Novel Excerpt: KAHARLYK
KAHARLYK by Oleh Shynkarenko
Kalyna Language Press, 2016
Oleksandr Sahaidachnyi, the central character of Kaharlyk, is roaming Ukraine in search of his wife, Olena, along with his mysterious companion, Birgir. We join them in Obukhiv, a town affected by temporal anomalies whose residents appear and disappear as their timelines fluctuate.
Through the small window the Obukhiv houses looked ordinary. I waited for some cart to pass down the street. ‘Perhaps everyone went to Kaharlyk,’ Birgir suggested. ‘But the whole town can’t have gone,’ I argued. ‘Why can’t they? It’s a Ukrainian town, perhaps a couple of hundred people live here. What have they to do?’ Our dispute was interrupted by the householder entering the room. ‘Eat, don’t be ashamed,’ he said, ‘the potato is cold and there’s no one to eat it.’ ‘Why isn’t there?’ I asked. ‘I didn’t see who made it but want to see who eats it.’
Birgir had barely opened his mouth to ask the householder what he meant when he disappeared. This was too much. I had never seen people disappear so easily. It couldn’t be so easy. ‘It seemed to me as if they just switched him off,’ said Birgir after a while. ‘Not him but his image,’ I corrected. Birgir opened his mouth again, but didn’t manage to say a word. A woman entered the house. She wore a long man’s overcoat and red knitted cap, her eyes were hidden by dark glasses. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘no one’s here again. Who are you?’
‘We are tourists,’ replied Birgir. ‘I’m not a tourist,’ I disputed. ‘That’s all you can say to me,’ the woman said, agitated again, removing her glasses. She had beautiful eyes that somehow were not hers. ‘Say something swifter. Time is passing.’ ‘We are travelling to Kaharlyk, but why is there no one in Obukhoi?’ ‘They are only …’ The woman was also switched off, or more accurately, her image. Clearly something wasn’t right here with time. It moved somewhat unusually but with a certain regularity. Birgir split the potato and sprinkled it with salt. The householder we first saw appeared again.
He sat at the table and looked silently at us, stroking its wooden surface. ‘Recently, luckily, I’ve been in this place,’ he said, ‘and have already lost count of appearances here. More accurately, I can count up to ten. If you count a second lot on your fingers it’s soon confusing.’ Really he just managed to say ‘confus’ and we added the end ourselves. Perhaps he wanted to say something else but it’s hard to imagine another word beginning ‘confus.’ ‘The impression is they return at regular periods,’ said Birgir. I had the contrary impression of an irregularly punctuated line.
Oh, Obukhiv! You continuously impress with your unanticipated delights. All four of your half-ruined towers proudly resist time’s passing. They compete worthily with Pisa’s long fallen tower, which lays in the city’s centre, vacuous heaped marble.
But who built them? What was that secret developer called, what did he want them for? No one remembers. They stand in the town centre, an interrupted four word sentence. He wanted to tell us something, convey a significant idea. Now they say, ‘Don’t approach us, we hold up on our last bricks. The next gust of wind might be the last.’
The first tower was on the town’s northern periphery by a reservoir. From its top the remains of high rises and a vast skeletal supermarket were visible. Birgir made a three-dimensional model of the area for his blog. We scaled the tower wondering why they were built. ‘There are no rooms inside, just narrow windows at different levels. They resemble castle loopholes,’ said Birgir.‘Perhaps the towers were built for the city’s defence?’ ‘Any attacker would destroy them first,’ I disagreed. ‘Perhaps the attacker couldn’t reach them?’ he replied. ‘The town readied for defence but didn’t see its assailant.’
Why didn’t the Russian army take Obukhiv by storm? Atop the tower was a tiny brick building. We found shell casings by its entrance. I proposed opening the doors. They practically required uncorking - the whole frame was jammed with dirt and rust. Inside sat a young boy in military uniform with a machine gun. ‘Halt! Stand!’ he yelled in Russian, aiming at us, ‘what religion are you? Pray, for I now dispatch you to your God.’ We halted in surprise. ‘Wait, we can sketch you the front line.’ ‘Interesting, come to our headquarters,’ he said, and to my regret, disappeared.
This extract from KAHARLYK is published with the kind permission of Kalyna Language Press (KLP). KLP wish to express their gratitude to Index on Censorship, who published an extract from the novel in their Summer issue.
They are also grateful to everyone who sponsored the Kickstarter project, which financed the translation of the novel, and Euromaidan Press, who backed the project.