Ukrainian Contemporary Literature: Oksana Zabuzhko and her "Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex"

Oksana Zabuzhko
Oksana Zabuzhko

About Oksana Zabuzhko

Oksana Zabuzhko was born in Ukraine in 1960. Her parents had been blacklisted during the Soviet purges of the 1970s, and though Oksana made her poetry debut at the age of 12, it was not until the perestroika that her first book was published. She majored in philosophy at Kyiv Shevchenko University, later obtained her PhD in philosophy of arts, and has spent some time in the U.S. as a Fulbright Fellow and a Writer-in-Residence lecturing at Harvard University, Penn State University, and University of Pittsburgh. Her novel Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex (1996), was named "the most influential Ukrainian book for the 15 years of independence". Oksana has authored 17 books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, which have been translated into 15 languages.

Ukrainian society was literally shaken in 1996, when sharp-tongued poet, writer and essayist Oksana Zabuzhko published her breakthrough novel, Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex. It would later be called "the most influential Ukrainian book in the years since independence". Oksana herself insisted it was a romance novel, though a very real one, and far from sentimental. As a PhD, expert on culture and Fulbright scholar who has taught at Harvard, Pittsburgh and Penn State, Zabuzhko had a great deal to say to society. In 1997, Oksana once again gave her compatriots food for thought with her scientific essay Shevchenko's Myth of Ukraine, in which she searched for reasons for the ever-enigmatic absoluteness of Taras Shevchenko in Ukrainian culture.

In the next few months, Zabuzhko's recent novel The Museum of Abandoned Secrets (2009) will be published in Polish, Russian, Czech and English (the German translation of this bestseller was released in 2010). This attests to the high demand among readers from different countries, and the timeless nature of her themes.

Field Work in Ukrainian Sex

Over the years, the novel has been translated into twenty languages. Last year, Fieldwork... appeared in Amazon Crossing, which contains English translations of top works of world literature.

The book tells about the details of main heroine's lover’s abusive behavior. In admitting the underlying reasons for her attraction to him, she begins to see the chains that have defined her as a Ukrainian woman – and in doing so, exposes and calls into question her country’s culture of fear and repression at the very time that it wrestled its way toward independence. Though as it turned out, the book contains universal truth that applies to all the women around the world.

The question of why we love the "right" or "wrong" people is eternal; it's something women have been asking themselves since the time of Eve. Every new generation searches for its own answer to this question, and it turns out that pretty often we do fall in love with the "wrong people". It's an internal conflict between the world as we imagine it, and the one that actually exists. It's our inability to see and accept what's real, a conflict between reality and virtual world.

This book may be interpreted in many ways, but as Oksana Zabuzhko admits, it does have a kind of truth that goes beyond her generation. She says that every time she meets women between 35 and 55, whatever country of the world it happens to be in, she hears the same thing, "Thank you for Fieldwork...! It helped me understand that I have right to be myself and live my life as I want".

Oksana Zabuzhko's Literature Evening in Brussels

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