Adam Hlobus: the Naked Belarusian

Adam HlobusAdam HlobusIf you go by train from Warshaw to Minsk, you won’t miss a small station of Kojdanava. The town to which the station corresponds, is now called Dzerzhinsk. Its name commemorates the bloodthirsty founder of Cheka, the predecessor of the infamous KGB. Soviet authorities renamed Kojdanava, but, for some reason, left the station with its old name creating the feeling that the town and the station exist in two different dimensions. Maybe this explains the nature of Adam Hlobus, an outstanding contemporary Belarusian writer who was born in Dzerzhinsk but wrote his best poems and stories about his native town Kojdanava.   

Adam Hlobus is a pseudonym of Uladzimir Adamchyk. Perhaps he has inherited fondness of literature from his father, writer Viachaslau Adamchyk. However, instead of enrolling into a philology school, the usual career starting point for many writers during Soviet times, he studied visual arts in Minsk. After his graduation, Adam Hlobus worked as restorer and designer, combining his work with first literature attempts.

It was the late 80s, the time of change. The Soviet system was slowly falling apart. Adam Hlobus found himself at the core of the underground literature group “Tutejshyja” (‘the locals’), which united most non-conformist young Belarusian writers of the time. As it often happens, two rival factions were soon formed within “Tutejshyja”. One of them, the so-called “patriots”, was headed by gifted poet Anatol Sys. With a lot of pathos, they stood for love towards motherland and the struggle for Belarusian independence. Another faction, “the cosmopolites”, was headed by Adam Hlobus. He advocated pragmatic approaches and urged writers to create genuinely Belarusian mass culture, write detective novels and publish comic books. “Tutejshyja” soon fell apart, but the group’s energy fueled many other developments in Belarusian culture. Adam Hlobus managed to become a professional player with mass consciousness, simultaneously pursuing his career as an artist.

When Mikhail Gorbachev launched his “Perestroika” policy, the communist party allowed people access to free information. In Belarus, the magazine “Krynitsa” (‘spring’) was created. In its best times, the circulation of “Krynitsa” reached half million copies. If one looks at the list of its editorial board members, it is surprising to find there people who are now on two different sides of the “barricades”, for example Uladzimer Niaklaeu (the poet, who later had to go into political exile) and Mikalaj Charhinets, today’s chief of the notorious pro-government Union of Writers; Henadz Buraukin who is prevented from reading his works to schoolchildren, and Pavel Yakubovich, presently working as editor-in-chief of the “Belarus Segodnya”, the biggest pro-presidential daily newspaper. “Krynitsa” was the magazine where Adam Hlobus worked as editor and published his first essays. „Krynitsa“ was my first experience of palying with mass consciousness, and the first experience is always unforgettable“, he told in an interview to the Belarusian cultural magazine „Arche“.

In 1991, Adam Hlobus published a comic book after the novel of Uladzimir Karatkevich „The Wild Hunt of King Stakh“. It was his idea to create a genuinely Belarusian style of comic books. „There are people who believe that one can earn money by selling here American comics. Nonsense! You can not transmit American comics into our mentality“. „The Wild Hunt of King Stakh“ was published by a state printing house in 250,000 copies – the unprecedented number for a Belarusian-language book.

1990’s business in Belarus was booming. Adam Hlobus tried various schemes of earning money by publishing detective stories and even packs of playing cards. 90’s was the time, when the whole Soviet and post-Soviet area was mesmerized by the American mass culture. Adam Hlobus and some of his friends decided to publish (in Russian, to be sold everywhere where Russian is a spoken language) novels based on TV series like “Twin Peaks” or “Santa Barbara”. When his friends asked “What should we do about the copyright?” he replied: “If Van Gogh makes a picture of a chair, he doesn’t have to pay the person who has made this chair, does he?” However, the plan hit its snag when the friends published a sequel to “Gone with the Wind”. True, their novels like “The Childhood of Scarlet” or “Scarlet’s Secret” were selling well, but the American copyright holders have launched a huge campaign against “Russian pirates”.

Such daring experiments gave Adam Hlobus financial independence and an opportunity to see the world. In fact, he quickly gained popularity as writer produsing travel notes with description of explored foreign cities as a keen but somewhat arrogant traveller, who takes his freedom of movement for granted. For Belarusians, many of whom never got a chance to look out on the other side of the iron curtain, this was something new. For example, this is how Adam Hlobus describes an eclipse of 1999 in Rome: “Rome is a heavy city. It is heavy as marble, as heat, as death. Rome belongs to Rome only. It is full of sun, infernal heat and ancient civilization. It became three times heavier during the solar eclipse. People stopped and peered at the sky through pieces of black glass. A piece of Sun remained, resembling a crescent. All the rest of the existing world became wretched, purposeless. But the Eternal City has only increased its importance”.

In his “Travel Notes” Hlobus, who once worked as fresco restorer in a catholic church, often speaks to God. This creates a sharp contrast to his other book, “Damavikameron”, published in 1994. The title results from a word game, uniting “Dekameron” and Damavik, the mythic Belarusian house spirit. The book shocked Belarusian readers with its sexual scenes. To be exact, it was not only shock, but also surprise – it turned out, that Belarusian language can be used to write about sexual matters. In “Damavikameron” Adam Hlobus creates a hord of new urban mythtic creatures, such as mermaids, which can be found in bathrooms by men returning home after business trips, or Tumannik, a fog creature, which observes lovers who are lost in the mist.

Texts of Adam Hlobus are often caustic if not to say cynical. In his „Russian Cabinet of Curiosities” he mocks and defames many Russian values and Russian literature icons in short passages, often showing them in banal situations. For example: “During the carnival in a town near Barcelona I saw poet Andrey Voznesensky. He was looking at a shopping window and told some old woman: “Forty bucks. Just look at that… This trifle costs forty bucks!”

In his “Contemporaries”-- short portraits published both online and on paper, Adam Hlobus turns to fellow Belarusians depicting the people he met in rather delicate situations. Many of them get offended, but he doesn’t really seem to care. Finally, he even published the diaries of his father, another renowned writer, without changing a word. Does this public literature strip show have any sense? Hanna Kislitsyna, Belarusian literature critic, once asked Hlobus this question in “Nasha Niva” weekly newspaper. “The history of literature is full of dressing and undressing”, answered Adam Hlobus. “When you undress, you should always think about the clothes you’ll be putting on afterwards. All these embroidered shirts, straw hats, felt boots… I wish you knew how sick I am of all these national features, folk idiotism, souvenir shops of pseudo-traditions”.

Adam Hlobus believes that the development of Belarusian literature is similar to the development of the literature in Japan at the end of the 19th century when the values of European civilization found their way to the faraway islands. “The diaries of Akutagava and Takuboku show us how difficult and painful it was for a Japanese to tear off his worn kimono and put on a European suite. There was a host of Japanese writers who tried to struggle into a tuxedo without taking off their traditional clothes. By doing so they meant to preserve their identity. However, they simply showed themselves as pitiful untalented clowns. This continued until everyone became convinced that the Japanese remains Japanese, even if he wears European clothes. The same with the Belarusian: he remains Belarusian even if he is naked. An embroidered shirt doesn’t make you more Belarusian: on the contrary, it degrades the sense of being Belarusian to the level of cheap souvenir ethnography”.

Recently, Adam Hlobus actively writes for his internet blog posting not only short stories but also his own drawings. He also publishes chapters of his novel “Home” in… “Belarus Segodnya”, the pro-presidential newspaper, which is headed by his former “Krynitsa” colleague Pavel Yakubovich. This fact, however, doesn’t prevent him from speaking freely on any matters he chooses and even giving out his “Golden Letter” annual literature award to the author of a freshly-printed book he likes the most. Every year Adam Hlobus invites nominees to a small café in Minsk where he presents one of them with 111 euros – this is what the award is worth.

Adam Hlobus began his career as a poet. Critics like to say that his prose is better than his verses. Nevertheless, rock groups “Novaje Neba”, “Bonda”, “Harackija”, and even such renowned performers as “Pesniary” (sometimes called “Belarusian Beatles”) often put his poems into music. No wonder one of the best songs of rock-band “Bonda” is called “Kojdanava” – the small station, to which, according to Adam Hlobus, all the roads lead.

Adam Hlobus

 Christian symbol – 1986

 Late summer – 1989

Parfume – 2007


Toma in red mood – 2008

Fight: Cain and Abel 2008

by Ales Kudrytski

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