At the opening of the Munich – Munich Literature Festival

Here is playing the music. The jazz band led by the Ukrainian singer Ganna Gryniva begins to improvise quietly when a technical glitch disrupts the start of the literature festival: Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth can first be seen on the screen with no sound, then heard without an image. Laughter in the hall of the House of Literature; however, the audience will soon die of laughter.

But first, Tanja Graf, as managing director, opens the literature festival as a “festival of democracy, diversity of opinion and artistic forms of expression”. The deputy mayor, Katrin Habenschaden, is particularly pleased about the family program of the book show (the exhibition on the ground floor is small but appealing), about the forum as a “playing field for literature” and a new Munich rail – that Haben Schaden is thinking about extending the main line , of course does not raise the general mood.

Calls for more Ukrainian literature to be translated and read: Andrei Kurkov at the opening of the literary festival.

(Photo: Catherine Hess)

But that is unimportant compared to what the Ukrainian writer and PEN President Andrei Kurkov is now saying in his keynote. In a matter-of-fact voice he tells outrageous things. For example, by the children’s book author Volodymyr Vakulenko from the Kharkov region, whose diary, which was hidden seven months ago, was recently unearthed; he himself has not been found since he was kidnapped by the Russians. Dozens of cultural workers have been killed so far in this war, in which not only the people but also the Ukrainian culture are to be wiped out, says Kurkov. And he concludes, after emphasizing his favorite author, Gregorius Skoworoda, among others, with an appeal: we should finally translate and read not only the Russian but also the Ukrainian classics – “so that you can understand the history of the struggle for Ukrainian identity.”

Tanja Malyartschuk also has a favorite Ukrainian author, it is the poet Wassyl Stus, who died in a Soviet camp in 1985. The curator is particularly pleased that a chamber opera will be performed in his honor at the literature festival. As charismatic as she is clever, she gets the forum in the right mood in her speech and also lets you feel the conflicting feelings she struggled with during the planning: “War is a big refrigerator,” she says, “it freezes time and all ideas the future.”

The fate of death that she used to bestow on the heroes of her own stories has now become a reality. Tanya Malyarchuk has already lost friends in the war and trembles for others. And yet: “Not only to hate,” she says, the war taught her that too, what’s important is the “continuous striving for life and the search for meaning.” Literature is a help to her. For example, the day before, when a hundred rockets were fired at Ukraine, she read a poem by the Lithuanian author Gintaras Grajauskas (the one on 23.11. appearing at a poetry evening) had read. Of all the arts, he writes tenderly, the “ability to whistle with a dandelion stalk” is the most resilient to the vagaries of time.

Literature festival opening: combines folklore with jazz: the Ukrainian singer Ganna Gryniva with an ensemble.

Combines folklore with jazz: the Ukrainian singer Ganna Gryniva with an ensemble.

(Photo: Catherine Hess)

How to carry on after such powerful and touching speeches? The evening would best end here, but the dramaturgy envisages further contributions. A video by book show guest Rafik Schami, for example, whose fairy tales from the “land of poetry” seem all too simple after what we’ve heard before. Even a nice film about the Munich railway with flying trains no longer really fits. The music does what words can’t do: when Ganna Gryniva combines Ukrainian folk music and jazz with a bit of reverb, she gives room for emotions. She lets her voice whisper, scream, cheer. And hits the right note.

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