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Andrij Kurkow

Author of Death and the Penguin

45+ Works 4,232 Members 170 Reviews 21 Favorited

About the Author

Andrey Kurkov was born in St. Petersburg and now lives in Kiev. He spent time in the military as a prison warden and has also worked as a journalist and film cameraman. He is now a screenwriter and author of four novels and four children’s books.

Series

Works by Andrij Kurkow

Death and the Penguin (2001) 1,999 copies
Penguin Lost (2002) 467 copies
Grey Bees (2019) 326 copies
A Matter of Death and Life (1996) 251 copies
The President's Last Love (2004) 180 copies
The Good Angel of Death (1999) 151 copies
The Milkman in the Night (2009) 102 copies
The Gardener from Ochakov (2010) 99 copies
Diary of an Invasion (2022) 61 copies
The Silver Bone (2024) 53 copies
The Bickford Fuse (2009) 43 copies
Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv (2012) 42 copies
The Penguin Novels (2006) 33 copies

Associated Works

The Death of a Soldier Told by His Sister (2021) — Introduction, some editions — 17 copies
Früher war mehr Strand: Hinterhältige Reisegeschichten (2007) — Author, some editions — 10 copies
Mords.Metropole.Ruhr (2010) — Contributor — 3 copies

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Reviews

Samson and his father were walking home when a sabre was swung by a cossack hacking Samson's father's head in half and slicing off Samson's right ear. He saves the ear and stores it in a tin, shut away in a drawer. And from this point on, Samson's world is a reaction to the events going on outside as groups and armies fight for control of the city, Kyiv, and the country. Each day seems to bring a new leadership and if one day you are wearing a white armband you are considered to be on the 'right' side, it is almost guaranteed that you won't want to be seen wearing it the next day as another group sweep in. Set amongst this turmoil, Samson becomes a policeman, of sorts, and sets out to investigate crimes starting with the one happening in his own apartment.

At the mercy of different armies, Bolsheviks, The Chekas, Cossacks, two soldiers who have deserted take up accomodation in Samson's father's office, sleeping there and using it as a dumping ground for all the loot they collect. Samson's ear overhears the deserters talking and he takes it upon himself to get them arrested and all their loot transported to the police station. Through his investigations he meets people that become friends and who help him including a young woman, Nadezhda, an idealist, who moves into the apartment because it is deemed to be too big for Samson on his own.

I enjoyed the history of Kyiv at the time, early 1900s, the descriptions of the place and the emergence of Samson as a detective. He isn't dark, he has friends and he is a helpful person determined to do the 'right' thing. The emphasis on food, warm clothing and firewood helps to show a city on the edge, where small acts of kindness go a long way. Money is constantly changing and you are never quite sure what you need to pay with. I also enjoyed the slightly traditional tale voice that the story had. Parts of it are a little surreal and so it doesn't read like an American detective novel.

What I was less sure about was the role of the silver bone. I know what happened to it but in itself it didn't really feel that important to the story and even at the end I was left wondering why. I also didn't think that the ear had been used to its fullest extent - maybe that will happen in future stories.

A mixed bag of treasure.
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allthegoodbooks | 5 other reviews | Apr 15, 2024 |
It’s just at the end of WWI and Ukraine is in chaos. The Russian (Red) army has possession of Kiev, but the White Army continues to fight not very far away. In addition, there are Cossacks, Chinese Communist troops, Ottoman and Hetman (new term for me) also in the picture, making it sometimes a challenge to distinguish the good guys.

In the opening sentences, Samson Kolechko’s father is killed by a Cossack’s saber. Samson is also struck, but he is merely concussed and has an ear cut off. He retains the ear, hoping to have it reattached. Although reattachment isn’t possible, he discovers the severed ear can hear conversations around it, giving him a remote listening device.

The Russian Army billets two soldiers in Samson’s apartment. They have orders to commandeer from the civilian population all goods that may be of use to the Russian army. Eventually, with the help of the detached ear, Samson realizes that some of the goods they are confiscating are being stolen by the soldiers and ending up at his place instead of the proper requisitioned goods site.

When his father’s desk is taken by mistake, Samson files a complaint with the authorities. Due to the shortage of workers, he is offered a job trying to solve thefts by soldiers in the city. His first case of course, is solving the thefts of the two soldiers billeted in his apartment. Jobs no longer pay salaries; a government job however does pay in meal vouchers at the local government cafeteria, so Samson abandons his hopes of becoming an electrical engineer and becomes a crime investigator instead.

He finds the two have obtained a curious assortment of goods, including a great deal of silver objects, most notably a life size human femur made entirely of silver.

The historical details were fascinating. I knew nothing about this part of the Ukraine’s history. The author slowly builds the world of the historical Ukraine, richly generous in the details. This is the first book for the series and due to the author’s world building, I felt the mystery itself was rather slow getting started as Samson doesn’t start his investigating until after a third of the book has passed. I liked Samson as a character, as well as his boss and the woman probably destined to become his love interest. The solution to the mystery is quite unique and stays within the time-context of the story. I’ll look forward to reading the next in the series.
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streamsong | 5 other reviews | Apr 14, 2024 |
A Policeman in Chaos but with Hope
Review of the Harper Via hardcover (March 5, 2024) translated by Boris Dralyuk from the Russian language original "Самсон и Надежда" (Samson and Nadezhda) (2018).

Samson was deafened by the sound of the sabre striking his father’s head. He caught the glint of the flashing blade out of the corner of his eye and stepped into a puddle. His already dead father’s left hand pushed him aside, so that the next sabre neither quite struck nor quite missed his ginger-haired head, slicing off his right ear. He managed to reach out and catch the falling ear, clutching it in his fist before it hit the gutter.


I had an excellent grounding for Kurkov's The Silver Bone due to last year's read of David Bergen's Away from the Dead (2023) from the Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist, which I reviewed as Surviving the Ukrainian War of Independence 1917-1921. Bergen's tale was over a broader scale and time of the conflict between the various warring factions. Kurkov sets his very specifically in the March to April of 1919 in a Kyiv where the central city is currently controlled by the Bolshevik Red Army, while being subject to marauding attacks from the forces of the Otamanshchyna (The Otaman Movement) of various warlords*.

See photo at https://assets.bwbx.io/images/users/iqjWHBFdfxIU/iTdHt0XVcfUE/v1/1200x841.jpg
Cossacks with their sabres and horses. Image sourced from a Bloomberg review of Antony Beevor's "Russia: Revolution and Civil War 1917-1921" (2022) at Putin's Ukraine War is a replay of Russia's Atrocities of 1919.

Kurkov's protagonist is Samson Kolechko who is orphaned and mutilated in the very first sentences of the novel (his mother and sister having passed earlier). Despite the loss of one ear, Samson, who had been an engineering student, finds himself with an extraordinary sort of "superpower" (I prefer that term to the current buzzword of "magic realism") of omnidirectional hearing on one side and (here is the "magic" part) still being able to hear whatever is in the vicinity of his severed ear which is safely secured with cotton padding in a tin box. Think of it as an extension of the idea of people still being able to "feel" a pain or an itch in phantom lost limbs. This feature isn't overdone, but only occurs in a few scenes i.e. the novel is primarily historical fiction and not supernatural fantasy.

Samson is forced to billet some soldiers from the Red Army at his family apartment. When he loses various objects due to the Red Army requisitioning furniture throughout the city, Samson goes to his local police station in an attempt to retrieve his father's desk. His detailed writing skill impresses the police chief who offers him a job and a new career opens up for the young man. Soon he is chasing down various looters and attempting to return stolen goods to victims. Along the way he meets Nadezhda, a young woman working at the Bureau of Statistics. Nadezhda or its diminutive Nadia means "hope" in Russian and Ukrainian. The young woman lives up to her name in trying to make the best of the situation and seeing hope in the future for the country having escaped Tsarist tyranny.

See photo at https://thebookerprizes.com/sites/default/files/styles/4_3_media_medium_800x600_...
Khreshchatyk, the main thoroughfare in Kyiv, Ukraine circa 1925 Keystone / Getty Images. Image sourced from The Booker Prizes (link below).

Samson's investigations lead him to eventually zero in on a specific gang of looters who have a seemingly inexplicable goal of silver collection. This becomes centred on the title object rather late in the story so the reader may be wondering when it will come up. I do agree on the title change for the English translation though, "Samson and Nadezhda" would seem to sound too much like a "Romeo and Juliet" romance fiction. Translator Boris Dralyuk provides a very flowing read and adds a helpful chronology of the period and a Translator's Note as appendices.

I enjoyed The Silver Bone immensely due to my interest in this historical place & period (admittedly due to my Estonian heritage & its various parallels) and also my enjoyment of books in the crime and mystery genre and especially the sub-genre of fictional investigators working under an authoritarian or chaotic ruling regime such as Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther novels and Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko novels. So I will openly acknowledge a bias in my rating 😊.

Footnote
* Some of the Otamans & Hetmans (which in the context we might as well call Warlords) mentioned in The Silver Bone include Symon Petliura (whose Cossacks appear in the opening scene), Nykyfor Grigoriev and Pavlo Skoropadskyi.

Trivia and Links
The Silver Bone was longlisted for the 2024 International Booker Prize. There is a Booker Reading Guide for The Silver Bone here which includes links to interviews with author and translator and to other related articles and books. You can also read the opening chapter here.

The second book in the Kyiv Mysteries series has been published as Сердце – не мясо (The Heart is not Meat) (2021), but is not yet translated into English. It is not yet listed on Goodreads, but you can read a brief summary at the Ukrainian publisher Folio here (turn on Web Translator). Events in the 2nd book appear to carry on immediately from those of the 1st with a setting of Kyiv in April 1919.
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alanteder | 5 other reviews | Apr 11, 2024 |
I finished [The Silver Bone] by [[Andrey Kurkov]] last night, my first of this years nominees for the International Booker. While not surprised that it didn’t make the cut for the Short List, I still enjoyed it a great deal and recommend that anyone looking for a new mystery series take a look at this first book of The Kyiv Mysteries.

The series will feature Samson Kolechko, introduced in the first novel as a young man whose engineering studies have been interrupted by the multi-factional civil war still raging in 1919 through the westernmost part of Russia. The novel is set in Kyiv, where political control has been taken, but certainly not secured, by the Bolsheviks. Chaos reigns everywhere, and as the novel opens we find Samson and his father under attack by a group of White guard Cossacks on horseback. Here are the opening lines of the novel:

“Samson was deafened by the sound of the saber striking his father’s head. He caught the glint of the flashing blade out of the corner of his eye and stepped into a puddle. His already dead father’s left hand pushed him aside so that the next saber neither quite struck nor quite missed, slicing off his right ear.”

The atmosphere of terror and indiscriminate violence that reigns in the city is perfectly captured for me by this scene of sabre-armed horsemen galloping through the street hacking at unarmed pedestrians. Samson soon finds himself “requisitioned” to the police force established by the Red Army and handed a crime to solve originating in his own apartment, where two Red soldiers have been billeted and are storing sacks of “requisitioned” goods.

The novel has a humorous tone at times, which is as unexpected as anything else in the disorder of 1919 Kyiv. And Samson’s detecting successes are helped along by his severed ear, about which I’ll say no
more, except that this bit of magical realism fits right in.

I enjoyed this story for all its quirky qualities and will definitely read the second installment, which has apparently already been written. Kurkov’s writing of the third novel of the series, we are told in the Translator’s Note, was interrupted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
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dianelouise100 | 5 other reviews | Apr 9, 2024 |

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Associated Authors

Paul Lequesne Translator
George Bird Translator
Sabine Grebing Translator, Übersetzer
Ylva Mörk Translator
Christa Vogel Translator
Dina Roll-Hansen Translator
Andrea Tompa Translator
Boris Dralyuk Translator
Johanna Marx Übersetzer, Übersetzer
Pablo Amargo Cover artist
Eva van Santen Translator
Andrew Bromfield Translator
吉岡 ゆき Translator
Ico Davids Translator
Sam Taylor Translator
Jan Hansen Translator
Claudia Dathe Translator
Reuben Woolley Translator
Boris Dralyov Translator
Kerstin Monschein Übersetzer
Annie Epelboin Translator
Angelika Schneider Übersetzer

Statistics

Works
45
Also by
3
Members
4,232
Popularity
#5,938
Rating
½ 3.7
Reviews
170
ISBNs
249
Languages
22
Favorited
21

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