What I know

I can find Ukraine on a map, and I could have found Ukraine on a map prior to all this happening. I know Ukraine is a former Soviet republic. I know it’s “Ukraine” and not “The Ukraine,” although I can’t tell you why everyone seemed to spend so much time thinking it was “The Ukraine” or whether there was some formal name change or this is some sort of Mandela effect nonsense. I know that Kyiv is the capital, although until recently I was under the impression it was generally spelled “Kiev,” and I’m not sure when that change happened either.

I read a book by a pair of Ukrainian authors last year, and liked it quite a bit, but until earlier today I was under the impression that Chernobyl was in Siberia.

I just discovered that the golden dome that seems to be in the background in a lot of shots of Kyiv’s skyline is the Cathedral of St. Sophia, and it looks really damn cool:

It also looks weirdly computer-generated in a lot of the pictures of it online, and I can’t quite figure out what about it is generating that impression.

In addition, the following is true:

I am, in general, Against War.

I am, in its entirety, Against Tyranny.

While I am fully and entirely aware that the US has, to put it mildly, not been remotely the force for good in the world that we pretend to be, I am one hundred percent comfortable with trusting anything Joe Biden has to say against anything Vladimir fucking Putin has to say. Putin is an autocrat and a tyrant and a murderer, and I need you to understand that when I call him a murderer I am saying that he, personally, has murdered people. Joe Biden has blood on his hands too; it is impossible to be the President of the United States without having blood on your hands, but there is no credible moral comparison between him and Putin, period.

Combine the following with the fact that I was in elementary school during the Reagan years, when we were all convinced that global nuclear war could break out at any moment, and fuck an “active shooter” drill, we had actual nuclear bomb drills, and it should not be surprising that I take the side of the Ukrainians in this conflict. I am in a situation where I feel like “the facts” are mostly outside my grasp but the moral fact of the situation does not seem to be; the Russians are invading a sovereign country under what seems to be utterly bullshit premises, and regardless of any other details I feel pretty good about coming out and stating that they shouldn’t do that.

I am also encouraged by reports that there are protests happening in hundreds of cities across Russia.

I am not– and this is where I seem to differ with a lot of people online– going to be arguing with the Biden administration about the details of how they push back against Moscow on this. I had never heard of SWIFT before today and I think probably 90% of the people who are online arguing about whether we should kick Russia off of SWIFT had also never heard of it before today. I support the idea of “sanctions,” but that doesn’t mean that I have any real fucking clue what form they should take. I voted for this dude so that he could either make those decisions himself or hire people who were smart enough to tell him what decisions to make. I’m a motherfucking middle school math teacher in Indiana. This is about as “not my lane” as anything could possibly be. And I have not the slightest idea what the hell we or anyone should do if whatever sanctions package gets put into place doesn’t work, because I really, really, really, really don’t want to go to war with Russia.

The end.

#REVIEW: Vita Nostra, by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko

As of this precise moment, Marina and Sergey Dyachenko’s Vita Nostra represents the biggest triumph of this “Read Around the World” project I’m doing. The authors are Ukrainian, and there is simply no way I would have encountered this book were I not specifically looking for books from Eastern European authors. Honestly, I don’t have high standards for ordering these books right now– I pick a blank spot on the map, search for authors and look for something that looks vaguely up my alley thematically, and hit the order button.

If you look at the Amazon listing for this book, you’ll see the words “Harry Potter” a lot. I was considering beginning this piece with the suggestion that anyone who suggested that this book and the Harry Potter series had something in common ought to be slapped, and then I discovered a Goodreads review that called it “Harry Potter, but written by Kafka,” and … well, that’s not bad.

(Also, that top review on Amazon is batshit insane.)

The book is about a young person– college-aged, though, not an adolescent like Harry is at the start of the story– who goes to a school, and the school is not normal. That’s the entirety of the similarities to Harry Potter, and it ain’t much, and another person I might add to the literary ancestry of this book is H.P. Lovecraft– not because of monsters, or anything like that, but because the entire book is about the idea that there exists a secret and unknowable universe beyond what human beings are able to perceive, and that attempting to contact that universe will inevitably drive you completely insane.

And, well, the book follows a single student through three years of her university education at a school of something called “Special Technologies,” and — very, very minor spoiler here– at the end she takes something called a “placement exam,” and the book fucking ends right there, because the authors have been very clear throughout that the knowledge Sasha and her classmates are accessing is alien and terrible, and she enters that realm fully at the end of the book, at which point they really can’t represent what’s happening to her in words anymore, so I guess the book is over. Like, you’d think telling you the ending would count as a major spoiler, but it really doesn’t, because much like Sasha herself you just have no idea what the hell is coming here, and knowing where you’re going to end up just doesn’t matter all that much.

It’s fucking amazing.

It’s also super, super Russian; like, you could strip all of the names and places out of the book and replace them with something more generic and I absolutely promise you that I could tell you this book was from the Eastern bloc. I need to see how much other translated work these folks have (preferably translated by the same person; Julia Meitov Hersey did a great job) and pick up another couple of titles. This is 100% not a book for everybody; I can’t imagine the notion of (sigh) Harry Potter filtered through Kafka and Lovecraft and then translated from Ukrainian (I’m not actually sure if it was written in Ukrainian or Russian, for the record) is going to appeal to everyone, but if that raises an eyebrow, and if the notion of a book that is really and genuinely about a college student studying impossible subjects that make her go crazy appeals to you, well, I strongly recommend you give it a look.

Also, we should be friends. Seriously.