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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

The Ukrainian magazine of translated literature turns 85

12 October, 2010 - 00:00

Mid-September has traditionally become the time for Ukrainians to remember that a person is not just a political or economic creature, but also one that reads. Taking a couple day’s break from the vanity of everyday life, residents of different Ukrainian cities go to Lviv in order to visit and pay tribute to the greatest book event of the year, the Lviv Book Forum. “It is time to read!” the slogan urges all lovers of literature.

Unfortunately, the magazine Vsesvit, a publication which is at the heart of Ukrainian literature translation, is easily lost among the multi-colored stands and stylish book-covers, the numerous impressive titles of Ukrainian and foreign books. This year, with the assistance of the British Council in Ukraine, Vsesvit invited the Scottish author Janet Paisley, who has had several creative and scholarly meetings in Lviv, to the publishers’ forum.

Last January the unique Ukrainian periodical turned 85. For people this age is usually associated with frailty and gray hairs, but not for a printed periodical. This is a sign of maturity for such a magazine as Vsesvit, when the canons of style have been established, a team of partisan contributors has been created, and several generations of publicists, critics, and translators have been forged. In the flow of our everyday routines, even when we shrug off their dullness in order to plunge into a world of books at least for half an hour, it is hard for us to imagine that Ukraine’s bookshelves may have remained barren if not for Vasyl Ellan-Blakytny who came up with the idea in 1925, in Soviet Kharkiv, to found a Ukrainian magazine that would bring to the reader topical events of international and local import, and contain the literary and journalistic works of Ukrainian and foreign authors. Could the first chief editor of Vsesvit imagine at the time that his creation would go through all the twists and turns of the 20th century with dignity, keep its head high under difficult sociopolitical circumstances, and most importantly, become the first islet of intellectual freedom and aspiration for changes in Ukraine?

Topics that were banned from speech and print in the Soviet Union could be found in the translated literary and journalistic works published by the periodical. The first Ukrainian translations of works by Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, James Joyce, William Golding, Ernest Hemingway, Somerset Maugham, Hermann Hesse, Alejo Carpentier, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Amado, Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortazar and many other writers of world renown were published by Vsesvit. In spite of all the past political intrigues, the magazine has proved that the nation whose language has been used to translate classical literature from the Ancient Greek lyrical poetry and the Epic of Gilgamesh, through works by Dante Alighieri and Immanuel Kant, to the latest novels by Salman Rushdie and J. M. G. Le Clezio, has asserted itself and the right to honor its identity and the uniqueness of its place in the world.

An 85th anniversary is a good reason not just to rethink the road covered, but also to implement in the best and most efficient way the latest innovations, embrace the desire for change. The Vsesvit editorial board (editors-in-chief Oleh and Yurii Mykytenko, deputy editor-in-chief Dmytro Drozdovsky, head of the prose department Oleksandr Terekh etc.) understand that without regular maintenance even the best solutions will fall into disuse. In 2010 five issues of Vsesvit have already been published. The exigent reader will be gratified to learn the practical aspects, the format, design, and quality of paper and printing, have been essentially improved. Vsesvit’s new format is only a slightly larger than a netbook: now it is more convenient and pleasant to carry it in one’s travel bag or rucksack, in order to read it on your road or in a cafe.

A printed publication is not merely a bunch of text. It is meant also to satisfy visual aesthetic tastes. Is not that the reason why most of publishers try to provide illustrations for their articles? Vsesvit now pays close attention to illustrations — every column opens with high-quality full-format illustrations, often portrait photos of the authors.

Modernization has also affected the concept and content of the publications. The magazine’s project and plans for the future have it that the content should be broadened and deepened, and declare that there should be a dynamic and inclusive approach to text selection from the boundless palette of contemporary foreign literature, cooperation with young translators, literary critics, and scholars with various opinions, and a more acute and quick reaction to important sociopolitical events at home and abroad. Another zest that is going to make the renewed periodical more interesting and savory is the coverage of literary processes in the post-Soviet countries, which cannot but interest the Ukrainian reader.

It is pleasant to state that, in the best traditions of similar European and international literary periodicals like World Literature Today, Vsesvit has grown more accomplished, integral and systemic. Besides, every new issue of Vsesvit contains a whole prose work by a noted author of international repute. In the eight months of 2010 the renewed Vsesvit has already published Ukrainian translations of the following novels: The Enchantress of Florence by the winner of the Booker Prize Salman Rushdie, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino, Silk by Alessandro Baricco, Deluge by the 2008 winner of Nobel Prize in literature J. M. G. Le Clezio, and others. The demands of poetry connoisseurs will be satisfied by the magazine’s poetry section, which has already published the latest translations of Jim Morrison, Charles Baudelaire, Percy Shelley, Joseph Brodsky, Annette von Droste-Huelshoff, Robert Southey etc. in the magazine’s latest issues.

In conclusion, a few words should be said about the magazine’s section devoted to literary criticism, which is supervised by Drozdovsky. This is a unique segment comprising articles, interviews, and scholarly studies by Ukrainian and foreign litterateurs, translators and literary critics, as well as public figures and politicians. The magazine’s “Literary Dialogs” column can even compete with works of poetry and prose in terms of interesting articles and interviews. The column’s authors try to shed light on the most interesting events, personalities, and processes in contemporary literature, culture, society, and politics in various corners of the planet, from the US to exotic Eastern countries, such as Iran.

Ever since the first such periodical emerged, reading magazines specializing in various branches of knowledge and culture has been a hallmark of a well-educated and intelligent person. Since printed publications are gradually fading away, and different world cultures are threatened by turning into components of the cold “cyber-civilization,” which will not need the achievements of the previous centuries, there is a need for an institution that would counteract the destructive impact ruining human souls. Special attention should be drawn to the fact that Vsesvit has been and will remain an absolutely Ukrainian-language publication, a domain of high-quality Ukrainian translations and literary criticism, an outpost of Ukrainian identity and mentality in the stormy and restless geopolitical sea of today.

Let us remember that we are what we read. So, enjoy the good traditions of reading with the new Vsesvit!