The Gardener from Ochakov by Andrey Kurkov (translated by Amanda Love Darragh). ‘We live in an interesting country, these are interesting times … we can’t help being interesting ourselves’. A Russo-Ukrainian novel. My review for Nudge.
The first of Kurkov’s novels to be translated into English was Death and the Penguin, in 2001; the Russian-language original, Smert’postoronnego, had been published in Ukraine five years earlier. It was an oblique, unpredictable success. A hard-boiled portrait of post-Soviet Ukraine, with its gangsters and corrupt politicians and its moral and physical uncertainty, could easily have attracted some earnest critical interest, but this was different. It seemed plausible and even matter of fact, offering an insight into its time and place, but with this came a protagonist with a pet penguin and a job straight from a sinister version of GK Chesterton’s Club of Queer Trades, where eccentrically employed members must have invented the means by which they earn their living.