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.