Life Went On Anyway: Stories

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

Oleg Sentsov is, like Vasily Grossman, another East European writer who became a hero in his personal life. Born in the Ukraine, Senstsov, a filmmaker, dramatist and writer in his thirties, broke off directing a new feature film to return home to protest the Russian invasion of Crimea. The FSB (formerly the KGB) arrested him in 2014 and abducted him to Moscow, where he was tried as a Russian citizen. Accused of being a terrorist in a trumped-up, farcical trial, he was imprisoned and "interrogated"-- a euphemism for tortured--in order to make him confess.

"He was beaten, suffocated, and threatened with rape and death," said Uilleam Blacker, translator of LIFE WENT ON ANYWAY. "He didn't confess."

Sentenced to twenty years, he was then allowed to address the court. Instead of defending himself, he chose to speak instead about Russia, citing a famous line from Bulgakov's 'Master and Margarita": "The greatest sin on earth is cowardice."

While in prison, Sentsov has written several books, one of which is LIFE WENT ON ANYWAY. A collection of eight brief stories, the book introduces us to the work of a deeply human writer, one whose subjects--childhood, school, friends, family--are dramatized in a wry, self-deprecating, ironic way. Sometimes humorous, sometimes bleakly serious, Sentsov uses simple, direct language to paint a bitter-sweet portrait of life and death in Soviet Crimea. As Blacker points out, "Sentsov's tone, which slides from streetwise informality into moments of poetry, always keeps you on your toes."

Published by Deep Vellum in collaboration with PEN Ukraine, the book, one hopes, will lead to the author's timely release. That Sentsov has also been awarded the "Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought" by the European Parliament is another reason for optimism.