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For the elegiac sound of the East it has to be very quiet

It's hard to say which is worse: being hunted by the secret service and the mafia at the same time, or by your own memory.

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For the elegiac sound of the East it has to be very quiet

It's hard to say which is worse: being hunted by the secret service and the mafia at the same time, or by your own memory. Josip Rotsky - ex-rock star, ex-porn actor, ex-revolutionary and ex-tyrant killer from a nameless Eastern European country - sits in front of the microphone at night and tells his listeners about his eventful life. To do this, he puts on selected records that have to fall silent in the day-bright cheerfulness of conventional radio stations: a psychogenic special program for insomniacs and night people, depressives and the desolate.

If you want to read the new novel by the Ukrainian writer Yuri Andrukhovych, you should take a long night to read it (or, with 480 pages, several at once). The background story, between midnight and eight in the morning, actually corresponds to a night show; The accompanying music can be listened to via QR code on YouTube, from the Ukrainian neo-classic Lubomyr Melnyk to Elton John, Bowie and the Stones to indie insider tips like Soap

In Rotsky's heyday, however, it was also a form of provocation and protest. The revolutionary movement in his homeland culminated in barricade fights, the symbol of which were spontaneous open-air concerts. Rotsky, once a struggling pop keyboardist, was at the pinnacle of his fame here. After the bloody suppression of the revolt, he paid for his heroic status with imprisonment, torture and broken fingers. That's one of the reasons why he puts on records today instead of playing himself.

The blues of post-revolutionary disillusionment wafts everywhere through “Radio Nacht”, be it as a permanent personal hangover of the protagonist, who, in addition to singing, is also extremely fond of wine and women, be it as a permanent state of expulsion, flight and exile. A large part of the action takes place in a small neighboring country, where the countless emigrants meet again, cherish memories and do mourning.

The uprisings in Ukraine, the Orange Revolution of 2004 and the Euromaidan 2013/14 serve as models: the novel takes the spontaneous and cheerfully anarchic element from the first, and the bitter endurance in the freezing cold and the martyrdom of the demonstrators from the second: there were more than a hundred fatalities; but the revolution triumphed.

The novel, originally published in 2021, tells a counterfactual story: what would have happened if the Maidan had lost. But Andruchowytsch is concerned with the exemplary, which is why his hero Rotsky – “a pretentious hybrid of Brodsky and Roth”, as his biographer comments on the name – could just as easily come from Belarus or even from Russia.

The country of his exile may also lie somewhere between the Baltic States and the Balkans - in that Central Europe that is always lagging behind the West, which the late postmodern storyteller Andruchowytsch even cooked up in his masterpieces such as "Twelve Rings" (2003) in the Mythen-Thermomix.

Andrukhovych, a child of the Eastern avant-garde of the 1980s, like his Russian generation comrades Viktor Pelevin and Vladimir Sorokin, has elevated the carnivalesque to contemporary storytelling in the sense of Bakhtin. The hallmarks of his earlier novels – the obscene, the rambling and rambling, also the additives of absurd sequences – can also be found in “Radio Nacht”, which is why one shouldn’t sound too strictly on narrative logic. Why, for example, is an ominous biographer looking for clues in Rotsky's life as an emigre, and why is the story told in the first person again?

Also a complicated detour via Switzerland, where Rotsky finally carried out a successful assassination attempt on the dictator of his home country and then accidentally became the manager of an illegal billion-dollar fortune in prison, which forced him to go into hiding in the Galician hinterland twice and three times, all of which only serves to keep the action apparatus. Bulgakov meets James Bond, including a fully tattooed Bond girl.

Through the form of the action-packed picaresque novel, Andrukhowytsch not only acquired the license for rapid twists and turns, but also for all sorts of fairy tales, such as a talking raven named Edgar or a journey through time to the early modern era. But beneath the wild, desolate, often comical shell lies a bitter, black core, a universal mourning for the victims of the story that is reminiscent of Walter Benjamin. "Radio Nacht" is full of pain and melancholy in the face of the repeated destruction of Eastern Europe, which continues to this day.

So let's read, get drunk with a bottle or two of wine, maybe from Georgia, and listen to “Rotsky's Playlist”, wonderful, tear-jerking music. The night is still long.

Yuri Andrukhovych: "Radio Night". Translated from the Ukrainian by Sabine Stöhr. Suhrkamp, ​​472 pages, 26 euros.

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