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21 March, 2012  ▪  Oksana Shchur

The Ukrainian Coelho

Myroslav Dochynets has guessed the needs of the average reader

Who is Ukraine's most successful author today? Critics, readers and publishers offer different names and figures. Rating lists in the media are based on data from publishing houses and are topped by either Russian mass literature writers Simona Villar and Lada Luzina or the leaders of contemporary Ukrainian literature Serhiy Zhadan, Yuriy Andrukhovych, Oksana Zabuzhko and Maria Matios. The latest novels by Vasyl Shkliar and Lina Kostenko were undeniable hits. However, there is one man who is missing from the rankings – Transcarpathian writer and journalist Myroslav Dochynets. His Mnohii lita, blahii lita (Many Years, Good Years) sell like hot cakes in bookstores, from bookstands and on commuter trains. The book is almost as popular as the novel Vichnyk (The Long-Liver) which earned Dochynets a nomination for the Shevchenko Prize.

The former book can be justly called the most commercially successful mystification in Ukrainian literature over the past years. The author suggests that Andriy Voron, a man who lived to be 104 and resided in the Carpathian region, left behind scattered notes with advice on “how to live a long, healthy, happy and joyful life.” Dochynets arranged his haphazard writings and worked them into a book. How much of it is fiction is not known, just like the fact whether Voron was a real person and whether he tried to write down anything at all. It is quite possible that his image was employed as the author’s mask. However, none of this matters. Who wouldn't want to have a book that tells you how to live right? So people have been buying it. It offers advice on how to behave, pray, dress, eat and heal yourself. The text is easy and accessible to anyone: it does not take great mental effort, and you can start reading from any page. A pensioner whose eyes get tired after several lines; a worker who was a poor student at school and is not used to literature; or a busy woman in a village for whom time is always in short supply – all of them can run their eyes over a few lines and pick out fragments like these: “A man who lives with two women (has lovers) dies much earlier than his women”; “You will not drown if you straighten up your body in the form of a cross with your eyes to the skies”; “Everything is difficult for the lazy but easy for the labourer.” The reader will stop, think and put off the book of wisdom until the next time. It is read, evidently, also by intellectuals: those who during perestroika and later, in the early 1990s, were keen on various spiritual practices and tried to perfect themselves will find here the same wisdom but adapted to Ukrainian realities. It is difficult to grow “sounding cedars” in Ukraine (and follow Vladimir Megre’s esoteric practices), even though some people have tried. In contrast, it is much easier to store a reserve of beetroots – the vegetable most favored by the centenarian Voron. Health and longevity are guaranteed if beetroots are consumed regularly.

To the attention of those who have been waiting for the Ukrainian Coelho to come: Dochynets has also written a plot-based story about the life of the Carpathian wise man. Mnohii lita is plainly a mass literature item, while The Long-Liver targets a more intellectual audience. This is the story of the same man told from the first person. He went through dozens of tests and trials – hiding from Czech gendarmes in the mountains and forests, staying with monks, surviving in Stalin’s camps and iron ore mines and later working in the taiga. He miraculously traveled around the Soviet Union and went to Greece and Cyprus. Close to the end of his life he returned to his small motherland in Mukacheve. The causes of his moves and trips are sometimes fantastic and are not explained in full. However, this is not the main thing in the book. Most importantly, it instructs readers on how they should go about living. Voron is not too concerned with issues of ideology, especially at an advanced age. A sound body and a sound mind are more important to him. This is what he emphasises on every page. No character in the novel has a fine psychological portrait, and the most interesting passages offer recipes for survival in crisis situations: in the Carpathian mountains and forests, uranium and gold mines, prison cells, tundra and taiga. The reader will learn how to make fire, heal wounds, cook freshly caught slugs and lizards and sabotage forced labour – all in great detail. Finally, the impression is that literature experts who have nominated The Long-Liver for the Shevchenko Prize did not so much succumb to the didactic nature of a long-expected educational novel as they were overcome by childhood sentiments about Robinson Crusoe and Dersu Uzala (Dersu the Trapper). Remember them?

The life path of the Long-Liver is not just an example for every person to follow. The protagonist is the quick-witted extramarital son of a landlord and a village girl. He studied in a gymnasium before he started out on his long and hard journey. He planned to enter a university and later fought in a unit of the Carpathian Sich. In a word, we are facing a potential Ukrainian intellectual. However, after leaving his native village and quitting his studies, he was forced to hide in the wild following an attempt to kill a Czech gendarme who was betrothed to his beloved. Voron never returned to secular education and books. He applied his intellect to learning new survival methods, folk medicine and enlightening crafts and skills. He eagerly adopted the experience of different religions and peoples. As far as literature is concerned, he read, quite by accident, a Stendhal novel in Siberia and then a geologist recounted him the content of Fenimore Cooper’s The Pathfinder. He who has overcome worldly temptations and has found understanding with nature needs neither scientific nor imaginative literature. However, the unrealised intellectual awoke in Voron before his death. He reached for a pen and wrote down the essence of his own wisdom. In this way we are unobtrusively given a model of spiritual choice. That the book has achieved popularity among readers and cultural figures shows that a majority supports this position, if even in words only rather than through personal example.

An ordinary Ukrainian, it turns out, needs clear, conveniently presented instructions on righteous life and books that lend themselves to being divided up into quotations. At the same time, the church, the school system, the Minister of Culture and the mass media cannot satisfy his cultural needs nor develop his aesthetic taste. One is simply left to applaud Dochynets for having guessed and reacted to the needs of Ukrainian readers so well. Meanwhile, the silver-haired experts on the Shevchenko Prize Committee seem to have made a serious professional mistake. If you are a private person, you can adore a moving work like this all you want. But it should not be promoted as a leading item in the literary process, even if buttressed by an appeal to the cause of saving the nation. After all, fictional texts must be psychologically convincing and aesthetically refined and only then didactic and declarative.

SOME ADVICE FROM THE CARPATHIAN HEALER

If you have a good wife, rejoice; it is a gift from heaven. Do not come together with many women –it is an abomination to the body and exhausts the soul. Women's charms pass quickly, but your eyes are hazed over for a long time. If you don't have a woman, don't be concerned. This is the second providential gift. This way you will be closer to heaven. Rarely does a woman instruct her man in godly ways.

If you must drink, then what? Vodka stirs up your blood, obscures thinking and saps strength. Beer dries your mind and brews for a long time in your body. Small quantities of wine make your heart happy and your body warm. Drinking alcohol is shameful before noon and harmful after 8 pm. It is best not to drink at all before 30. You can afford to wisely drink a glass at an advanced age. Many of my peers say that it does them good, not bad. Everyone has to decide for himself.

Always finish what you have started, even though you will not receive the expected thank you. Who has freedom has life.

If a man drinks at least a third of a glass of pumpkin juice or puree every day, he will be strong for a long time. And one more prompt along this line: do not wear tight and warm underclothes. Nature has made man so that his private parts project from his body, so they always have to be kept in a cool temperature and air-conditioned.

It is very important to drink water from a spring or well using your lips. And you need, pardon me, to urinate onto the ground in the field or forest. This way your body will be charged with the earth’s electricity.

Take care of animals, at least a cat. There is more comfort from them than from people.

The queen bee cannot leave the beehive when it eats enough. In order to bring a swarm out, the bees begin to give it much less food. It loses weight and flies out. The Romans ate once a day at the height of their empire and four times a day during its decline.


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