8:23:14 Ukraine Diaries, a book review

Rarely does a novelist of international stature have a ringside seat at two revolutions in his own country in two decades' time. Andrey Kurkov has.

In late 2004, Ukraine had its peaceful, bloodless Orange Revolution, the cause being charges of rigged national elections earlier in the year. Kurkov was in downtown Kiev, manning a table where he served tea, sandwiches, and cognac to protesters who happened by.

[Ukraine Diaries]

In late 2013, Ukranian politics entered a much more caustic phase with charges of corruption at the top. Protesters who gathered in Maidan (Independence) Square would settle for nothing less than driving President Yanukovych from office. More than 100 protesters died in the subsequent struggle. Kurkov, again, was on the scene, the apartment where he and his family live a mere 500 yards from Maidan Square.

Ukraine Diaries by Andrey Kurkov is an eyewitness account of a revolution-in-progress, a revolution, as I posted earlier, that went awry with loss of Crimea and continuing clashes in East Ukraine to this day.

Kurkov's signature dark humor is on full display, but this time it's real life, not fiction.

Possibly the most appealing aspect of Ukraine Diaries is how Kurkov seamlessly weaves casualties, explosions, and paranoia in a country gone down the path of revolution with daily accounts of his family life.

For son Anton's birthday, they all go out to the Paintball Planet club and pizza. The family takes trips out of Kiev to a countryside home and plant potatoes and onions. Kurkov keeps up speaking engagements out of the country.

Throughout the revolution, Kurkov admits to getting precious little writing done for his Lithuanian novel-in-progress--a chapter or two. With the country's future in the balance, he is perpetually distracted by Internet newsfeeds of what's happening on the ground. But he keeps up his diary.

We, as readers, have in Ukraine Diaries a first-hand account that goes far beyond the usual simplistic narrative given the Russian/Ukrainian conflict in the West. For example, Kurkov catalogues the political factions, seemingly endless, that vary from Cosplay "warriors of Narnia" to hardcore criminals/neo-Nazis.

Ukraine Diaries ends five months after its first entry. Kurkov knows his family never again will vacation in Crimea, as they did during this memoir. But it is Kurkov's ability to laugh that will keep him going. His son Theo asks, Dad, who was better, Stalin or Lenin? Without missing a beat, Kurkov replies, Lenin, he died younger!

Ukraine Diaries: Dispatches from Kiev by Andrey Kurkov, Harvill Secker, London, 2014, 264 pp. ISBN: 978-1-846-55947-1

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The Cat at Light's End

Read the story collection, The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

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