poemless. a slap in the face of public taste.

August 13, 2009

literary dish: Kurkov, Surkov and Booking through Thursday.

Filed under: Culture: Russia — poemless @ 4:55 PM
Tags: , , ,

Page Six, for bookworms and Russia watchers.

The Good Angel of Death.

Aleks at SRB has alerted me to the fact that Andrey Kurkov’s Dobryĭ angel smerti is FINALLY out in English translation. Emphasis on “English.” The Good angel of death appears to currently be available only in Great Britain, England, or the UK. However, my library in the States has it on order, so you may want to check your library in a month or so. If your library is the kind that normally carries such things. If it isn’t, it should be. There is a library board election in your future.

For those who have not yet been introduced to the fine, fine prose of Kurkov, well, that’s just terribly tragic. You should read the novella, Death and the penguin, about a simple fellow who writes obituaries and has a penguin. The plot involves the mafia and all types of dark, thrilling intrigues, but it’s really about the relationship between this oblivious man and his observant charge, Misha the penguin. Unbearably charming and existentialist. And well written. Do not read The President’s Last Love. It is ambitious. And long. And just doesn’t work. Though it does contain a brilliant scene in which President Putin holds an international summit in a swimming pool.

If you are wondering, I generally don’t read books in Russian unless I am paid to do so. And if you are still wondering, Kurkov is Ukrainian but he writes in Russian.

From the BBC:

The new book by the Ukrainian author of ‘Death and the Penguin’ is a psychedelic Slavic romp through the deserts of Kazakhstan in search of the Ukrainian national spirit. Andrey joins us from Kiev to talk about The Good Angel of Death.

Click to listen to an interview with Andrey Kurkov here. It’s a bit after 8:00.

Close to Zero.

Word on the street is that Vladislav Surkov (first deputy Chief of Staff to Medvedev) has written a novel. This is not so surprising, given his creative temperament. He went to drama school and has written lyrics for the goth band Agata Kristi. He is credited with penning the “Sovereign Democracy” doctrine, which is the Russian policy of not letting idiots in places like America tell them how to run their country. People say he created Russia’s “managed democracy” and presides over the Putin youth cult “Nashi.” In short, if there is some complaint being lodged against Russia by the American or British press, Surkov has been accused of being the evil mastermind behind whatever it is we’re all upset about. I might be one of the few people who really admire the man. Also, he is very attractive. Whether or not he in fact is the author of this new “gangsta fiction” monograph remains a mystery.

Reuters reports: Has Kremlin mastermind given game away in novel?

A source at the Russky Pioner magazine which published the novella confirmed to Reuters that the story was Surkov’s work.
“Yes, it was him,” the source said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The Kremlin denied that Surkov had authored the novel. “He definitely didn’t write it,” said a spokesman.

But media reports pointed out that the pseudonym used — Natan Dubovitsky — is almost identical to the name of Surkov’s second wife, Natalya Dubovitskaya.

Since denying everything is Surkov’s M.O., I’m going to believe it is his work until he holds a press conference taking full responsibility for it. I hope it will be the kind where he yells at hack journalists for not having read Dostoyevsky. I love it when he does that.

Andrey Kolesnikov, the editor-in-chief of Russky Pioner and also Russia’s best-known political correspondent, told Reuters he had decided to publish the work because of its artistic quality, despite not knowing who wrote it.

“I received the text by email with a request from the author that he was interested in my opinion,” Kolesnikov said.

“I really liked the novel. I am convinced it is a work of quality … for the author, it was an act of self-discovery.”

Kolesnikov said the author had told him he had previously contributed to the magazine. Surkov has authored an column in Russky Pioner

In one revealing part of the story, the opposition journalist Nikita Mariyevna tells Samokhodov she hates those in power — a “greasy crowd” of governors, deputies, ministers, security service officials and police.

But the book’s hero replies: “It’s not those in power that you hate, but life.” He goes on to explain that unfairness, the use of force and stagnation are just part of life and urges her to live with this rather than try to destroy it.

Analysts speculated that Surkov might have written the book as a signal to the main pro-Kremlin party United Russia that times could be changing and they might face greater political competition in future.

“It’s not those in power that you hate, but life.” It sure sounds like him… If it is not Surkov pretending to be someone else, it is someone pretending to be Surkov pretending to be someone else.

Reviews c/o the Moscow Times: Surkov Writes Novel About Corruption.

The novel has received mixed reviews by Russky Pioner readers, from “boring [expletive]” and “trash with pretensions” to “talented writing” and “really cool.”

You might wonder how something could be boring and trash and cool all at the same time. Rent Henry & June and you’ll soon find out…

That said, Kolesnikov -however you feel about the man- can write. I’m inclined to trust his judgement.

What’s your recent Worst?

Booking through Thursday asks, “What’s the worst book you’ve read recently?”

If it were not abundantly clear in my last post, He’s just not that into you. I am just not that into this book.

Your pick?

Just as important as having books recommended, one should know what books to not waste hours of one’s precious life trying to finish. When people do that, it makes them bitter. I’ve observed this phenomenon in all of the “100 Books” lists. Though now adults, many people remain really upset and bitter about having to have read certain things in school, apparently.

In case you are concerned, I have no plans to do this each week. Often, maryb at “Alone with each other” posts these, and I’ve grown quite fond of them. However, she has been out of commission with vacations and cold and such, so I’ve taken it upon myself to post one this week. Also, I have some mental block or superstition about posting in twos. I like threes. There is a sense of completion with three.

Ok, thank you for reading, and have a lovely weekend, mes amis!



  1. No one has read a terrible book recently? Impressive.

    Comment by poemless — August 14, 2009 @ 5:03 PM | Reply

  2. Doom read Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz, the worst writer of all time.

    Comment by DOOM!!!! — August 15, 2009 @ 10:44 AM | Reply

  3. I always begin them but never finish. Usually around page 100.

    Comment by seansrussiablog — August 15, 2009 @ 2:07 PM | Reply

  4. Same as Sean, but make that page 10 for me.

    If you *have* to read it, there’s always Wikipedia and teh internets.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — August 16, 2009 @ 3:35 AM | Reply

  5. Thanks for the notification! I knew this book was coming out, I just didn’t know when. I could just pick up the Russian edition here in Moscow, but am too lazy to work my way through it right now.

    “Death and the Penguin” rocks.

    Comment by Scowspi — August 18, 2009 @ 5:36 AM | Reply

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