Saturday, June 16, 2007

Ukrainian Presidents

If you are into things Ukrainian go and buy Andrey Kurkov's 'The President's last love'. It's brilliant! (Though I also found Safran Foers' 'Everything is illuminated' screamingly funny, and not all my readers did....incidentally, the son's partner's brother-in-law organised Safran Foers' reading in Berlin so he must have liked it, too).

Kurkov has written quite a lot of books about the Ukraine and its political shenanigans, even though some of the books appear at first sight to be about penguins. But then, life in Ukraine does give him plenty of material all the time.

This book is in 3 parts; the president's life as a young man in the late 1980s/early 90s, then between 2003 and 2005 when he is a deputy minister, amongst other occupations, and then in 2015/2016 when he is the president of his country. But the book is not written consecutively - the chapters start with 2015, then 1988, then 2003 and again and again and again through the same scheme. The book very clearly shows his path to greatness - after a bit of university education he gets in with the Komsomol members who even after the fall of the Soviet Union are close to those in power, and pick up the concepts of capitalism extremely quickly, including the buying of politicians. In the middle period his main preoccupation seems to be with his domestic life, though politics keeps rearing its head, as do brown envelopes which he tries to ignore. In 2015 the book starts with him having had a heart transplant, though all is not as it seems, and life becomes very complicated. The heart comes with two complications, one of which is the widow of the former owner who apparently cannot bear to be parted from his heart and therefore lives in a little flat of the presidents building - this was one of the conditions of the transplant. This 2015 period also describes very clearly how much the president is at the mercy of his men who feed him the information he needs, but are not above organising their own little bits of shenanigans. Like Marat, the president likes to relax in a bath, but a bath filled with iced water, perhaps on account of once nearly having drowned in an ice hole in the river. Add to all that the schizophrenic brother, the president's bad sperm, the canonisation of Lenin, and complicated housing arrangements of the early 90s and you have a cocktail of bizarre events, many of which, alas, are probably only too true in the Ukraine of today.

Apparently Kurkov writes in Russian - which does not go down well with the Ukrainian literary folk. (That could be an interesting way of improving one's Russian....). Photo from Wikipedia, someone called Kubik.


varske said...

Would that be the Andrei Kurkov who wrote Death of a Penguin? I wouldn't say it was screamingly funny but silly in an amusing way.

violainvilnius said...

It would indeed. I like surreal!

violainvilnius said...

unfortunately, of course, surreal in Ukraine is probably real.