A Matter of Death and Life by
pbk out March 05
An early (1996) novella, not much more than a short story really, from the pen
of the quirky Ukrainian, Andrey Kurkov. But it just might give you a taste for
the later novels.
It's a simple story. Depressed by his "dead-end situation in life" and lacking
the will power to commit suicide, Tolya employs, at one remove, a hitman for
the job. Only he discovers some kind of zest for life in his new relationship
with a young prostitute, and must find a way of preventing his own death. That
this will involve employing a further hitman to remove the first is, you may
protest, not a purely Ukrainian solution. But there is much more originality to
come, notably in the later twists and turns of Kurkov's tale, ones that I think
most crime fans might enjoy.
Meanwhile enjoy Tolya's wry observations of life in post-Soviet Kiev as,
"lacking the necessary will, freedom or cash" he stomps the streets "in a state
of mild trepidation…studying the faces of the girls waiting for clients…
displaying in semi-darkness and street lighting, all the promise of a lurid book
jacket." A local version of Six Degrees of Separation, for example that uses
known killers instead of Kevin Bacon. Or a definition of being alive: "what one
was so long as no-one knew anything to the contrary."
George Bird provides a very readable translation, as he does with later
Kurkov novels Death and the Penguin and Penguin Lost (both available in
paperback from Vintage), to which you might very well wish to gravitate.