Prix Jan Michalski 2014

Press release

The 2014 Jan Michalski prize for literature is awarded to Serhiy Jadan for La Route du Donbass

Montricher, 28 November 2014 – Today, the fifth Jan Michalski prize for literature, endowed with a grant of 50,000 Swiss francs and a work of art created this year by the photographer Maurice Schobinger, was awarded to a young Ukrainian author, Serhiy Jadan. His first novel, translated into French under the title La Route du Donbass (Vorochylovhrad), offers an offbeat epic of post-Soviet rootlessness.

This is a vibrant text, teeming with humor, full of inspiration and rife with improbable digressions, that breaks away from overly reassuring conventions with gusto. Indeed, to reflect a reality as complex as that of Ukraine in the period preceding the recent events, it was undoubtedly necessary to write a slightly „insane” book depicting a world of clans and pragmatic resourcefulness featuring all sorts of traffic and schemes, where codes replace official laws, where people must stick together and hang on for their lives, and where a thirst for freedom can replace religion.

But who really is this Guerman, usually called Guera, involved in an adventure that sends him around the country from one encounter to the next, from one mix-up to the next, and from one drunken binge to the next, all the way to the death of his old buddy Choura the Traumatized, on a black day of rotten luck in an abandoned aerodrome that corrupt locals are trying to requisition?

It all starts at 5am on a Thursday morning, with a telephone call from the elderly Kotcha announcing problems: Guera’s brother, in charge of all sorts of business, has left for Amsterdam, probably never to return. He’s abandoned his comrades who now have a gas station on their hands. Perhaps because he wants to return to the place of his youth, or because he’s tired of the administrative and political schemes that characterize his own daily life, Guera decides to go find out what’s amiss. This is the start of a long chain of mishaps, colorful characters, admirable women. Everything whirls together a maelstrom that is both luxurious and baroque, flamboyant and ramshackle. In these outer reaches, rubble piles up, people clash with each other, and individuals reinvent a new way of living together. For some of them, being a loser does not mean defeat, but rather an art of living.

Serhiy Jadan’s acute sense of observation and his ability to transfigure reality through the power of language makes La Route du Donbass a rare book, a vital necessity with a very original tone: a great novel depicting post-Soviet disorientation.

Born in 1974 in Starobilsk, in the mining regions of eastern Ukraine, he is an emblematic figure of the Maidan Square, the epicenter of the people’s revolution. One of his recent projects included dismantling Lenin’s statue in Kharkiv with a few friends. In this Russian-language city, this initiative sparked such tension that Serhiy Jadan was savagely beaten by pro-Russian militants during a demonstration on March 1st, 2014.

Serhiy Jadan has been publishing numerous texts and poems for many years. He also organizes music festivals and debates, and exercises other talents as a rock singer and a specialist in Ukrainian futurism (he wrote a thesis on the topic). La Route du Donbass created a considerable sensation in Ukraine when it was first published there in 2010.

The Jan Michalski prize for literature

Created in 2010, the Jan Michalski prize for literature, endowed with a grant of 50,000 Swiss francs and a work of art, is awarded each year by an international jury. It is characterized by its multicultural nature, and designed to help reinforce the international recognition of certain authors. Under the presidency of Vera Michalski-Hoffmann, this year’s jury was composed of Marek Bienczyk, Yannick Haenel, Isabel Hilton, Ilma Rakusa and Ugo Rondinone. In parallel with La Route du Donbass, the jury was also impressed by two other works: Dispatcher: Lost and Found in Johannesburg, by Mark Gevisser, and The Taste of Ashes: The Afterlife of Totalitarianism in Eastern Europe, by Marci Shore.

The Jan Michalski literature prize is awarded today for the fifth consecutive year. It was previously won by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi for his novel The Colonel in 2013Julia Lovell for her historical essay The Opium War in 2012, György Dragomán for his novel The White King in 2011, and Aleksandar Hemon for his novel The Lazarus Project in 2010.

For additional information:

Jan Michalski Foundation for Writing and Literature

En Bois Désert – 1147 Montricher, Switzerland

Tel. +41 21 864 01 01