefressen und entwirft ein Wimmelbild jener Epoche, lässt auch Parallel- und Nebenfiguren zu ihrem Recht kommen und arbeitet die Dilemmata politischen Handelns in einer Zeit heraus, in der der Gang der historischen Entwicklung nicht absehbar war(.....) Belanglos und reich an Klischees sind aber nicht nur diese Lehrjahre des Herzens. Die Passagen über den jungen Lypynskyj geraten hemmungslos kolportagehaft" - Richard Kämmerlings, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       After the first one, the chapters of Forgottenness all have a header with both title and then a parenthetical indication of the focus of what follows: 'Me', 'Him', or 'Us'. The 'me' is the narrator, her life-path essentially Maljartschuk's; the 'him' is real-life historical figure Viacheslav Lypynskyi (1882-1931), with the narrator taking an interest in Lypynskyi, not least because they were born: "on the same day, both on April 17, only he exactly a hundred years before me". (Maljartschuk was born in 1983, so the correlation to her narrator isn't exact.)
       The narrator admits -- or claims -- there aren't many parallels between them, going so far as to say:

Our lives were too disparate to comfortably fit into a shared narrative, if not for my irrational stubbornness.
       In any case, she certainly gives it a good go.
       In the chapters devoted to Lypynskyi, she sketches out his life: born into a Polish family, in a time when then Ukraine was divided between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian one, he embraced Ukrainian identity, and the Ukrainian language -- seen, at the time, as: "just a rural dialect, a hodgepodge of Polish and Russian" -- and insisted his name wasn't (the Polish) 'Wacław' but rather 'Viacheslav'. He devoted himself to the cause of Ukrainian independence and nationhood, even as for most of his life conditions hardly favored it -- only with the Russian Revolution in 1917 did it briefly seem within reach -- and neglected wife and daughter in pursuing it. Among the various forms of government and ideology espoused by backers of Ukrainian independence, he supported the idea and believed in the necessity of a powerful monarch-like Hetman as ruler, arguing that: "Without honor, discipline, idealism, and nobleness, which only monarchies can uphold, there's no need to even dream about an independent Ukraine". During the brief existence of the Ukrainian State in 1918 he was named envoy to the Austro-Hungarian Empire (itself close to collapse at that point), and thereafter spent much of his time in Austria, dying in exile there. (Author Maljartschuk also emigrated to Austria.)
       Lypynskyi was also in poor health for much of his life -- one of the reasons he declined a ministerial position in the Ukrainian State and settled on just being an envoy --, which the narrator frequently notes, as she also suffers from ailments manifesting themselves in both physical and mental debilitation. Obsessed by Lypynskyi, she tracks his life in old records -- much of the time completely housebound, unable to bring herself to leave her home (and, for a time, supported by one of the several men in her life that figure in her account as well). Her research into Lypynskyi is a dive into the past and memory -- his and Ukraine's, as well as then her own -- but also something to lose herself in.
       The narrator's own struggles -- not least with men and relationships -- are addressed, as she describes something of a descent into obsession. Among the things she tries is, amusingly:
     I began to stand on my head.
     One doctor told me that sometimes it was beneficial to see things from a different angle, in particular upside down.
       But basically it just confuses her thinking even more:
I would be scared to return to my customary vertical position again. Maybe a customary position had never existed at all. There was no being sure of anything.
       It all makes for a somewhat curious mix of a book, with two very different sides to it. The chronicle of Lypynskyi's life is engaging and often interesting, especially in describing the situation in the worlds Lypynskyi inhabited and the struggle to conceive and realize something like Ukrainian independence -- with various factions and leaders having very different ideas of its extent and what it might entail. When the narrator speaks of herself it is also of some interest, and there are revealing sections, but between her family-recollections, the three 'golden-haired men' in her life, and her physical struggles it's spread a bit thin; the most interesting parts are her research into Lypynskyi. She does not hide herself or her issues, but doesn't really get to the heart of them, either -- and doesn't make enough of the connections to Lypynskyi and his life-story that suggest themselves.
       Forgottenness is well-told, with a quite a bit that's of interest, but ultimately feels too insubstantial. Lypynskyi remains too distant a figure -- Maljartschuk covers the highlights and much of significance, but a full character-portrait eludes her --, and the narrator does as well. Of course, the novel is also about 'forgottenness', with Lypynskyi an example of a figure from the past who has been largely forgotten, and that idea is conveyed reasonably well, at least in its conclusion, but could also have been explored considerably more deeply.
       Forgottenness is a consistently engaging and sometimes fascinating read -- worthwhile alone for its presentation of Central European life and Ukrainian politics in the first two decades of the twentieth century --, but doesn't quite add up.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 January 2024

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Forgottenness: Reviews: Viacheslav Lypynskyi: Tanja Maljartschuk: Other books by Tanja Maljartschuk under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Ukrainian author Tanja Maljartschuk (Таня Малярчук) was born in 1983.

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© 2024 the complete review

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