An Interview with Yuriy Tarnawsky, Part 3

Yuriy reading at Chicago’s Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art (1974).

Part 1 | Part 2

[Please note that I’ve updated both of these posts with photos that Yuriy sent me.]

I’d like to ask a few more questions about Three Blondes and Death, if you don’t mind. Perhaps the most memorable and complicated aspect of that novel is its syntax. I’ll quote a short passage to illustrate:

It’d been unusually warm all that spring. The vegetation was much more advanced than usual. It really looked almost as in the middle of June. The grass was thick. It was bright green. It covered the earth like a bright layer of paint. The paint seemed shiny. It seemed still wet. It seemed to have been poured out of a can and to have spread over the earth. It seemed to have spread by itself. The earth therefore seemed tilted. (13)

How did you arrive at such a style?

Oh, yes, that syntax! You can’t imagine how much grief and pain it cost me.

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An Interview with Yuriy Tarnawsky, Part 2

Yuriy in La Sainte Chapelle, Paris, c. 1968.

Part 1

Let’s back up a bit. When did you move to the US?

I came to this country in 1952, having left Germany at age 17. My 18th birthday I celebrated on the boat a week before landing in New York. I had just graduated from High School. This was in February, and in the fall I enrolled at Newark College of Engineering (now New Jersey Institute of Technology) in the BS program in the department of Electrical Engineering. I didn’t feel I had any other choice. Having spent my formative years in post-WWII Germany, I saw of how little use was liberal arts education during times of crisis so, like most of my Ukrainian friends, I decided to study engineering. Being “technical” was the answer. This kind of thinking permeated the whole Ukrainian immigrant community. New Jersey had a lot of recent Ukrainian immigrants at that time; I believe that about 10% of the students at the college were Ukrainian. (Both my brother and stepbrother later followed in my footsteps.)

I had no particular interest in engineering as such (I hated to tinker around with things and never put together a radio as some of my friends did), but loved math, so I chose Electrical Engineering, which was the most theoretical of the engineering disciplines. I took lots of math and physics, and actually enjoyed the technical subjects more than the less technical ones, such as economics, “principles of engineering,” and even English. I preferred dealing with clear-cut issues. But there was another reason I went in for engineering. While in High School, I avidly read Dostoyevsky, and one of my favorite characters of his was the nihilist Kirilov from The Possessed, which I mentioned earlier. He, as you may recall, was an engineer. I fancied myself similar to Kirilov in many ways and like him wanted to be an engineer.

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