The central character in the gripping, psychological novel Duel is the Ukrainian intellectual Kost Horobenko. Set in the first years of the new Soviet Ukrainian state, the period of militant Communism, Horobenko, is forever duelling with his alter ego, the Ukrainian nationalist.
This novel is one of a number of early works from the 1920s by Borys Antonenko-Davydovych, in which the writer tries to analyse the fate of intellectuals during the revolution in the Russian Empire, in particular the fate of those who were initially active in the Ukrainian national revival, and later, because of changed circumstances, were forced to switch to cooperating with the Soviet authorities. Of Antonenko-Davydovych’s works devoted to this question, it is the largest and most profound, according to the literary critic Hryhoriy Kostiuk, and is psychologically complex and multifaceted. The works by Antonenko-Davydovych were welcomed for his rather sharp, satirical view of life.
The novel was first published in the magazine Zhyttia i revoliutsiia in 1927 (iss. 10-12). It was subsequently published in this English translation by Lastivka Press in 1986, with a print run of 2000 copies, and it has been out of print for many years.
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Borys Antonenko-Davydovych was born on 5th August 1899 in Romny, Poltava Province, Ukraine into a working-class family. His early years were spent in Briansk, Russia. Borys learnt Ukrainian at six, after the family returned to Okhtyrka in Ukraine.
His father died in World War I. After finishing high school in 1917, Borys left to study at Kharkiv University, then later transferred to the Kyiv Educational Institute. Though his first literary efforts were in Russian, the political struggle in Ukraine during the 1917 Revolution prompted him to start writing in Ukrainian.
His most significant early works were Smert’ [Death, 1927; in English Duel, 1986], Zemleiu ukrains’koiu [Through Ukrainian Lands, 1929] and Pechatka [The Seal, 1930].
After groundless attacks in the press and accusations of nationalism, Antonenko-Davydovych was arrested in 1935 and sentenced to ten years in labour camps. He returned to Kyiv in 1956, an ailing man. Notwithstanding this, he was very active in Ukrainian literature during the ‘Thaw’ of the 1960s, his most popular novel of this period being Za shyrmoiu (Behind the Curtain, 1962; in English 1980). During the Brezhnev period of the 1970s he was strenuously persecuted by the authorities for his involvement in the dissident movement and his works stopped being published.
He is the author of 24 books, many of which have been translated into the languages of the former USSR.
Born in Melbourne, Australia in 1954 and educated as an engineer, Yuri Tkacz left the profession to translate a broad range of works from Ukrainian by such authors as Kaczurowskyj, Honchar, Dimarov, Valeriy Shevchuk, Kariuk, Vynnychenko, Yanovsky and Antonenko-Davydovych. He lived and worked in Canada in the 1980s and in Ukraine in the 1990s. His translations of Hardly Ever Otherwise by Matios, Hard Times by Vyshnia, The Lawyer from Lychakiv Street by Kokotiukha and Precursor by Vasyl Shevchuk have been published by Glagoslav Publications.
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