In his work, the 47-year-old writer deals with the upheavals and upheavals in his homeland in a variety of ways. For this and for his social commitment, even during the war, he now receives an important award.
This year’s Peace Prize of the German Book Trade goes to the Ukrainian Serhij Zhadan, an artist who lives in war – and who also deals with it in his work in a variety of ways.
“We honor the Ukrainian writer and musician for his outstanding artistic work and for his humanitarian attitude, with which he turns to people in war and helps them at the risk of his life,” said the board of trustees on Monday in Frankfurt am Main.
He also writes lyrics for rock songs
Zhadan is one of the best-known representatives of contemporary literature in Ukraine. The honoree also sees the award as a sign of solidarity with his country, against which Russia has been waging a war of aggression since February. He thanks for the award, the 47-year-old wrote on Facebook on Monday. “It is very important that Ukraine is present in the German information space.”
Even before the Ukraine war, Zhadan was a well-known writer in Germany. He writes novels, poems and essays, for which he has won several awards, but also lyrics for rock bands and is a singer in a band himself. In addition, he has been involved in social and cultural projects in eastern Ukraine, where he comes from, for several years. His literary work is published in German by Suhrkamp Verlag.
Zhadan’s works are characterized by a very unique narrative style, combining lyrical descriptions with fast-paced language. Music is often present as an influence. In his novel «The Invention of Jazz in the Donbass» (2012), for example, he says at one point about the musician Charlie Parker: «His saxophone exploded like a chemical weapon that destroys the enemy army. Parker breathed through his mouthpiece and let out a golden flame of righteous anger, his black fingers jabbing into the open wounds of the air (…).»
Zhadan lives and works in Kharkiv
Even then, a war theme was mixed into his writing. Now it affects his everyday life. Zhadan’s “intensive social and cultural commitment” increased after the Russian invasion, the board of trustees praised the artist. “Always living in Kharkiv, he organizes concerts, rescues people from embattled neighborhoods, reads poetry and distributes relief supplies around the city.”
The political and social developments in his homeland are reflected in Zhadan’s work: initially the writer dealt in particular with the period of upheaval after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and in more recent texts with the conflict and war region of Donbass. After the Russian attack, the author also spoke in the German media and reported on the situation on the ground.
Zhadan was born on August 23, 1974 in Starobilsk, which is located in the currently contested Luhansk region. In Kharkiv he studied literature, Ukrainian studies and German studies and wrote his doctoral thesis on Ukrainian Futurism. Zhadan first taught as a university lecturer and then began to work as a freelance writer. Since the early 1990s, the author has shaped the cultural scene in Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine.
In 2007 his debut novel «Depeche Mode» was published. Zhadan’s most recently published novel is entitled “Internat” (2017/2018). The author writes in Ukrainian, but also translates poetry from German, English, Belarusian and Russian into Ukrainian.
Great humanitarian commitment
He’s witnessing the upheavals in his country first-hand: he was involved in the pro-European protests in Kharkiv in 2004 and 2013/2014, and was even injured in the process. After Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Zhadan said, “We hope Russia doesn’t attack, but people are panicking because they don’t know what tomorrow will bring.”
Around eight years later it is clear that this hope has not been fulfilled. Zhadan is quoted as saying in a report by the ARD studio in Moscow in mid-June that he is not currently working as a writer. It has been like this since the beginning of the war, “because we all work as volunteers”. Since the attack “my friends and I have given dozens of concerts”. In the subway, in hospitals, for the military, but that too is more of a volunteer job.
The Peace Prize is to be presented at the end of the Frankfurt Book Fair on October 23. It is important to him that Ukraine remains a topic of discussion, Zhadan said on Monday. “We demand weapons, but we also demand informational support.” Any support for Ukrainian culture would contribute to Ukraine’s victory over Russia. His country must win in order to defend its own future.