Meet Sasha Vasilyuk, Author of Your Presence Is Mandatory

Join San Mateo County Libraries on Tuesday, June 4, at 6:30 PM as we welcome author Sasha Vasilyuk to Belmont Library for an in-person discussion of her new novel, Your Presence Is Mandatory. She will be joined in conversation by Susanne Pari, author of In the Time of Our History. Keep an eye out for a limited supply of free giveaway copies of Your Presence is Mandatory available on a first come, first served basis at our libraries, opens a new window. The first 50 event attendees will receive free copies of both Your Presence Is Mandatory and In the Time of Our History. We hope to see you there!

A Gripping Story of War, Secrets and Survival

Vasilyuk, who grew up in Russia and Ukraine, fictionalizes real family secrets in her debut, which spans seven decades between World War II and the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The novel opens in 2007, when the freshly widowed Nina Shulman finds among her deceased husband's belongings a letter to the KGB, confessing a secret he concealed all his life. Vasilyuk alternates timelines and narrators, jumping back to 1941, when the young Yefim Shulman served as a young artillerist, defending the Soviet border from encroaching Nazis. But as Yefim struggles for survival between two totalitarian forces, what difficult decisions is he forced to make? And what is the cost of uncovering secrets he meant to keep?

In a recent interview, opens a new window with Literary Hub, Vasilyuk explains, "The novel is inspired by the story of my grandfather, a Ukrainian Jewish WWII vet who left a letter addressed to the KGB when he died, which revealed his hidden wartime past and completely shocked me and my family. In Your Presence is Mandatory, I wanted to dig deeper into his story of survival in Nazi Germany and USSR because it revealed parts of history that have been kept out of textbooks. I also wanted to investigate what is the price of secrecy on the secret-keeper, on their loved ones and on a whole society."

Praise for Your Presence Is Mandatory

"Through meticulous attention to specifics and empathetic, searching characterization, Vasilyuk achieves a sense of historical and emotional authenticity―thereby offering her readers a compelling exploration of both the distant past and more recent events." ―Los Angeles Review of Books, opens a new window

“Vasilyuk is an acclaimed journalist, but in this novel, she is first and foremost a sensitive, lyrical storyteller, who brings attention to the tragic history of Ukraine that began decades before the earliest events in the book and is yet unfolding. But there is more―the very nature of the story in this book calls us to engage gently and compassionately with generational trauma, rather than burying it and passing it on. Structuring the novel around a secret long buried, Vasilyuk calls us all to honesty and openness with ourselves and with our loved ones: no matter where and when we live, we desire to know those we love and be known by them.” ―Plough, opens a new window

“Vasilyuk draws on her family background to illuminate the personal, cultural, and experiential . . . Full of devastating pathos and elucidation of how war and, especially, fascist and communist mindsets destroy one's humanity, this timely novel is a robust addition to the growing body of literature chronicling the Ukrainian experience.” ―Booklist, opens a new window

“An absorbing historical drama that spans from WWII to the current Russian-Ukraine conflict. Vasiluk is tender and caring with her characters and her setting. Fans of All The Light We Cannot See will find the perfect historical novel with this book.” ―Debutiful, “Most Anticipated Debut Books of 2024”, opens a new window

About Sasha Vasilyuk

Sasha Vasilyuk is a journalist and author of Your Presence is Mandatory. Sasha grew up between Ukraine and Russia before immigrating to the U.S. at the age of 13. She has an MA in journalism from New York University and her nonfiction has been published in the New York Times, Harper’s Bazaar, CNN, Time, San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Telegraph, KQED, Narrative and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a Solas Award for Best Travel Writing, a North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA) Award, and a Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) Fellowship from UC Berkeley. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and children. Learn more about Sasha Vasilyuk.