Female Voices in Ukrainian Literature at Frankfurt Book Fair
A discussion on female voices in Ukrainian literature was part of the Frankfurt Book Fair
Halyna Shyjan, a Ukrainian author, received the European literature prize for her novel “Behind the Back.”
The novel is an ode to the modern woman.
“This is the voice of the first generation of modern Ukrainian emancipated women. They started earning good money, driving cars, buying cars and providing for themselves. Yet they still live under the pressure of patriarchal stereotypes with all these issues like they have to get married before 25, they have to give birth before 30. This is the baseline of conflict,” Shyjan said.
In the story, the boyfriend of the main character goes to fight in the war, yet she is not planning to become the stereotypical hero’s wife. She fights for the right to live as she wants.
The topic of women in a time of war was also highlighted by another author volunteer Tamara Duda, who writes under the pseudonym Gorykha Zernya.
In her novel called “Daughter,” she tells the dramatic story of a woman from Donetsk at the start of the war. The author says that each character has a prototype and every interaction is based on real-life events.
“The main character has several prototypes. The main one is Natalia, with the callsign ‘Elf.’ She is a recon soldier and a volunteer. I know her personally. But the protagonist of the book entails traits of many other women,” Duda said.
Both authors, together with famed Ukrainian writer Irena Karpa, held a discussion about female voices in literature at the Ukrainian stand of the Frankfurt Book Fair.
“When I had just started, my female characters were so cool! They were such superheroes — much better than me actually. But everyone thought: ‘This is probably autobiographical’… No, I wasn’t as cool as they were. They could open a door with a kick of their foot, never had any fears or hesitations. It was like Cat-Woman or Lara Croft, in the Ukrainian reality. As I said – being a mum of a big family, of a dog, just a woman like everyone else, I understand – it’s not so simple like that. So my characters, now, they suffer, they struggle,” Karpa said.
Authors say that they feel absolutely equal to men in the Ukrainian literary scene. But such a state of affairs is not universal around the world.
For example, in the Philipines, the number of female authors is very low. Aside from that, social inequality and gender discrimination are still quite high there. To shed light on the problem, a small publishing house for literature about women from the Philipines was founded in 2015.
“We work with marginalized communities in the Philippines. For example, the farmers, or the workers. Usually, when they write their stories, they write essays. We have discussed issues such as war and women because women are always affected when there’s a war. And there needs and the effects on them are very different compared to how war affects men. We have also tackled or discussed the issues for peasant women. For example, when their land is being taken away from them or when peasant women leaders are getting killed by the military or by the large landowners,” Philippines publisher Faye Cura said.
The number of literary pieces about women, by women, is growing by the day. Their voices can be heard even from Muslim countries. Dozens of specialized publishing houses are functioning in Europe, the U.S., and Canada. They publish both fiction and non-fiction novels on the topic of feminism.