Life Went On Anyway by Oleg Sentsov | Book Review

“But life went on anyway. It didn’t finish. Life never finishes, even if someone leaves it.”

Life Went On Anyway by a Ukrainian dissident artist, writer, filmmaker, Oleg Sentsov is a collection of autobiographical stories which portray Sentsov’s childhood and growing up in the Crimea during the last years of Soviet Union and in a very difficult post-Soviet era of the 1990s.

Sentsov’s stories are written with a veil of nostalgia, warmth and empathy for people who were a part of his world. They present bleak reality of the Soviet era and its aftermath in the Crimea but at the same with humour and a realm of possibility that moments of beauty can occur even during the hardships.

Sentsov is a diligent and sensitive observer of human relationships, emotions and family dynamics. His stories touch the soul of those who read them.

I find ‘Hospital’ profoundly moving where Sentsov portrays his stay at the hospital when he was a child and describes his interactions with other children including a young boy with Down Syndrome.

In ‘School’ Sentsov ruminates on his former literature teacher who opened a whole new world for him. “(…) after a year of her teaching something changed inside me. She was a real teacher (…)”.

Grandma’ portrays the position of women in the Soviet and post – Soviet society. Sentsov reflects on his grandmother’s life: “It also might happen that you’re born a woman, you live in a small village, you work your whole life, of your four children only one survives, your husband eventually leaves you for another woman, and you’re left alone. (…) The child then grows up, goes off to study, then to the army, then gets married, and goes to live far away and forever. And then you’re left entirely alone.” Sentsov continues: “ I can’t imagine how all this would feel, and I don’t want to.”

Oleg Sentsov is a Russian-speaking, ethnically Russian, Ukrainian patriot from the Crimea .

Stories were first published in 2015 in Russian, when Sentsov was already in prison after he was sentenced to twenty years on spurious charges following an unfair trial by a Russian military court. He opposed the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine and his home, the Crimea. During his illegal trial he demonstrated the attitude of dignity when faced with injustice. He called out the neo-colonial violence inflicted on Ukrainians by the Russian government, quoted from Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, criticised the indifference and silence of the Russian elites, urging the ordinary Russians to overcome their fear and stand up against their oppressive government. He concluded his speech with the following words: ‘ Why bring up a new generation of slaves?’

He was imprisoned in the camp in Siberia above the Arctic Circle where he spent 145 days on hunger strike. As a part of a prisoner exchange, Sentsov was released in 2019, around the time when the English translation of this collection was published.

I highly recommend this little gem of Ukrainian literature to everyone.


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