The Good Angel of Death

31 Aug

Kazaxia is back from its summer break with its first book review.

Andrey Kurkov‘s The Good Angel of Death takes the reader on a surreal romp through the crazy hinterlands of the former Soviet Union in the wild days of the late 1990s. Kolya, the book’s hero, discovers a mysterious manuscript secreted inside a copy of War and Peace and this find sets off a strange chain of events that sees him having to flee Kiev for a journey of discovery in the deserts around Aktau in Kazakhstan.

There he comes across a strange bunch of bedfellows from Kazakh nomads to Ukranian nationalists and operatives from the Ukranian secret services. The story satirises the quest for national identity that many of the states formed from the collapse of the Soviet Union embarked on in the 90s.

At times the novel almost spills over into farce, but Kurkov’s sparse prose style keeps the action moving along, albeit at a somewhat relaxed pace. He has a fine eye for the fine details of everyday life in the former Soviet Union countries in the late 90s with corruption and the Mafia at every turn.

The Good Angel of Death was originally published in Russian in 2000 as Добрый ангел смерти. The English translation first appeared in 2009. Kurkov was born near Leningrad in 1961 and moved to Kiev in the 1980s, where he is still based. Other titles to look out for by Kurkov include Death and the Penguin and its follow-up Penguin Lost.


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