Author: Tanja Maljartschuk
Translator: Zenia Tompkins

Two tales intertwined in a profound double portrait, Forgottenness painstakingly traces parallels between the historical and the contemporary, the collective and the individual, between the stories of two people born on the same day, a century apart.

The narrator, a writer grappling with her growing anxiety and obsessive thoughts, becomes fixated on Viacheslav Lypynskyi (1882–1931), a once-significant figure in the struggle for Ukrainian independence who has since fallen into oblivion, into the gaping mouth of Time.

As she plunges into her nation’s history to come to terms with her own, we slowly uncover the complex relationship between time, memory and identity to confront the question – what does it mean to remember?

“Time is a big blue whale. It devours me …”

Winner of BBC Ukrainian Book of the Year Award (2016)
Winner of Usedom Literature Prize (2022)

Publication date: 29 February, 2024.

Cover design by Niall McCormack. Cover illustration by Anastasia Melnykova.

‘I didn’t want this beguiling and immersive novel to end. It’s that unusual creation, an intimate epic, and its characters continue to flood my thoughts. The translation does justice to the author’s virtuoso performance.’ Martina Devlin

‘Both personal and political, this book rages against time and oblivion as all true literature does.’ Georgi Gospodinov, author of Time Shelter (International Booker Prize 2023)

‘[Maljartschuk] stands out as an author who asks in which time we live, who wants to recognize and present the truth about it with literary and essayistic means.’ Theodore Kramer Prize for Writing in Resistance and Exile

‘Maljartschuk is an outstanding storyteller who writes against the erasure of Ukrainian history.’

‘A literarily impressive novel that shows what it means when one’s identity consists of fear, obedience, and oblivion.’ buchmagazin

‘Tanja Maljartschuk sensitively links a fictional and a real, historical life story from Ukraine.’ Kleine Zeitung

  But the fate of the newspaper Svoboda (Liberty), which the Ukrainian community in America began to publish in New York back in 1893 and still publishes to this day, was entirely different. This newspaper became my favourite not because it was the best, but because it saw everything and forgot nothing. One hundred and twenty uninterrupted years. Six generations of people united by one chronology. The murder of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo and the fall of the Soviet Union, or events on Ukrainian lands, like the fire in Husiatyn in 1893 and the Bolekhiv butcher Anton, who in 1934 cut off his own mother’s head with an axe. Or, for another
example, the 20 June, 1931 issue, which reported in its pages that the gangster Al Capone had been arrested in Chicago.
  I mulled over this information for a moment, attempting to imagine what was going on in another part of the world that same year, in the villages of my grandmothers and grandfathers for instance, but the only thing that kept popping into my mind was that the women in those Ukrainian villages didn’t wear underwear because they simply didn’t have any, and routinely, when the need arose, had to sit at home so that no one would see the ritual blood trickling down their calves.
  Only later did my attention migrate to the big black upper case letters on the front page, which only an unscrupulous reader could have skipped past in favour of the arrest of a Chicago gangster. Three words in total, stamped in black ink. It was impossible to not see them. An eerie chill swept down my back. I reread the headline over and over until I stopped feeling anything. Over and over:


  At the time, I didn’t know who he was or how he had died. But the death of this man must have been of considerable importance to someone in the Ukrainian diaspora if Svoboda was reporting it on the front page, neglecting the fates of Al Capone and his New York counterpart Dutch Schultz, who would also be thrown in jail days later. The announcement that the Russian writer Maxim Gorky had been admitted into the ranks of the Communist Party likewise didn’t outweigh the death notification in importance, nor did the suicide of the wife of the Rabbi of Vilnius, the cause of which was apparently a ‘nervous disorder.’ In this issue of Svoboda, nothing was more important than the death of Viacheslav Lypynskyi. In contrast to the hapless wife of the rabbi, whose name went altogether unreported, Lypynskyi’s name needed no explanation, otherwise he wouldn’t have been written about in the spot typically reserved for some sort of global catastrophe, such as, say, the devastating 1906 earthquake in San Francisco.
  I read the obituary below the black headline. An eminent historian and a prominent politician. He had left instructions to have his heart pierced after his death because he feared being buried alive. The heart puncture was performed in the Austrian sanatorium Wienerwald, the same one where the little-known writer Franz Kafka had unsuccessfully undergone treatment a few years earlier. Lypynskyi’s daughter Ewa and his brother Stanisław served as witnesses to the procedure.

AT THAT SAME TIME, in June 1931, my paternal grandfather had just turned five years old. His mother, my great-grandmother, who didn’t own any horses, used to harness herself to a plough in order to till up a hectare of land, and signed her name with an X. Their homeland, Ukraine – or more precisely, Eastern Halychyna – was still a part of Poland then.
  My maternal grandmother was also alive then. Her mother, another great-grandmother of mine, had the best voice in her parts, but few got the chance to enjoy it because she died immediately after giving birth to her daughter. Her widower, a once-prosperous grain farmer, left his daughter on the steps of an orphanage and himself died of starvation in 1933. Their homeland – Malorossiia or ‘Little Russia,’ the Greater Ukraine that straddled the Dnipro River, the original Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic – was de facto a part of Russia. Though can a land that kills really be called a ‘homeland’? I don’t know. I had ended up right in the belly of the blue whale. Swallowed whole, I still had the chance to resuscitate my story. Mine and his, Viacheslav Lypynskyi’s. My story through his story. I needed only to pretend that no one’s heart had been pierced and that it was still beating. Just now, in my throat.

Original language: UkrainianISBN: 9781739842345Format: PaperbackPages: 272Weight: 404 g