Have you heard the one about the Russian, the Kazakh & the ex KGB officer? No. How about the one about a Bedouin, a Ukrainian & a Chameleon, still no? Then let me introduce you to Andrey Kurkov's "The Good Angel of Death.
This is the story of Kolya, a Russian night-watchman, who, whilst moving into a new flat in Kiev discovers a book (covered with marginalia), hidden in a copy of War and Peace. This awakens his curiosity & he sets out to discover more about the mysterious annotator.
This leads him to the to the grave of a Ukrainian nationalist who died in suspicious circumstances and was buried with a manuscript. Kolya exhumes the manuscript & learns that an item of national importance is buried at some old fort in the deserts of Kazakhstan. So far fairly straight forward, yes?
In Kolya's day job (sorry, night) as a watchman he watches over a warehouse full of dried baby food, which turn out to be hallucinogenic drugs, that are wanted by a criminal gang, who then threaten Kolya, causing him to flee.
He now sets out on the quest for this item (you know, that one of national importance), armed with 3 tins of the baby milk & not much else. On this adventure he crosses the Caspian sea in a floating fish factory, gets lost in the desert, acquires a beautiful Kazakh wife & gets involved with the machination of 2 Ukrainian nationalists & a KGB colonel, he also befriends a Chameleon who could be a spirit that protects wayward travellers.
On one review I read that this is written as though it was a dream, that it meanders it's own sweet path through the political drama of Ukrainian nationalism. I am slightly paraphrasing the original, although the sentiment is the same & to my mind almost perfect, I say almost because it's not a dream, but a daydream.
My reasoning is that in a dream, you can feel fear, that there is a feeling of not being in control, where as in this book Kolya wanders around confronted by armed thugs, by the KGB, is shot at, gets lost in the desert & yet he seems fine, almost without a care in the world as if it will all work out somehow. There is this sense, as in a daydream, that no matter what happens, it's ok because Kolya knows it's not real, he can choose to leave at any moment, he can walk away.
The Good Angel of Death is a strange and beguiling novel, that eases you into it's world and as you meander along in Kolya's wake, you will learn interesting facts such as; how Snickers can contribute to international understanding, or what quality of Vodka is needed to induce a joyful indifference to the immediate future. But apart from it's obvious educational use, this book is just a gentle and funny read that will charm you with it's storytelling.