Taras Prokhasko


Featured Reading Group title:

Тарас Прохасько, “НепрОсті” – Taras Prokhasko, The UnSimple

The book, first published in 2002, is available online. Its English translation, by Uilleam Blacker, appeared in Ukrainian Literature, a journal of translations based in Canada (2, 2007; 3, 2011). Download Part 1 and Part 2. Information about Taras Prokhasko, including Uilleam Blacker’s preface to The UnSimple, can be found here.

More information

  • This title features as part of our Spring-Summer 2013 Russian and Ukrainian Reading Group

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  1. Steve Komarnyckyj says:

    When I first approached this book I was a little deterred by the experimental structure, if I can call it that. The book opens with “Sixty-Eight Accidental First Sentences” and each of its enigmatically titled sections is broken down into numbered paragraphs. However the writing has a rich sensory precision and the character of Anna, though presented through the medium of this experimental medium, is richly detailed and the story has a baffling coherence. It”s a bit like a kaleidoscope where everything is shaken up and crystalises into a beautiful pattern. Uilleam Blacker’s translation is sensitively handled and reads beautifully and his introduction is packed with insights about both the structure of Ukrainian the author and the novel. Will the book work for everyone? The structure might deter some people but I think most will become absorbed in this hauntingly enigmatic book.

  2. Anna Aslanyan says:

    “Their code could be called unprose. The messages did not take the form of normal sentences but contained abbreviated records made according to a certain system of definitions, which he used to give names to things he experienced—actions, impressions, days, people, stories, emotions, ideas, whole microperiods. The Unsimple decoded the unprose and were able to imagine even more (though sometimes something entirely different) than what Sebastian knew.”
    I like The UnSimple despite – or because of – its perversity, imposed on the reader so blatantly it becomes hard to resist. It reminds me of the best of Christian Kracht’s writing, particularly of Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und im Schatten; there are also certain elements of Vladimir Sorokin’s prose. The non-linear nature of the narrative lends itself easily to experiments when it comes to translating it. The Russian version (Ad Marginem, 2009) was awarded the Best Translation of the Year prize.
    Unlike most “alternative history” books, this one is completely free of pretence – it convinces because it does not care if the stories sound plausible. The narrative’s drive alone is enough to keep the reader’s attention. One way – possibly the only way – to tell fascinating stories without leaving the territory of literary fiction or being downgraded to a “colonial writer” is to reject conventions and follow the protagonist’s example: “Sebastian told only of how things could be, and therefore things were as Sebastian told.”

  3. AJ says:

    When I first attempted this, I was badly put off by what struck me as in-your-face affectation and I quickly abandoned it. But after hearing some positive comments from other readers, I began again and made myself read to the end. Now, having read to the end, I would like to be more positive, but reading this book felt like an unwarranted penance.

    This time, however, I was getting glimmers of what could potentially be a wonderful book. But to me, it feels unfinished. It’s a shame that Prokhasko didn’t continue revising it to bring out its potential.

    No, I really don’t think this book is finished. It lacks definition. It feels too busy. There is too much going on without sufficient foregrounding and backgrounding. Despite all its grand talk about place and landscape, the textual topography is only dimly revealed. There are fine-sounding pronouncements without sufficient development. Not that the various strands are never picked up again, but to this reader they are insufficiently developed for the book to cohere. It is not yet a satisfying whole.

    That said, I do like what development there is – however insufficient it may be. I like the feeling of layering. It feels like a canvas on which the author at first applies broad brush strokes, then more precise, more detailed work. This ties in with the content of the book, so it’s a nice meta feature.

    Although, as noted above, the spatial development is poor: EVERYTHING feels like foreground. This painting needs finishing.

    There is much here that is intriguing and striking. At times the language is lovely. Although, unfortunately, it also, often, feels wooden to this reader.

    Finally, the work strikes me as very affected. The numbering was about as annoying as anything I’ve come across in a creative work. If there’s any justification for it, other than merely to announce to the reader something like: ‘Hello! I’m a daring work of experimental fiction’, then I had no sense of it at all.

    And sorry, one more thing – I didn’t care for the voice either. If I hadn’t found the voice so annoying, I would probably be a lot more forgiving.

    I’m sorry to be so negative. Obviously this book doesn’t work for me, but other readers may have a very different experience.


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