Black Square: Adventures in Post-Soviet Ukraine
Sophie Pinkham, 2016
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (November 1, 2016)
A distinctive writer’s fascinating journey into the heart of a troubled region.
Ukraine has rebuilt itself over and over again in the last century, plagued by the same conflicts: corruption, poverty, substance abuse, ethnic clashes, and Russian aggression. Sophie Pinkham saw all this and more in the course of ten years working, traveling, and reporting in Ukraine and Russia, over a period that included the Maidan revolution of 2013–14, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and the ensuing war in eastern Ukraine.
With a keen eye for the dark absurdities of post-Soviet society, Pinkham presents a dynamic account of contemporary Ukrainian life. She meets―among others―a charismatic doctor helping to smooth the transition to democracy even as he struggles with his own drug addiction, a Bolano-esque art gallerist prone to public nudity, and a Russian Jewish clarinetist agitating for Ukrainian liberation. These fascinating personalities, rendered in a bold, original style, deliver an indelible impression of a country on the brink.
Black Square is necessary reading for anyone who wishes to learn not only the political roots of the current conflict in Ukraine but also the personal stories of the people who live it every day.
Includes two maps.
“Essential reading. What makes Black Square superb, to my mind, is Pinkham’s keen eye for the dark comedy and tragedy that mark so many of her subjects. Her portraits of individual Ukrainians and Russians are as rich and nuanced as her synthesis of their national histories and politics. The result is a book whose literary achievement will outlast its timeliness.” (Anthony Marra)
“Black Square is as elegant, suggestive, ominous, beautiful, and deceptively simple as, well, a black square. Perhaps the only thing more impressive than the sheer number and diversity of people Sophie Pinkham has spoken to is how deftly she has woven their stories into a single compulsively readable narrative.” (Elif Batuman)
“Black Square is a sharp-eyed portrait of Ukraine in post-Soviet times―funny and moving, sad and slyly ironic by turns. It’s especially valuable in helping us to understand the deeper origins of the Maidan movement, and to see how the painful divisions running through Ukraine today have played out in everyday life. With a combination of sympathy and skeptical wit, Pinkham shows us an extraordinary, often baffling country in all its human complexity.” (Tony Wood, author of Chechnya: The Case for Independence)
“This intimate portrait of contemporary Ukraine gracefully combines history, political analysis, and memoir…. [Pinkham’s] eye for the idiosyncrasies of post-Soviet life and language is special.” (The New Yorker)
“Essential reading for anyone who cares about Ukraine, anyone who’s wondering if they should care about Ukraine, and anyone who happens to like nonfiction narratives told in a human voice.” (Natalia Antonova - openDemocracy)
“[Pinkham’s] first book, a graceful mix of personal memoir and political research, illuminates the complexities of Ukraine culture….first-rate reporting, research, and writing in a debut that will make readers care as much as the author does.” (Kirkus (starred review))
“[Pinkham] has a keen eye and a winsome ability to weave colorful visions from the smallest fragments―origami tulips, the beauty of fur-coated Siberian women, stones on the beach… This engaging, clear-eyed portrait of an intensely troubled region could not be more timely.” (Eloise Kinney - Booklist)