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Dr. Leonardo’s Journey to Sloboda Switzerland with His Future Lover, the Beautiful Alcesta

Dr. Leonardo’s Journey to Sloboda Switzerland with His Future Lover, the Beautiful Alcesta

Maik Yohansen

Translated by Uilleam Blacker

ISBN 9780674291959

Publication date: 05/07/2024

Italian doctor Leonardo Pazzi and Alcesta, his “future lover,” travel through the picturesque, hilly region of Sloboda, near Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine. They experience a series of encounters with local Ukrainians and nature, disappearances, and transformations filled with paradoxes. The characters are bright, marionette-like caricatures whom the author constructs and moves ostentatiously in full view of the reader, revealing his artistic devices with a sense of absurd, mischievous humor.

A novel of exuberance and whim that deconstructs the very principles of writing and estranges everyday phenomena, Dr. Leonardo’s Journey marks the highpoint of Ukrainian modernism right before it was violently cut down by Stalin’s repressions. The novel shifts away from character or plot as such and instead celebrates the places and spaces in which these things come into being, and the sheer joy of movement and experience. In this sense, Maik Yohansen’s heroes echo Mykola Hohol, whose tour through Russia’s vast spaces in Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls is an obvious reference point, and Laurence Sterne, whose irreverent narrative style and textual games Yohansen emulates. Presented here in a contemporary, deft English translation, the novel is a must read for everyone interested in discovering the rich heritage of Ukrainian modernism.


  • Maik Yohansen (1896–1937) was a prolific Ukrainian modernist writer, poet, playwright, translator, and linguist. One of the founders of VAPLITE and Hart independent collectives of writers, he also was closely involved with the journal Literaturnyi iarmarok (The Literary Fair). In August 1937, he was arrested by the Soviet regime and executed two months later, along with thousands of other Ukrainian intellectuals in what became known as the Executed Renaissance.
  • Uilleam Blacker is Associate Professor in Comparative East European Culture at University College London. He is the author of Memory, the City, and the Legacy of World War II in East Central Europe and of numerous translations from Ukrainian and Russian.
  • Halyna Hryn is a literary scholar and translator, and the editor of Harvard Ukrainian Studies. Her translations include several novels by Oksana Zabuzhko and Volodymyr Dibrova.

Book Details

  • 250 pages
  • 5 x 8 inches
  • Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute
  • Introduction by Halyna Hryn