Andrej Kurkow

Portrait Andrej Kurkow
© Hartwig Klappert

Andrey Kurkov was born in Budugošč’ near Leningrad [St. Petersburg today] in 1961. He has lived in Kyiv since his early childhood and Russian is his mother tongue. He graduated from the National Pedagogical Institute for Foreign Languages in Kyiv in 1983 and since pursued various activities.

Kurkov already started writing as a schoolboy and has written many novels and children’s books. His early works, such as »»Smert’ postoronnego« [1996; Eng. »Death and the Penguin«, 2010], »Dobryj angel smerti« [2000; Eng. »The Good Angel of Death«, 2009], and »Milyj drug, tovarišč pokojnika« [2001; Eng. »A friend of the deceased«, 1997] are detective novels that paint a picture of the Kyiv of the post-perestroika period. Animals and lonely marginal figures are often the heroes of these stories about failure in a demoralized and egoistic society. The narrative flow – contrary to many thrillers – is mostly calm and the mood predominantly melancholic. Kurkov also writes social novels that raise political and philosophical questions. »Poslednjaja ljubov’ presidenta« [2005; Eng. »The President’s Last Love«, 2009] is about the fictitious Ukrainian president Bunin, who increasingly becomes the plaything of his advisors. With this twisted story, Kurkov refers to shady figures in recent Ukrainian history – Viktor Juščenko and Julia Timošenko. Kurkov’s novel »Nočnoj moločnik« [2007, Eng. »The Milkman in the Night«, 2011] again reflects the absurdities of everyday life in Kyiv by depicting the life of the Ukrainian middle class, which keeps its head above water in the capital’s suburbs with services of all kinds. In »Skazanie ob istinno narodnom kontrolere« [tr: The People’s Controller], oscillating between reality and fantasy, he tells the story of Pavel Dobrynin, who is unexpectedly elected »People’s Controller for Life for the entire Soviet Union« and encounters colorful characters on his travels, including a deserted angel in search of a righteous Soviet citizen, for one does not yet exist in heaven. Through the prism of his surreal and satirically exaggerated prose, Kurkov casts a time-diagnostically precise, at times even prophetic glance at the conditions in his post-Soviet homeland. In 2014, his »Ukrainian Diaries: Dispatches from Kiev« reported on the revolution in the Ukrainian capital where he lives. In his period novel »Samson i Nadežda« [2021; tr: Samson and Nadežda], he tells a crime story from revolutionary-era Kyiv. His 2022 » Vermessung des Krieges« [tr: Surveying the War] is a very personal diary with reflections on how the war changes and reinterprets everything.

Kurkov has also written over twenty screenplays and worked for the State Film Studio A. Dovženko in Kyiv. His awards include the Nikolai Gogol Prize [Rome] and the Readers’ Prize of the European Literature Festival [Cognac]. In 2014, he was made a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in France.