Quick Study: Margarita Khemlin gives her characters unique voices that tell stories of twentieth-century Jewish lives and fates, some inspired by her own relatives.
The Khemlin File: Margarita Khemlin writes novels and stories about her native Ukraine, focusing on Jewish themes and characters as she explores the legacy of World War 2 and Soviet policies. Khemlin, who studied at the Gorky Literary Institute and has worked as a journalist, writes with dark humor, often using language infused with a Soviet-era twang. Two of Khemlin’s books—a short story collection called The Living Line and her first novel, Klotsvog—were shortlisted for, respectively, the 2008 Big Book and the 2010 Russian Booker awards. Her 2012 novel, The Investigator, takes place in 1950s Ukraine and involves a murder investigation.
Psssst………: Khemlin often speaks to readers about her family, showing artifacts that inspire her writing, including a fork that her great grandmother brought to Ukraine from London.
Khemlin’s Places: Born in Chernigov, Ukraine. Lives in Moscow.
The Word on Khemlin: Critic Andrei Nemzer wrote of Khemlin’s writing, “In Khemlin’s prose everything—from the topics to the ‘skaz’ speech, with an internally pure melody that knocks agonizingly against the ruts of dead Sovieticisms and, as a result, overcomes a coerced languagelessness—is tied in with Jewishness, but her characters aren’t at all reduced to a ‘national type’…”
Khemlin on Khemlin: Khemlin told an interviewer in 2008 that she writes prose because she can’t not write prose. When asked about critics, she said, “I don’t expect a verdict from critics. In the end, ‘liked, didn’t like’ is everyone’s personal matter. What’s much more important is whether the critic speaks of my characters as living people. If yes, then I’m happy.”
On Writing: Khemlin credits her writing teachers, Yury Tomashevsky and Grigory Tsitriniak, for teaching her the value of simplicity and clarity.
Khemlin Recommends: In the same interview, Khemlin mentioned particular respect for Lev Tolstoy’s The Cossacks and Nikolai Gogol’s The Old World Landowners. She also declared her affection for Agatha Christie and Georges Simenon.
Translating Khemlin: Lisa Hayden Espenschade wrote, in an introduction to her translation of “Basya Solomonovna’s Third World War,” for the anthology Two Lines: World Writing in Translation, that “Khemlin’s an alchemist of a writer, wringing impact and emotion out of everyday words, conjuring up characters whose pain and aspirations feel real.”