About Time I Read It: Ukraine Diaries by Andrey Kurkov

With war raging in Ukraine, I went looking for something by Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov. Figuring if anyone could help me understand what’s going on it would be Kurkov, since I enjoyed his 2011 dark comedic novel Death and the Penguin. Even though about a dozen of his books have been translated into English little is available for me to borrow either through my local public libraries or electronically but as luck would have it I was able to secure through Overdrive a copy of his 2015 Ukraine Diaries: Dispatches From Kiev.

As advertised, the book is a collection of diary entries spanning late November 2013 to April 2014. Beginning with pro-European protests in November, Kurkov then recalls the violent clashes of the Maidan Uprisings leading to the removal of pro-Russian President Yanukovcyh. From there, his daily entries discuss Russian land-grabs in Crimea and Russia’s subsequent orchestration of separatist uprisings in the eastern Donbas region. Of course like anyone’s diary, there’s no shortage of occurrences more mundane like family birthdays, business trips and pleasant evenings with good friends.

One might possibly think a guy like Kurkov, who was born in what’s now called St. Petersburg and writes in Russian might be sympathetic to Russian interference in Ukrainian politics. Not a chance. He completely rejects any Russian attempts to dictate Ukraine’s future, let alone seize its territory.

As I read Ukraine Diaries I was struck how much it reminded me of an old, dog-eared mass marketed paperback I read decades ago one summer during my college years. Kurkov’s collection of mostly short entries, many of discussing Russian acts of political interference and armed aggression I found eerily reminiscent of The Czech Black Book. Originally published in 1969, it was an attempt by the members of the Institute of History at the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences to document and publicize evidence of the USSR and its Warsaw Pact vassal states’ 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia to squash that country’s attempts at “Socialism with a human face.”

Right after finishing Ukraine Diaries I learned Kurkov now hosts a radio program on the BBC in which as an internally displaced person in Ukraine, “gives a personal account of daily life in war-torn Ukraine.” Even though I’m up to my eyeballs in podcasts and close to reaching my own personal saturation point when it comes to news about Ukraine I think I’ll give his Radio 4 program a chance.

8 thoughts on “About Time I Read It: Ukraine Diaries by Andrey Kurkov

  1. Nice to find a radio program that will connect to a book you’ve just read. Not sure where you are in the UK, but I am really excited that my daughter has just committed to begin her PhD at the LSE. All my family is in the UK so she’s really looking forward to it.


    • What you believe I’m in the United States? Just like you I’m in the West Coast. I live in a cabin in rural Oregon. (Before relocating I lived for years in Portland.)
      Congrats!! I’ve heard amazing things about LSE from a buddy of mine who is a semi-retired sociology professor. Several of his academic mentors he studied under at the University of Kansas were LSE grads. There’s also an LSE-sponsored podcast of public lectures I need to add to my subscription feed.
      Thanks for being a regular reader of my blog for all these years! Keep blogging and keep up the great work!!


  2. Pingback: Library Loot | Maphead's Book Blog

  3. Timely choice! I’ll have to look for it. We have a relatively large population of Ukrainian immigrants back home in Asheville, NC. Your third paragraph made me think of a conversation I had with one of the younger generation. She told me that almost all of them speak both Russian and Ukrainian but many of the older generation pretend not to understand it because they dislike Russia so much. And that was when I worked with her about 15 years ago.


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