What is it you seek, Wolf?

“I read Eva Viežnaviec’s novel and recognised the village where I grew up. She brought it back to life in my soul.”Svetlana Alexievich

The short novel What Is It You Seek, Wolf? by Eva Viežnaviec caused a literary sensation in Belarus and was awarded the country’s highest award for prose, the Jerzy Giedroyc Literature Prize, in December 2021.

The book sets off down the road like a modern-day beatnik novel. On an alcohol-fuelled trip, protagonist Ryna travels from Germany to Belarus for her grandmother’s funeral. The old lady was a traditional healer who was considered a witch by her neighbours and tried to teach Ryna the “arts” of herbal medicine. Ryna’s inner dialogue with her beloved grandmother imperceptibly turns into a monologue. What follows is the intrepid 100-year-old woman’s account as a survivor of the First World War, the October Revolution and civil war, collectivisation and Second World War – the entire twentieth century with all its atrocities. The story ends in the present, a time when Ryna has found peace, thanks partly to her grandmother’s wealth of experience. Without glorifying events, this melancholic, harrowing book draws hope from the magic of everyday life.

Historical sections of the book are based on stories from Viežnaviec’s grandmother as well as eyewitness reports and materials that she collected while doing ethnographic research, from archives and the local press.

• An epic contained in a small volume
• A tribute to the women of a whole generation