Enter the Mysterious Stranger. Stepan, an industrious handyman of about age sixty-five, offers to live in a backyard shed. Elena knows he'll do the work she can't get Igor to do--and for a pittance. As for Igor, he must unravel the mystery of this "Gardener from Ochakov," while finding life taking him to an unexpected time and place.
Igor thinks he's going to a retro costume party at his friend Kolya's, wearing a vintage Soviet policeman's uniform, leather boots, toting a gun and a bundle of roubles, courtesy of Stepan. But soon he's strolling into the coastal town of Ochakov. The year is 1957, decades before Igor's birth in 1980.
Throughout the rest of The Gardener from Ochakov, Igor time-travels, shuttling back and forth between 1957 Ochakov and 2010 Kiev.
Romance finds for Igor a red-headed fishmonger wife in Ochakov, Valya. Kurkov's narrative stew only thickens.
Add to that, murder attempts, murders--present-day and past--and Kurkov is building a storyline typical of his straightforward, but addictive prose (I finished the book in under a day). Interspersed are Kurkov's signature humorous asides, as this describing recent rain:
The conclusion of The Gardener from Ochakov has more narrative threads in play than did Death and the Penguin, which I reviewed here. But both novels have a breathless, frenetic finish, in which among other things, the protagonist gains an epiphany about life. In The Gardener from Ochakov, given more characters bouncing off each other, the wonder is it's still sorted out for a satisfying fairy-tale ending.
The Gardener from Ochakov by Andrey Kurkov, translation by Amanda Love Darragh, Harvell Secker, London, 2013, 314 pp., ISBN: 978-1-846-55615-9.
Read Charlie Dickinson's
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