A Matter of Death and Life, a book review
One axiom about writing literature is the shorter forms are much less forgiving than longer ones. At the extreme, it is incredibly hard, if not impossible, to write a good haiku, if one stumbles even once, as compared with the loping stride of a novel that doesn't aim for uncompromised perfection.
For this reason, A Matter of Death and Life by Ukrainian novelist Andrey Kurkov, a flyweight novel at 111 pages, testifies to the author's prowess at executing where space counts--rather like a gymnast going for a perfect 10.0 on the parallel bars--to give a rewarding, if quick, read through the familiar digs of his lovable, but crime-infested, hometown of Kiev, post-Communism.
With the right details and well-observed movement of Tolya's
thoughts, the reader knows everything that matters about this
marriage--it's over--in a mere page and a half!
But more than a failed marriage story, A Matter of Death and Life takes us into crime-ridden Kiev, where the fall of a police state has been replaced by "crime pays" reality. Tolya admits to knowing a number of killers, a profession, he regrets is losing its romance, becoming more about money: as in the lucrative, rising profession of "contract killer."
With signature deadpan black humor, Kurkov weaves a story turning the idea of life after death on its head. Why is the title A Matter of Death and Life, when the usual expression swaps the latter for the former (as in "a matter of life and death")?
Again, not to spoil the fun, so read this quick novel for the answer.
In sum, a great follow-on to Andrey Kurkov's Death and the Penguin,
reviewed here 10:11:11. Even at its short length, A Matter of Death and
Life is writing that for all its virtuous pungency, engages and moves,
but not at a breathless pace. No, a Kurkov reader, no matter the length
of the fiction, will relax into what becomes for many addictive prose.
A Matter of Life and Death by Andrey Kurkov, translated from the Russian by George Bird, The Harvill Press, London, 2005, 112 pp. ISBN: 1-84343-104-1
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