Ukrainian literature, with its diversity and peculiarity, is not just one large aspect of the national culture. Having recorded all the hardships and controversies that took place over centuries, literature is an integral part of the country’s history and is considered to be one of Ukraine’s treasures.
The country’s literary symbol is the prominent poet, writer, philosopher, and activist Taras Shevchenko, whose talent makes up a treasure trove of Ukrainian cultural heritage. Ukrainians call him the spiritual father of the nation. And no wonder: in the 19th century – which contained many hard times for Ukrainians – it was Shevchenko’s poems that served as powerful catalyst of national self-consciousness. And his collected poems ‘Kobzar,’ which is considered to be the foundation of Ukrainian literature, became the starting point and the symbol of intellectual independence. Describing the serfs’ hard lives, which turned worse under the oppression of Russian autocracy, Shevchenko supported social justice and fought for Ukrainian freedom.
His works also played a key role in development of Ukrainian literary language. Shevchenko managed to enrich the once poor, peasant language with a new expressive meaning and to add to it rhythm and melody.
Another legendary poet and novelist, Ivan Franko, also did much to develop Ukrainian language and literature. He was among the first who started to translate the works of prominent foreign authors - such as Goethe and Byron - into Ukrainian. Franko's own literary heritage amazes with its uniqueness.
Mikhail Kotsiubynsky, who was influenced by European modernism, also occupies an important place in the heritage of Ukrainian literature. One of his renowned novels about Guzul lovers called ‘Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors,’ is reminiscent of a well-known Shakespearean tragedy. Kotsiubynsky’s contemporary, the poet Lesya Ukrainka is one more prominent figures of Ukrainian literature. Despite having poor health all her life, she had outstanding inner power, with which she endowed the characters of her books. Ukrainka’s famous play ‘The Forest Song’ enriched Ukrainian literature with new plots and images; it has been translated into many foreign languages.
Although they are known across the world as Russians, Mikhail Bulgakov and Nikolai Gogol can also be called representatives of Ukrainian literature. Both were born in Ukraine and created some of their most dramatic works here. It is in Kyiv that Bulgakov wrote his first novel, the well-known ‘White Guard,’ which is set in Ukraine. And Gogol drew on cherished Ukrainian images for ‘Dead Souls’, ‘Taras Bulba’ and ‘Evenings On a Farm Near Dikanka.’
Modern Ukrainian literature - although still developing - has already made itself known through the works of talented poets and writers.
One of the most famous literary figures is the striking representative of post-modernism, Yuri Andrukhovych. He is often compared to Italian writer and philosopher Umberto Eco. His novels, which include ‘Perverzion,’ ‘The Moscoviad,’ and ‘Recreations’, are in high demand, published not only in Ukraine, but also in many European countries.
Writer and scriptwriter Andrey Kurkov owns the title of the best-selling modern Ukrainian author. He is one of few authors in the region whose books have made the top-ten European bestsellers list. ‘Death of a Stranger,’ ‘Picnic on Ice,’ and ‘The President's Last Love’ are just a few of his titles. Because of his intricate plots, critics often compare Kurkov to Bulgakov.
The talented writer and poet Oksana Zabuzhko, who became famous for her novel ‘Field Research of Ukrainian Sex,’ made a great contribution to development of the modern Ukrainian literature and to its popularity.
Ukrainian literature - both classic and modern - is a mirror that reflects the country’s history and the peculiarities of the national character of its residents. So, if you desire to become familiar with Ukraine’s spirit and to learn more about its culture, it is essential that you introduce yourself to Ukrainian literature!