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A Biography of a Chance Miracle

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A Biography of a Chance Miracle explores the life of Lena, a young girl growing up in the somewhat vapid, bureaucracy-ridden and nationalistic Western Ukrainian city of San Francisco. Lena is a misfit from early childhood due to her unwillingness to scorn everything Russian, her propensity for befriending forlorn creatures, her aversion to the status quo, and her fear of l A Biography of a Chance Miracle explores the life of Lena, a young girl growing up in the somewhat vapid, bureaucracy-ridden and nationalistic Western Ukrainian city of San Francisco. Lena is a misfit from early childhood due to her unwillingness to scorn everything Russian, her propensity for befriending forlorn creatures, her aversion to the status quo, and her fear of living a stupid and meaningless life. As her friends enter college, Lena sets forth on a mission to defend the abused and downtrodden of San Francisco—be they canine or human—armed with nothing more than an arsenal of humor, stubbornness, chutzpah and no shortage of imagination. Her successes are minimal at best, but in the process of trying to save San Francisco's collective humanity, she may end up saving her own. At first glance a crazy and combative girl, Lena just may be the salvation that the Ukrainians of San Francisco sorely need. With haiku-like precision, Tanja's deceptively simple writing style blends surrealism and magical realism with satirical wit, occasionally outlandish humor and poignant social commentary. The German literary media has described her depictions of contemporary Ukraine as full of humor and absurdity, but "more exact and harsher" than those of her peers, comparing her to the 19th-century Russian satirist Saltykov-Shchedrin and hailing her as "a name to be remembered." This work, her most provocative to date, was a finalist for the 2012 BBC Book of the Year Award in Ukraine, and has been lauded as "simply ingenious" by fellow Ukrainian authors.


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A Biography of a Chance Miracle explores the life of Lena, a young girl growing up in the somewhat vapid, bureaucracy-ridden and nationalistic Western Ukrainian city of San Francisco. Lena is a misfit from early childhood due to her unwillingness to scorn everything Russian, her propensity for befriending forlorn creatures, her aversion to the status quo, and her fear of l A Biography of a Chance Miracle explores the life of Lena, a young girl growing up in the somewhat vapid, bureaucracy-ridden and nationalistic Western Ukrainian city of San Francisco. Lena is a misfit from early childhood due to her unwillingness to scorn everything Russian, her propensity for befriending forlorn creatures, her aversion to the status quo, and her fear of living a stupid and meaningless life. As her friends enter college, Lena sets forth on a mission to defend the abused and downtrodden of San Francisco—be they canine or human—armed with nothing more than an arsenal of humor, stubbornness, chutzpah and no shortage of imagination. Her successes are minimal at best, but in the process of trying to save San Francisco's collective humanity, she may end up saving her own. At first glance a crazy and combative girl, Lena just may be the salvation that the Ukrainians of San Francisco sorely need. With haiku-like precision, Tanja's deceptively simple writing style blends surrealism and magical realism with satirical wit, occasionally outlandish humor and poignant social commentary. The German literary media has described her depictions of contemporary Ukraine as full of humor and absurdity, but "more exact and harsher" than those of her peers, comparing her to the 19th-century Russian satirist Saltykov-Shchedrin and hailing her as "a name to be remembered." This work, her most provocative to date, was a finalist for the 2012 BBC Book of the Year Award in Ukraine, and has been lauded as "simply ingenious" by fellow Ukrainian authors.

30 review for A Biography of a Chance Miracle

  1. 4 out of 5

    Akylina

    Read my review on The Literary Sisters. Some books come into your life unexpectedly, without any warning, and only after you have engaged with them for a little while you realise they were exactly what you have been looking for, even though you never even knew they existed in the first place. One of those books is A Biography of a Chance Miracle, written by the Ukrainian author Tanja Maljartschuk, translated into English by Zenia Tompkins and published by Cadmus Press. The story of this novel foll Read my review on The Literary Sisters. Some books come into your life unexpectedly, without any warning, and only after you have engaged with them for a little while you realise they were exactly what you have been looking for, even though you never even knew they existed in the first place. One of those books is A Biography of a Chance Miracle, written by the Ukrainian author Tanja Maljartschuk, translated into English by Zenia Tompkins and published by Cadmus Press. The story of this novel follows Lena, a young girl who is born and grows up in a Western Ukrainian city which she calls San Francisco. We follow Lena from her childhood years to her adolescence and early adulthood as she tries to figure out the world around her, a world she never seems to be able to fit into. A rebellious but sensitive soul, Lena refuses to conform to any kind of rule set upon her even as a child, and she always speaks up when she sees injustice and maltreatment, although that rarely ends up in her favour. Vividly depicting the political and cultural climate of Ukraine at the time, the author brings issues of cultural dispute with Russia, the inability of the government to take care of its people and the vast, chaotic mess that is bureaucracy to the forefront. Although everyone in her country is taught to hate Russia, Lena seems to feel a peculiar affinity and likeness towards this country and its language, for which she is repeatedly punished. She also seems to be drawn to the ‘forlorn creatures’ as she calls them, those people who also don’t seem to fit in and are different from the norm, like her classmate and childhood friend who she nicknames Dog or her university roommate Vasylyna, a burly athlete with an unexpectedly soft side. Lena’s aspiration in life is to not lead a stupid and meaningless life like most of the people around her do. In order to achieve that, she takes on the role of the saviour and tries to help the people that need her the most through a series of small ‘miracles’. From an activist fighting for stray dogs’ rights to fighting against bureacracy just to earn a wheelchair for her crippled friend, Lena is an advocate of justice that no one really seems to appreciate, as most of her endeavours end up in failure. Her spirit and determination always shine through, though, something which culminates in the rather ambiguous ending. The presence of magical realism makes the ending rather unclear and leaves the reader wondering if what is described is really what happened or if it’s all just part of Lena’s machinations, but I guess, such an ending would be the only fitting one for a character as whimsical as Lena. I loved Maljartschuk’s prose and writing style because it is poignant yet subtle and humorous at the same time. She manages to satirise the state of Ukraine at that time by balancing reality and serious topics with wit, surrealism and the right dose of humour. It is precisely the kind of sociopolitical critique that I utterly enjoy reading. The translation also needs to be commended, since the prose flowed effortlessly and all the cultural references were presented in a friendly way to those who may not be familiar with the Ukrainian culture. One of the main reasons why this novel came so close to my heart is because reading about the state of post-war Ukraine and the way bureaucracy and the system keep on failing their people sadly reminded me so much of the current situation in Greece. And that’s a sad, sad truth to realise. To finish off, I would like to say a few words about Cadmus Press, a fairly new publishing house committed to bringing the most outstanding literature from Europe, focusing on Eastern and Southeastern European countries, in English translation. I think their undertaking is really impressive and I’m always in for some of the most notable lesser-known literary voices of Europe, especially if they are as impressive as A Biography of a Chance Miracle. I strongly, strongly recommend you pick up this book. No matter what your reading preferences may be, this book will definitely tug at your heartstrings and play the sweetest melody in your soul. I enjoyed every single second I spent reading this book and I really hope more of the author’s books become available in English in the very near future, as I see her quickly climbing up the list of my favourite authors. A copy of this wonderful book was very kindly provided to me by the publisher, Cadmus Press.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I have no idea how to rate this because I can't make sense out of this story that I felt compelled to read through. I enjoyed Lena's character so much but wow this was confusing and weird. I have no idea how to rate this because I can't make sense out of this story that I felt compelled to read through. I enjoyed Lena's character so much but wow this was confusing and weird.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Steffi

    In "Biografie eines zufälligen Wunders" von Tanja Maljartschuk lernen wir die junge Lena kennen, die in der ukrainischen Stadt San Francisco lebt. Beginnend mit Episoden aus ihrer Kindergartenzeit begleiten wir sie bis ins Erwachsenenalter hinein. Sie hat von klein auf ihren eigenen Kopf und einen starken Sinn für Gerechtigkeit. Sie spricht aus was sie denkt und macht andere lautstark auf Missstände aufmerksam, was sie für ihr angepasstes Umfeld zu einer eher unangenehmen Zeitgenossin werden läs In "Biografie eines zufälligen Wunders" von Tanja Maljartschuk lernen wir die junge Lena kennen, die in der ukrainischen Stadt San Francisco lebt. Beginnend mit Episoden aus ihrer Kindergartenzeit begleiten wir sie bis ins Erwachsenenalter hinein. Sie hat von klein auf ihren eigenen Kopf und einen starken Sinn für Gerechtigkeit. Sie spricht aus was sie denkt und macht andere lautstark auf Missstände aufmerksam, was sie für ihr angepasstes Umfeld zu einer eher unangenehmen Zeitgenossin werden lässt. Die Gesellschaft, in der Lena lebt, ist geprägt von Armut, Korruption und Gewalt und bietet so genügend Anlass ihren Unmut zu wecken. Sei es die Jagd auf streunende Hunde oder der verweigerte Rollstuhl für ihre Freundin. Wenn Lena für etwas kämpft, kennt sie keine Furcht. Die Art wie die Missstände beschrieben werden, haben mir ein ums andere Mal die Kehle zugeschnürt: Beiläufig und mitunter gleichgültig werden grausame Begebenheiten geschildert, die die Opfer in einer Schicksalsergebenheit erdulden, die mich sehr bewegt hat. Teils wirken die Schilderungen in ihrer Erbarmungslosigkeit fast schon absurd auf die Spitze getrieben, was zusammen mit dem launigen und humorvollen Schreibstil zu einem unwirklichen Leseerlebnis führt. Dieser Effekt wird durch die schräge Handlung und die skurrilen Charaktere in Lenas Umfeld noch verstärkt. Lena ist unterdessen damit beschäftigt Wunder zu finden, Wunder die aus dieser gnadenlosen Welt etwas besseres erschaffen. Und wenn es keine Wunder gibt, dann ist sie selbst zur Stelle um gegen Bürokratie und Willkür zu kämpfen. Und man wünscht ihr dabei nur das Beste, auch wenn man glaubt, dass es wieder einmal ein eher hoffnungsloses Unterfangen wird. Der Autorin gelingt es dabei außerordentlich gut das politische Klima der Ukraine zu beschreiben. Und trotz der ernsten Themen ist "Biografie eines zufälligen Wunders" immer wieder überraschend witzig, auch wenn einem das Lachen manches Mal im Halse stecken bleibt. Man bekommt einen guten Einblick in das Leben der Bewohner der Ukraine, ihren Alltag, den Sorgen und Hoffnungen. Und somit ist dieser besondere Roman eine äußerst gelungene Mischung aus Gesellschaftskritik, "Coming of Age" und einer Prise Magie.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nina Shevchuk-Murray

    Maljartschuk’s original prose and its German translations have already won a devoted following: hers is certainly a post-colonial but also a post-pious voice, and Biography pulls no punches in its critique of superficial nationalist ardor. It is not, however, a political book. It is a picaresque novel, with a heroine—Lena—whose personal credo is rather modest: “being stupid was the one thing that she spent her whole life trying to avoid.” Armed with this determination and an uncommon confidence Maljartschuk’s original prose and its German translations have already won a devoted following: hers is certainly a post-colonial but also a post-pious voice, and Biography pulls no punches in its critique of superficial nationalist ardor. It is not, however, a political book. It is a picaresque novel, with a heroine—Lena—whose personal credo is rather modest: “being stupid was the one thing that she spent her whole life trying to avoid.” Armed with this determination and an uncommon confidence in her own opinions, Lena grows up disdainful of teachers but irretrievably moved by the incomprehensible banality of other people’s woes. She schemes to relieve a couple of drunks of the need to eat pigs’ heads (they can’t afford anything else), sympathizes with an unemployed professor’s conspiracy theories, and befriends a neglected schoolmate whom she, despite being kind to her, calls Dog. Read the full review here: https://goo.gl/49ahUR

  5. 4 out of 5

    ☕Laura

    Ratings: Writing 5 Story line 4 Characters 5 Impact 4 Overall rating: 4.5

  6. 5 out of 5

    Johann Guenther

    MALJARTSCHUK, Tanja: â??Biografie eines zufälligen Wundersâ??, St.Pölten â?? Salzburg - Wien 2013 Eine junge ukrainische Autorin erzählt aus dem Leben in der Ukraine nach der politischen Wende. Wie die Menschen so denken und wie ein kleines Kind es sieht. Eine ehrenwerte Aufgabe, die der Residenzverlag mit der Übersetzung und Herausgabe dieses ukrainischen Romans macht. Das Mädchen und später junge Frau Lena zeigt Mut und setzt sich zur Wehr. Sie hilft Armen und Unterdrückten. Sie engagiert sich MALJARTSCHUK, Tanja: â??Biografie eines zufälligen Wundersâ??, St.Pölten â?? Salzburg - Wien 2013 Eine junge ukrainische Autorin erzählt aus dem Leben in der Ukraine nach der politischen Wende. Wie die Menschen so denken und wie ein kleines Kind es sieht. Eine ehrenwerte Aufgabe, die der Residenzverlag mit der Übersetzung und Herausgabe dieses ukrainischen Romans macht. Das Mädchen und später junge Frau Lena zeigt Mut und setzt sich zur Wehr. Sie hilft Armen und Unterdrückten. Sie engagiert sich für herrenlose Hunde und schlecht versorgte Körperbehinderte. Ihrer Freundin versucht sie zu ihrem Recht auf einen Rollstuhl zu helfen. Organisiert Demonstrationen und beschwert sich bei Behörden. Sie verliert den Kampf und landet im Irrenhaus. Sie wollte fliegen lernen, weil sie von einer fliegenden Frau gehört hatte, die in heiklen Situationen hilft. Ein großartiger Roman. Eine junge und begabte Schriftstellerin lieferte ihren zweiten Roman. Ich denke, man kann noch viel von ihr erwarten. (Krems Hinterbrühl, 23.09.2013)

  7. 5 out of 5

    Steven Jude

  8. 4 out of 5

    Nie Toll

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

  10. 5 out of 5

    Scoutaccount

  11. 5 out of 5

    Katharina

  12. 4 out of 5

    Antonia Lilie

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jayne

  14. 5 out of 5

    Janina

  15. 4 out of 5

    Elena

  16. 4 out of 5

    Harriet

  17. 5 out of 5

    Irene

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jacqueline R.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Gemma Archer

  20. 4 out of 5

    Julia

  21. 5 out of 5

    Steve

  22. 5 out of 5

    Aimee

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kate

  24. 5 out of 5

    anna

  25. 4 out of 5

    Anna

  26. 4 out of 5

    Amy

  27. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

  28. 5 out of 5

    Stephan Walker

  29. 5 out of 5

    Romy

  30. 5 out of 5

    Michaela

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