Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov is coming to Michigan to discuss latest novel and life in Kyiv during Russian war

The best-selling writer will be making stops in Hamtramck and Grosse Pointe

May 9, 2022 at 2:14 pm
click to enlarge Andrey Kurkov (left). - Wikipedia Commons
Wikipedia Commons
Andrey Kurkov (left).

Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov and his wife were at home in Kyiv when Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022. Though his family has since had to relocate several times and are temporarily staying near the Hungary and Slovakia border, Kurkov has no intention of moving from his country.

He says he is “internally” displaced.

“It means that we were forced out of our home but remained in the country,” he explains. “There are millions of displaced persons. Many don't want to leave Ukraine, and stay in the west of the country.”

Kurkov will be discussing all this and more during two talks at Hamtramck’s Book Suey on Tuesday, May 10, and the Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church on Wednesday, May 11. The talks will center around his most recently translated novel, Grey Bees, which dramatizes the Russo-Ukrainian war that started in 2014 through the eyes of a beekeeper. The book was originally published in 2018.

Kurkov, who writes in Russian and uses the Russian spelling “Kiev,” has been called the Haruki Murakami of Ukraine. The 60-year-old author and journalist has written 19 books, including the best-selling Death and the Penguin, that have been translated into over 30 languages. He’s known for employing black humor to write about post-Soviet Ukraine.

Since the 2022 invasion, he’s become a regular commentator on the conflict. In a weekly show on BBC Radio 4 called Letter From Ukraine, Kurkov talks about his daily life in Kyiv where he lives with his wife and three children.

He tells Metro Times via email about his most profound memory of the war.

“[We were] standing in a traffic jam 10km to the west from Kiev, listening to the artillery fire and battle noise in Gastomel on the right side of the road and seeing how a young driver in a car next to ours was falling asleep at the wheel,” he says. “His car [was] filled with three kids, a cat, and obviously his wife. I understood later that he was probably driving all the previous night. He had Dnipro's car numberplate.”

In an interview with The Guardian, Kurkov said he’s “not scared of war anymore” and that eventually, you adapt psychologically.

Grey Bees may help give readers some context of the war’s history. Thousands of refugees fleeing Ukraine’s separatist-ruled Donbas region settled in Kyiv just after the war began in 2014.

“One of them told me once that he was driving regularly to a village where there were still seven families remaining,” Kurkov writes in the email. “There was no electricity or gas in this village, no shops, no post office, and no local government which meant that the village was outside Ukrainian and outside Russian control in the grey zone.”

Kurkov wanted to write about Ukrainians who were living in the “no man’s land of this war,” as he puts it, so this is where Grey Bees takes place.

“There were many bee-keepers in Donbas, and in Ukraine in general bee-keepers are considered wise men, so it was natural to make Sergeich (the main character) a beekeeper who is concerned about his bees more than about himself,” he says.

Therein lies the black humor we mentioned earlier.

This is Kurkov’s first time in Michigan, who says he is always down to support independent bookstores. Tuesday’s talk at Book Suey is from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at 10345 Joseph Campau Ave. in Hamtramck. Wednesday’s event at the Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church located at 17150 Maumee Ave starts at 7 p.m. and is sponsored by the Grosse Pointe Library. Both are free to attend.

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