Category: Andrey Kurkov

book review – The President’s Last Love

If there is one thing you remember about this book it is the idea of love and the heart after all it echoes right through from the start to the finish. Andrey Kurkov is a satirical writer that weaves you through Eastern European politics with the often heartless corruption rubbing shoulders with the other human emotions of love and happiness.

In this story you follow the president of the Ukraine and understand through various stages of his life flashing backwards and forwards over the last 40 years that he is essentially a straightforward bloke looking for love and something to love.

The four main story lines running alongside each other obviously give the chance to jump around and have various twists and plots going on but after a while you do wish it would settle down and just concentrate on the 2015 storyline of Bunin in the future.

But it doesn’t take long to get to grips with things. The story starts with the president having gone through a heart transplant and there is a metaphor for lost loves there as he relates his story and his great love that left him after his twin children died. He has known loss before with his first wife leaving him after his child was stillborn.

He has also known what it is like to be close to tragedy with his brother an inmate a mental institution after effectively opting out of life. Ironically it is his brother who finds happiness in marriage and fatherhood only to throw his life away when threatened with his existence in a Swiss clinic being taken away from him.

Back in the political world it seems that the Ukraine exists in the shadow of a mighty Russia and it is an odd relationship between them that allows the president just enough power to believe he is independent of his neighbour. The fight between the president and the oligarchs carries on as the central character Bunin wonders where the ottoman from his presidential office has gone after being stolen and why he is being challenged by forces both inside and out of the party.

Ultimately Bunin is just a vehicle to paint a picture of the past and the future and you have to come to the conclusion that not necessarily the right people get to the top and those that do are far from happy when they reach the summit.

In a final scene Bunin has just won another few years in power and wanders over to some old men living in a basement room opposite the Presidential offices. They fail to recognise him and moan about their way of life being threatened. Perhaps it is that simplicity that is something that is not only envied by those in positions that prevent them from feeling, making friendships and loving but also something we should all consider before becoming consumed by ambition.

The President’s Last Love – post IV

After having completed the book I am still not sure what I feel about it. Love seems to be something that the main character President Bunin is constantly searching for and what un folds in the 40 years the story spans is that he has often loved no one or worst given everything to the state.

As the end draws near you expect some sort of dramatic climax and there are a few twists that you didn’t see coming but ultimately you are left with a sense of the air going out of a tyre rather than anything else.

Part of the reason for that is the lack of a conclusion. The sort of life where he is always at the brink of death or disappointment is set to continue as he signs up for a few more years as president.

This is a bitter look at life at the top of a former part of the Soviet Union and although the money and the aides are all well and good the sacrifices you make to stay there and the hollowness in your life that means you live without a heart are plain to see.

Mind you it feels great to actually finish a book for the first time in a couple of weeks. A review will follow soon…

The President’s Last Love – Post III

Despite the various stories running at various stages of the President’s life the picture starts to become clearer that despite the mass of corruption around him Bunin is a relatively trustworthy sort.

He clearly has loved in the past and it is getting close to the moment when you discover if his second wife did give birth to twins. There is a nagging doubt that she doesn’t and that ends tragically. But he has also been a loyal friend to those he has met during his youth.

Meanwhile as president he is plagued by dreams that seem to have a meaning connected with the possibility of a coup. A Hammer Jeep features in some of his dreams along with his arch rival an oligarch responsible for power and energy.

The dreams are vivid and cause him concern but for now they are just indications of things to come.

More tomorrow….

The President’s Last Love – post II

Not sure the constant jumping backwards and forwards over 40 years is a great style. There are several key datelines running with 1985, 2004 and 21015 all being jumped between.

The question of how a drifter with no real views on politics or any personal ambition became president is lurking somewhere in the story and there are also some failed love affairs and possibly a final successful one as well somewhere to be discovered?

It is enjoyable and there are some moments that make you smile but so far Bunin is not yet a character you totally root for because you can only partially see him. The pieces of the historical jigsaw are being pout down at a fairly quick rate but there is a fair way to go yet.

More tomorrow…

book review: Penguin Lost


Sometimes it might seem like a mistake to put down one book and then immediately turn to the sequel. In some cases it has taken the author several years to formulate their thoughts so arguably it might be a wise idea to give your own thoughts some time to settle. But let’s face it Andrey Kurkov’s Penguin series is not like getting to the end of the first half of War & Peace and there are after all nagging questions that remain from the sudden end to Death and the Penguin.

In the ending to that book Viktor has jumped on a place intended to take his penguin pet Misha back to the Antarctic. He has flown away from the mafia and the prospect of being killed to lie-low.

When he gets to the ill-funded and remote Ukrainian scientific station there is a dying banker also on the run who kindly gives him a note to take back to Moscow as well as a credit card with funds.

Once back in the Ukraine the hunt starts to find Misha. That takes him into contact with some former characters plus into the world of politics. His talents with a pen come in handy again as a local politician decides to run for serious office. Viktor manages to walk through the cynical world of a local election helped by his protector who introduces him to the argument of the snail’s house, the place of protection.

Viktor does get in touch with his old fellow flat mates the young girl Sonya and Nina and it is the little girl that saves his life when he finally manages to track his penguin down to Chechnya.

In a rather surreal few chapters Viktor finds himself burning bodies in a gas pipe outlet working for a criminal politician who has hidden out in a war zone. The level of cynicism is widespread and it doesn’t seem to be a war with conventional sides but a case of victims trying to cope with a system of corruption and oppression through armed struggle rather than anything conventional because the lines of good and evil are blurred.

With Misha on his way back Viktor starts to plan for the end game that is this time an escape for both him and his penguin. A complicated arrangement leads him into Dubrovnik as part of the Ukrainian arm wrestling team and once there he uses the last of the money from the Moscow bankers account to pay for his passage on a boat that is meant to be heading to the Antarctic.

Instead it is going to South America captained by a couple of war criminals but Viktor is saved again, this time by marriage and finally the moment comes to say goodbye to Misha.

There is the same sense that Viktor can almost daydream his way through war zones, corrupt politicians and mafia bosses partly through ignorance and partly through holding good intentions.

Ultimately there is satire here about the political system and there are probably references to Eastern European politics that escape a British reader but it is the character of Misha the penguin that will be the takeaway from both of the books concerning him. Without speech, limited facial expressions and being almost permanently out of his environment the penguin manages to express both the disbelief and the indifference to what is going on in his adopted country that Viktor seems to be unable to formulate into either words or speech despite his ability as a writer.

book review: Penguin Lost


Sometimes it might seem like a mistake to put down one book and then immediately turn to the sequel. In some cases it has taken the author several years to formulate their thoughts so arguably it might be a wise idea to give your own thoughts some time to settle. But let’s face it Andrey Kurkov’s Penguin series is not like getting to the end of the first half of War & Peace and there are after all nagging questions that remain from the sudden end to Death and the Penguin.

In the ending to that book Viktor has jumped on a place intended to take his penguin pet Misha back to the Antarctic. He has flown away from the mafia and the prospect of being killed to lie-low.

When he gets to the ill-funded and remote Ukrainian scientific station there is a dying banker also on the run who kindly gives him a note to take back to Moscow as well as a credit card with funds.

Once back in the Ukraine the hunt starts to find Misha. That takes him into contact with some former characters plus into the world of politics. His talents with a pen come in handy again as a local politician decides to run for serious office. Viktor manages to walk through the cynical world of a local election helped by his protector who introduces him to the argument of the snail’s house, the place of protection.

Viktor does get in touch with his old fellow flat mates the young girl Sonya and Nina and it is the little girl that saves his life when he finally manages to track his penguin down to Chechnya.

In a rather surreal few chapters Viktor finds himself burning bodies in a gas pipe outlet working for a criminal politician who has hidden out in a war zone. The level of cynicism is widespread and it doesn’t seem to be a war with conventional sides but a case of victims trying to cope with a system of corruption and oppression through armed struggle rather than anything conventional because the lines of good and evil are blurred.

With Misha on his way back Viktor starts to plan for the end game that is this time an escape for both him and his penguin. A complicated arrangement leads him into Dubrovnik as part of the Ukrainian arm wrestling team and once there he uses the last of the money from the Moscow bankers account to pay for his passage on a boat that is meant to be heading to the Antarctic.

Instead it is going to South America captained by a couple of war criminals but Viktor is saved again, this time by marriage and finally the moment comes to say goodbye to Misha.

There is the same sense that Viktor can almost daydream his way through war zones, corrupt politicians and mafia bosses partly through ignorance and partly through holding good intentions.

Ultimately there is satire here about the political system and there are probably references to Eastern European politics that escape a British reader but it is the character of Misha the penguin that will be the takeaway from both of the books concerning him. Without speech, limited facial expressions and being almost permanently out of his environment the penguin manages to express both the disbelief and the indifference to what is going on in his adopted country that Viktor seems to be unable to formulate into either words or speech despite his ability as a writer.

The President’s Last Love – post I

It takes a couple of chapters – which are often just single pages – to get into the flow with this book. The story moves backwards and forwards from the past to the future, with the current day set in 2015. The subject of the story is Bunin the Ukrainian president who is clinging onto life after a heart by-pass and clinging onto power trying to survive the scheming politicians and business men that surround him.

Back in his past it is revealed he seemed to be totally normal with a brother in care, a wife who divorced him after a still birth and little signs of political ambition.

Of course how he got where he is is unravelling slowly but it becomes clear early on as he recovers that the wife of the deceased who gave permission for her husband’s heart to be used has set conditions that she lives within close proximity to the heart. It is that sort of oddity that you start to expect from Kurkov and to be honest start to enjoy because no doubt she will have some serious influence on the plot as it develops.

more tomorrow…