Andrey Kurkov – Grey Bees (2020)
An account of war that is at once chilling and warm-hearted.
January 2023 • Fiction
I've spent a lot of time thinking about the subtleties of this war novel. The ways in which its writer, Andrey Kurkov, manages to convey the horror of living through a seemingly never-ending war by carefully lifting out its most minute details; how he's able to capture the solitude of sticking around the village one calls home—the village battered by shells and left for dead by family, friends, and neighbours—as well as the pride one must feel to survive in that same location; to still call that place home even if the things that made it a home have long ago disappeared.
Sergey Sergeyich, the book's stoic main character, is a beekeeper. As one of the village's two remaining residents, he's survived for years in Little Starhorodivka. The village has but two streets, and is located in Ukraine's “Grey Zone”—the area between Ukraine's troops, and pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas region. It has been without electricity for years, and he heats his home with a stove, and candles taken from the village's bombed-out church. He spends his time getting by as best he can in the face of adversity, taking care of his home and bees, and arguing and drinking vodka with his frenemy, Pashka.
With the onset of warmer weather and the increased shelling of Little Starhorodivka, Sergey decides to take his bees to greener pastures, where they can collect their pollen in peace. What follows is an account of war that is at once chilling and warm-hearted—a portrait of humans witnessing the senselessness and absurdity of war, through the eyes of a sensitive everyman, making it one of the best books (if not the best book) I've read on war.
Grey Bees by Andrey Kurkov
Translated by Boris Dralyuk
Published by MacLehose Press in 2020
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