by Artem Chapey
translated from the Ukrainian by Zenia Tompkins
from the April 4, 2022 issue of The New Yorker
Artem Chapeye, who is currently serving in Ukraine’s defense force, is a completely new author to me. Apparently he wrote this story back in late 2017, remarking on “the romance of decline.”
His article with The New Yorker is interesting, as he talks about what is going on right now (the interview seems to have taken place on March 10), and about what Ukraine means to him. He also addresses that definite article “the” and how it relates to his own love for his country.
The story, which begins this way:
She and I converged on a sullen love for our country. A hate-love, some might say. A love with a dash of masochism, I used to say. A love in defiance of pain, she used to say. And that was how she and I loved each other, too—through pain and a bit frantically.
I have not read it all the way through yet, but it seems to be a lovely tribute to Ukraine, told from the perspective of a man who goes out and about with the woman he loves. They discuss the country and the countryside. This is not just a travelogue, though; it’s also a story about this relationship.
I look forward to seeing your thoughts on the story. Please comment below if you’re so inclined.
The Ukraine is difficult to read because I feel like I am missing a lot of backstory. How did the lovers arrive at love-hate relationship with their country and with one another. Regarding the love in defiance of pain, I really didn’t see what caused all the pain. Sometimes there is pain out of nowhere but I have to think there were triggers somewhere, sometime. I guess there is no dirth of possible triggers in real life. Or in The Ukraine. Even though it is beautiful in some places or was I feel the mood he creates or the sad feelings are very real or well set out. But I wonder more about how it developed or where he was starting from. Maybe someone read this story and is more familiar with the milieu Chapeye is writing about. It is a very moody sort of story about gradually overwhelming angst. Just wonder what the original genesis of the angst was or is.
I wondered when the story was written, whether before or during the war now raging. I found the cultural barrier too great to cross emotionally.
If there were no war, I would have read this as an interesting insight into another country and culture. However, given the current situation, which is overwhelming, I found I could not access the kernel of the story.
I agree with the above comment, in wondering, what was the original genesis.
I was entranced enough by the ironic, smooth humorous prose and many descriptive passages that I wasn’t necessarily concerned with the genesis of the couple’s unhappiness. Many people who stay together have ups and downs. The key was her traveling around as she knew her time was limited and the wonderful way this managed to describe how one can find so many grace notes even in seemingly barren or humdrum places.
It may be more reportage than fiction possibly but it was wonderful either way.
I’m with Ken on this one — backstory is not necessary. In fact, that is kind of the point of the story — to live in the present, given what you have or what you are doing. Since the woman knew or suspected that her life was going to be shortened, that was how she lived. And the man joined with her. And that is how they came to see the beauty of their country.
I was wondering as I was reading, is this a strory about a country that stands as a metaphor for a relationship? Or is the relationship a metaphor for the country? In the end I concluded that it is two parallel tracks that mutually reinforce each other and deepen the emotional impact of the whole story. Very well done.
Btw — “grace notes” is a nice and accurate phrase.
Also BTW — according to Trevor, the story was written in 2017.
If this is helpful in appreciating the story, it’s the final story in a collection of the same name and is preceded by 25 other pieces. I say “pieces” deliberately because some are fiction and some are nonfiction (the reader never learns which are which), so by the time you read this story, you’ve seen 25 glimpses of everyday life in present-day Ukraine. For me, the relationship in this last story was very much a metaphor for the country (I translated this story and am friends with the author). The whole collection is scheduled for publication next year with Seven Stories Press. Hope you check it out!
Zenia, this is indeed helpful! “Glimpses of everyday life in Ukraine” now makes sense of the story, and the “metaphor for the country” likewise clarifies. Wow, great insight, than you!