Friday, October 8, 2010

The Good Angel of Death

Kurkov is truly funny

Andrey Kurkov 

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.

A Shapechanging spirit that protects wayward travellers.


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.


Anonymous said...

I ve a couple of his books sat on my shelves for a while ,they ll be my first ,look forward to them after your review ,all the best stu

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Stu, this was just a nice read. A few reviews I've read about it says it's not his best, That appears to be Death & the Penguin? & that he could have made more of the nationalist issue, but not knowing any of that, I just enjoyed it. Oh & it seems he got into some stick for writing it in Russian & not Ukrainian.

Bellezza said...

Have I told you that I adore all things Russian, too? (I know, an Italian girl who loves Italy, Japan and Russia, go figure...) This book sounds so exciting! I wonder how much is factual, and how much is fiction, it doesn't matter I still want to read it.

Have added you to my blogroll because I love your blog; it's always fascinating to visit.

@parridhlantern said...

have had an infatuation with russia myself in the past, Dosteovksky, Turgenev, Solzhenitsyn etc.

Thanks for the honour of featuring on your Blogroll, as your Blog was one of the first that I read & inspired me in my first steps into the Blogosphere & you have supported me (without realising it) in my first efforts & have been there in the comments ever since. So I'm deeply honoured & again Thanks.

Pete said...

This looks like a fascinating book. The only Russian I've read is a few of Dosteovksky's. Perhaps I should look this guy up.

@parridhlantern said...

Yes give it a go, it would make a good plane book for you, not to heavy, just a good read & funny in a gentlr way, mild humour as opposed to LOL.