Saturday, August 16, 2014

Our August Author: Andrey Kurkov

This month we are having fun with Ukrainian novelist Andrey Kurkov's book Death and the Penguin, a dark humorous novel set in post-Soviet Kiev.

A couple of good places to get acquainted with Kurkov are this Guardian profile with intriguing details such as,
It was Kurkov's hobby of collecting cactuses – "I had about 1,500 at the peak of it" – that led him to an interest in languages, starting with botanical Latin.
Or this Australian Broadcasting Corporation interview which relates the plot of his children's book The Adventures of Baby Vacuum Cleaner Gosha, among other biographical insights. And while we are on focused on the quirky, Kurkov discusses penguins here.  Although this video interview from the Wilson Center is about a different book, it contains some good insights into his writing process.

Bearing in mind that Death and the Penguin was published in 1996 so lacks some relevancy to more recent events in Ukraine, here are some links relating to the current situation:

Kurkov's Facebook page is a great place to get his take on current events.  He also wrote an article for The Guardian in March: Why I stayed as the crisis in Ukraine flared,
Another morning without war. It is horrifying to think that tomorrow or the day after we may not be able to say that.
Also worth a look in this vein is this interview from Sampsonia Way. I know the endangered journalists in the novel brought to mind Anna Politkovskaya for me. Kurkov has had a taste of this himself,
After Ukraine’s independence, I was openly followed for three months in 2001, after the murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze. I was followed by security officers who wanted to put psychological pressure on me because I was writing too much about the murder for the international press. I was also attacked by the government media syndicate.
As it happens, Kurkov just published his journal of the recent protests, Ukraine Diaries last month, so if you are looking for some street level insight into what's going on, this would be a great follow-up.

Ukraine Diaries is acclaimed writer Andrey Kurkov's first-hand account of the ongoing crisis in his country. From his flat in Kiev, just five hundred yards from Independence Square, Kurkov can smell the burning barricades and hear the sounds of grenades and gunshot. Kurkov's diaries begin on the first day of the pro-European protests in November, and describe the violent clashes in the Maidan, the impeachment of Yanukovcyh, Russia's annexation of Crimea and the separatist uprisings in the east of Ukraine. Going beyond the headlines, they give vivid insight into what it's like to live through - and try to make sense of - times of intense political unrest.   

Finally, a bonus link: New Yorker photograpner David Monteleone's slideshow of Revolutionary Relics from the Ukrainian protests.

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