S.Y. Agnon, Buchach and “The Key in the Pocket”

The presentation of” The Key in the Pocket” in Lviv on September 13, 2017.

The home of the Hebrew-language writer S.Y. Agnon is located in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem and sits high enough on a hill that on a clear day, the Old City is visible in the distance. The writer chose to live here in part for its solitude.

It is on the home’s second floor where, standing at a lectern propped against a window facing the backyard, Agnon wrote some of his greatest works. These included a cycle of tales about Buchach, the city of his birth, which today sits in western Ukraine. The Buchach stories consumed Agnon in his later years, even as he was awarded in 1966 the Nobel Prize in Literature for his work, including the haunting novel A Guest for the Night.  The writer was, it seemed, in a race against time to document the Jewish life of a city now long gone.

To commemorate the 50-year anniversary of Agnon (1888-1970) winning the Nobel, in 2016 the Agnon Literary Center in Buchach invited three Ukrainian writers to participate in short-term literary residences. There they could muse upon Agnon, his Buchach writings and create works of their own. The result of those residences is The Key in the Pocket, an anthology of nine stories by Yevheniya Senik, Sofia Andrukhovych and Andriy Lyubka, which reflect on Agnon and Buchach in unexpected ways.

The Key in the Pocket was unveiled in May 2017 at Kyiv’s Arsenal Book Fair with the participation of Andrukhovych and Senik. Another presentation took place at The Lviv International Book Fair and Literature Festival in the fall with Senik. Below is a video from that event, as well as links to one of Senik’s stories from the anthology, presented with the author’s permission.

The literary residencies in Buchach were part of a larger project by the Agnon Literary Center called “Agnon: Fifty Steps to Understanding”, which was partially supported by the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter.

from Glasses of Agnon

Every one has his own Buchach. There are people who were born here and still live in the town. There are those who took their first steps on this land but upon learning to walk fast and efficient they went far beyond their native town. There are also those who were not born here but who were brought here by some unknown forces. I am one of the latter. Born in Luhansk, I find it difficult to find anything connecting me to Buchach. Except for the stories of my father about his military conscription in Chortkiv, 37 km away from Buchach. But it is not the reason I am here. I was not trying to trace the military roads of my father, but got interested in the twisting and mysterious road of Shmuel Yosef Agnon.

Read the full essay here.

The Lviv International Book Fair and Literature Festival, Lviv, September 13, 2017

Andriy Pavlyshyn, Co-founder, The Lviv International Book Fair and Literature Festival; award-winning translator and writer.

Natalia A. Feduschak, Director of Communications, Ukrainian Jewish Encounter.

Mariana Maksymiak, Director, Agnon Literary Center.

Yevheniya Senik, Writer, philologist, independent researcher in Jewish Studies.

Andriy Pavlyshyn, Co-founder, The Lviv International Book Fair and Literature Festival; award-winning translator and writer.

Mariana Maksymiak, Director, Agnon Literary Center.

Question and answer.

Text: Natalia A. Feduschak
Videos and Photos: Kyiv Office, Ukrainian Jewish Encounter; Natalia A. Feduschak


NOTE: The UJE does not necessarily endorse opinions expressed in articles and other materials published on its website and social media pages. Such materials are posted to promote discussion related to Ukrainian-Jewish interactions and relations. The website and social media pages will be places of information that reflect varied viewpoints.