Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The President's Last Love - Andrey Kurkov

This more substantial outing from Kurkov is a brilliant, multi-layered fairy tale. It is an autobiographical account of Ukrainian President and one time catering student Sergeyy Pavlovich Bunin. Ostensibly a story of the loves in this man’s life, it is a wry look at politics and the human condition.

This is a much more subtle book than Kurkov’s earlier tales (which are themselves master works of subtlety). The sense of the absurd is still apparent along with an eye for the bizarre and the outright hilarious. But the work blends these aspects into a finer consistency, providing a smoother backdrop to the tragi-comedy of Bunin’s life.

The settings are beautifully realized, the characters are sophisticated constructions, and the political background is left largely to our imaginations which, already fed with twenty-four hour news, are capable of filling in the gaps.

Some find the construction of the work difficult, but the short chapters of almost apodictic quality are superb vignettes that contain more detail than some novelists manage in a whole book. And, moving toward a series of resolutions, the interweaving of several time lines is highly effective. We are introduced to the main character in much the same way we would come to know a real person. There is much we never learn; there is no plot, just a life. That said, this life story is imbued with enormous detail and is lovingly told.

It was good to discover a new author. It is even better to realize just how much his work is improving from an already excellent starting point. I await his next with eager anticipation.