Interview: Marina Lewycka

The Brief

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Marina Lewycka is a novelist and short story writer. Her first book, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction, and won the 2005 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction. Lewycka was also shortlisted for the Wodehouse Prize for her fifth and most recent novel, The Lubetkin Legacy, in 2016. Her short stories have been published in anthologies from Amnesty International, Oxfam, and Refugee Tales.

Which war film would you recommend?
Come and See, directed by Elem Klimov. A Soviet war drama that strips away the glamour and heroism of war and shows us the random cruelty and pointlessness.

Which historical novel would you recommend?
The Siege
by Helen Dunmore is a beautifully written and intensely moving account of the Siege of Leningrad, a memorial to those who perished and those who survived.

Which work of architecture would you recommend?
The Finsbury Health Centre, designed by Berthold Lubetkin, exemplifies fine modernist architecture in the service of the people.


The following questions relate to our Perspectives column, in which two writers respond to an artwork that they are experiencing for the first time.

Can art erase history?
Art can erase history or illuminate it, but we may never know which is which. An artist’s representation of an event or person may be better remembered than the original, so lies or distortions can come to be seen as truths.

Should artists tell other people's stories for them?
The artist must speak for those whose voices have been taken away.

Rule of Three

The following questions relate to our Rule of Three column, for which each article includes a trio of artworks that share an association with a single word.

Which artworks and organisations associated with the word ‘Refugee’ would you recommend?
Refugee Tales, edited by David Herd & Anna Pincus. A great collection of short stories published each year based on a walk following the route of The Canterbury Tales, in which a number of well-known writers retell the experiences of refugees trapped within the immigration system.

Counterpoints Arts is a charity that helps refugee artists to make their voices heard in Britain. This year one of the artists they sponsored was Gil Mualem-Doron, whose participatory installation New Union Flag engages people from diverse communities in designing a new Union Flag.

Platforma is a performance festival in the North East promoted by Counterpoints Arts and featuring work by refugees.

States of the Arts

The following questions relate to our States of the Arts column, for which each article includes four artworks that share an association with a single nation or territory.

Which Palestinian artwork would you recommend?
Visit the brutal concrete wall that divides Palestine and Israel; it has been decorated with some telling artworks.

Which Ukrainian artist would you recommend?
Read the poetry of Oksana Zabuzhko – wise, witty, and wonderful.

The art of discovery

The following questions relate to Silent Frame’s aim to celebrate the art of discovery.

What does discovery mean to you?
Discovery gives existence value. I think it is also a matter of perpetual motion, as one discovery leads to the next and knowledge gives you the satisfaction of development. I don’t know if anything from my last thirty years would have happened without discovery.

What question would you like to ask other Silent Frame interviewees?
What methods do you use to detach your ego from success?

More to discover

Marina Lewycka: Visit the author’s website here, including her blog posts, articles, and interviews. Read excerpts from her novels here: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Two Caravans, We Are All Made of Glue, Various Pets Alive and Dead, The Lubetkin Legacy. You can purchase Lewycka’s novels from the Penguin website here.

Read an excerpt from Freedom, an Amnesty International short story collection featuring Lewycka’s ‘Business Philosophy’, here. Read an excerpt from Ox-Tales: Earth, an Oxfam short story collection featuring Lewycka’s ‘The Importance of Having Warm Feet’, here.

Today’s recommendations: Come and See (trailer), The Siege (excerpt), Finsbury Health Centre (a blog post on the history of the centre), Refugee Tales (excerpt), Counterpoints Arts (website), Gil Mualem-Doron (artist profile on the Platforma website), Oksana Zabuzhko (website).

Also on Silent Frame