Desencajada is the story of Daria Kovalenko Petrova, who was born in Ukraine in 1992 but moved to Spain with her family as a young girl. It is the reconstruction of a family story marked by migration and economic difficulties, and is the testimony of a generation in a permanent state of crisis. At the same time, Daria’s story houses the tale of two disappointments: that of the Soviet Union in the twentieth century and that of Western society in the twenty-first.
‘It is an open secret among pilgrims
and other theoreticians of this
travelling life that you become
addicted to the horizon’
Anne Carson, ‘Types of Water’
Her nails are pink. By my estimation, the thick layer of varnish starts about three millimetres from her cuticles. That means it’s at least two weeks since she last did them. Now the varnish is like a hardened sticker I feel like scraping off. ‘First. That by resolution of the General Directorate for Registries and Notary Affairs, dated twenty-second of the second, two thousand and nineteen, you are hereby granted Spanish citizenship by residence …’ I carry on staring at her nails as she holds the document between her face and mine to avoid looking at me. The skin on her hands is tanned and freckled, registering her body’s decay. Her voice is on autopilot. ‘Second. That for this citizenship to take effect and in accordance with article twenty-three of the Civil Code and article sixty-four of the Civil Registry Law, you swear allegiance to the King and obedience to the Constitution and laws of Spain …’ All I want is to scrape the varnish off with a spatula. Watch it crumple and flake away. Scratch the surface of her nail, turn it white. She lowers the document and narrows her brown eyes, enveloped in wrinkles. She has the eyes of a seagull. An angry seagull. ‘Yes, I swear.’ She purses her lips until two vertical lines appear in the skin between her nose and mouth. She holds the document in front of my face again and continues: ‘Third. That you hereby renounce your Ukrainian citizenship, pursuant to the provisions of article twenty-three “b” of the Civil Code.’ She stops speaking but doesn’t lower the sheet of paper. ‘Yes, I do,’ I say, staring at the sheet. ‘Four. That with regard to your forename and surnames, you are to be registered as Daria Kovalenko Petrova.’ I’m caught completely off guard. In all my twenty-seven years I’ve only ever been Daria Kovalenko. My father is a Kovalenko. My mother has been a Kovalenko ever since she married him. Petrova isn’t a name I’ve ever associated with myself. The Spanish legal system has dredged through my family history to recover my mother’s maiden name – the name she abandoned in a Soviet registry office aged eighteen – and now it’s right here in my passport. ‘Yes,’ I manage to reply, before she hands me the document. ‘Sign.’ She taps twice on a blank space on the page with her thickly varnished nail. The pen is short of ink and leaves white gaps in the blue signature. I haven’t even finished signing when she slides her hand across the table and snatches the sheet from me. She gets up and walks over to the photocopier, returning a few moments later with a copy. Her lips still pursed. Still avoiding eye contact. She tosses the sheet down on the table. ‘That’s it,’ she says. ‘That’s it?’ Now her eyes focus on me. She looks at me like I’m an idiot and repeats: ‘T-h-a-t-s-i-t.’ ‘You mean, I’m Spanish now?’ I ask. ‘That’s what it says there.’ I sense from her expression that she begs to differ: Kovalenko Petrova? Who are you kidding? Citizen by residence my arse. More like sham Spanish. I take the sheet after glancing at my entry in the registry. Legally speaking, a Ukrainian has died and a Spaniard has been born in her place, complete with the two surnames. This time my birth comes with behavioural instructions. It’s a reward. I’ve sworn an oath. I’m loyal to the crown. I’ve shed my old nationality, completed my metamorphosis. ‘Okay, thanks,’ I answer. When I get up from my seat, she’s looking at her nails, tapping the varnish to see if it’s still as firm as her indifference. When she joined the civil service thirty years ago, she probably didn’t see herself ending up in a provincial registry office doling out citizenship to new Spaniards. I slip her contempt into the plastic wallet along with the document certifying my new identity. Daria Kovalenko Petrova. Born on the fifteenth of June nineteen ninety-two in Mariupol. Nationality: Spanish. I’ve lived in Spain for twenty years, but this civil servant with her disgusting nails doesn’t think I deserve her status. Not that I was expecting a congratulations or a you’ve done it! Now you can apply for this bullshit job too. All the same, I linger there a little longer by the table, hoping my inertia might coax out a drop of kindness. She notices and moves her hand even closer to her face to inspect her nails. She squints her shit-eating seagull eyes. Then her lips, loosening their death grip, begin to part. ‘Close the door on your way out.’
By Margaryta Yakovenko
Translated by Robin Munby
By Margaryta Yakovenko
Translated by Robin Munby
Published by Penguin Random House (2020)
An extract from Desencajada, by Margaryta Yakovenko (published by Caballo de Troya, 2020), translated by Robin Munby. For more details please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Margaryta Yakovenko was born in Tokmak, Ukraine and emigrated to Murcia in Spain with her parents at the age of seven. She is a journalist specialising in international politics and currently works for the Spanish newspaper El País. Her first novel, Desencajada was published in September 2020.
Robin Munby is a literary translator from Liverpool, based in Madrid. His translations have appeared in publications including Wasafiri Magazine, Apofenie, Exchanges, World Literature Today and The Glasgow Review of Books. He works from Spanish, Russian and, more recently, Asturian into English.