At first bite, her writing seems dense, dotty, suicidal and deluded. But if you keep at it, you may understand what appeals to Ukraine’s youth.
Writer, TV host and singer Irena Karpa is anything but a cliché. Just like many young people, she uses foul language and speaks her mind on just about anything, be it sex or politics. Unlike most of her peers though, she is not afraid to put it all into writing.
Picture this: The 29-year old skinny brunette-turned-blond shows up in a night club to meet her fans and announce her will. “I leave my new novel to my agent, a collection of wines to my husband, jewelry to my daughter and savings to dog shelters,” said Karpa tossing the script to the agent at the end. Startling as ever, she lands at the table releasing a happy sigh. Speaking with the Kyiv Post, she explains that this “will” is to be part of a new television show called The Last Day of My Life.
“The initial idea is to have me dying, after choking on a bead in a cup of coffee,” she said.
What happens next in the program is still a secret but the type of death she painted seems quite boring for a person who’s trying to live a non-trite life.
Writer Irena Karpa (M) is the enfant terrible of Ukrainian modern literature. Apart from blogging her many thoughts, she models, hosts TV shows, travels, raises a child and sings in the band Qarpa seen in this photo. (www.irenakarpa.com)
Karpa has written six novels to date, selling more than 50,000 copies altogether, which is not bad at all as far as Ukrainian book industry standards go. Her characters travel through Asia and Europe looking for trouble and romance. With no strings attached, they break up with each other as soon someone smells commitment and continue promiscuity.
In “Freud Would Cry,” “The Pearl Porn” and “Bitches Get Everything,” a plot is hard to trace. A mixture of travel notes and philosophical flashbacks, her fiction – largely based on personal experience – reads a lot like a blog.
"There are many prolific female bloggers willing to disclose their private life for a larger audience," said literary critic Vira Baldyniuk. "But while they are daydreaming about a writer’s career, Karpa will publish a couple of new books, record CDs and even spare some time to take part in public protests.”
There are many prolific female bloggers willing to disclose their private life for a larger audience. But while they are daydreaming about a writer’s career, Karpa will publish a couple of new books, record CDs and even spare some time to take part in public protests.”
- Vira Baldyniuk, literary critic.
Karpa doesn’t shy away from erotic scenes and dirty language.
“You wouldn’t advertise her books in the children’s section of a bookstore,” said Svitlana Skliar, Karpa’s publisher. The word “porn” in the title of one of Karpa’s books made Skliar send the book to the National Commission for Morality, a government body designed to review entertainment and culture artifacts on the grounds of morality and social benefits. Bureaucrats categorized it as “erotic literature,” which meant that certain financial privileges allocated to Ukrainian writers were revoked. Yet Skliar was not upset about it. Neither was she daunted by the profane language and sex slang.
“This kind of literature is not forbidden,” said Skliar. “It only requires smart selling strategies.”
Just like her literary alter egos, Karpa lives a reckless life. She can cancel her plans for the day, grab a backpack and leave for Katmandu. She swirls in the world’s cultural melting pots feeling at home in Berlin bohemian hangouts, cheap huts in Nepal and Parisian hostels. She doesn’t necessarily like everything but she is willing to try anything. The post-Soviet generation with gluttony for material things and disdain for a human kind annoy her the most.
Irena Karpa poses in front of the barbed wire in Sikkim, Himalayas, North India. (Courtesy)
“People here are aggressive without any reason,” Karpa explained. “The post-Soviet transformation is still underway, but it’s hard to restore values such as individuality, sexuality, and the ability to live in harmony with other people as well as with nature. During Soviet days, people were told they are rednecks. You know what’s really scary? They believed it. Now they show the world that they are rednecks who got money to burn.”
Baldyniuk said Karpa occupied a vacant niche in Ukrainian literature that was screaming for a bright, bold and outspoken personality. She writes in the Ukrainian language, but you can read her in Russian, Bulgarian, Czech, Polish and Dutch already.
“She is a successful writer who did smart publicity. She tried herself as an artist, columnist and TV host,” Baldyniuk said. “Given all that, some might call her superficial. I personally think that she is a very hard-working person and some sort of an embodiment of the American dream in Ukraine.”
Not everyone agrees.
Vira Agiyeva, a literature professor at Kyiv Mohyla Academy, described Karpa as “a product of show business” that can wither away at any moment.
Apparently conscious about such a risk, Karpa seems to regularly tweak her stories to respond to her audience’s changing habits. The lead character of her new book – to be released next year, is a single mother living in Kyiv. Unlike her other works, this one is a love story about one woman who actually nails down her love. This change of pace from frivolous roaming to a happy family life mirrors Karpa’s own experience. Last year, the writer married American businessman Norman Hansen. She has since given birth to a daughter.
Tying the knot may have affected some of her attitudes, but her style seems untouched.
Her music and books are never meant to please. They are merely a personal statement full of outrage and self-irony. Those listening or reading are free to take it or leave it.
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