Ukraine has been much in the news recently; so, I thought I would be as trendy as I know how in this first Not Today’s Bestseller List and pick a novel that’s set there: The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov. In order to explain what this violent and at times disturbing book is doing on my shelf, I have to give a little background.
About 25 years ago I decided I would write a novel that took place in Ukraine. I ended up writing two and they were both very bad, as first novels usually are. For one thing, I really knew nothing about the physical landscape of the areas I was writing about (Ukraine and St. Petersburg Russia) and so had to do my best from reading other accounts. Another reason was that I had no knowledge of Ukrainian and my Russian was extremely basic, so that limited my research to only books that had been translated and were available through inter-library loan (this was in the days before the internet.) A third reason was that I was going to have to include quite a lot of evil in the stories and I am no good with evil. I hate reading about it, especially when it is glorified, as it was during the time I proposed to set my story, and I certainly couldn’t do justice to it in my writing. So, in the end, I produced two very bad novels. (more…)