📍 Ukraine 🇺🇦
Andrey Kurkov, is a prolific Ukrainian author and independent thinker who writes in Russian. He is the author of 19 novels; the latest being Grey Bees, which has been translated by Boris Dralyuk. The story is about a middle aged, disabled pensioner and devoted beekeeper, Sergey Sergeyich, from the war torn region of Donbas in Eastern Ukraine. He is living in this three street village, Little Starhorodivka, along with its only other resident, Pashka, which falls in the grey zone, between the Ukrainian army on one side and the separatists supported by the Russians on the other side. Sergeyich has become accustomed to living without electricity; making do with whatever food is available. Bees are the only thing he truly cares for. Now with spring approaching, he needs to take the bees away from all the bombing and shelling happening in and around his village. As he sets off on this journey, which soon becomes an adventure, in the pursuit of providing his bees a secure environment, he lands in the Russian controlled territory of Crimea. His Interactions with a Crimean Tatar family whilst in the Crimean village of Albat, who provide him and his bees shelter, make the Russian officials suspicious of his intentions. Despite the bureaucratic surveillance on his activities, he takes it upon himself to help a young Tatar girl cross the Crimean border during the return journey to his home, in the grey zone.
Complex political decisions regarding geographical issues need not colour human emotions. The characters in the book have their humanity intact despite a ravaging war surrounding them. The author beautifully constructs their simple emotional arcs, at times peppering it with wry, dark humour. Kurkov takes times to build the narrative. He makes it atmospheric by indulging us in the mundane, boring yet terrifying life of Sergeyich. The moments at Border control and various checkpoints are so nerve racking, and described so viscerally, that you can feel Sergeyich’s anxiety and panic in you. That’s the brilliance of Kurkov. Through the characters of Aisylu and Bekir, he highlights the plight of the marginalised group of Crimean Tatars under the Russian regime, who are an indigenous people of Crimea. Not to forget, the honeybees are as much a central character in the book, as Sergeyich is. The author weaves in their life cycle, behaviour and discipline into the narrative in the most scientifically accurate and fascinating manner.
It’s evident that the whole of Ukraine has become a Donbas now. In a flash, citizens have become refugees. Because one day, a megalomaniac called Putin decided to assert his autocratic zealotry over the region. Not just Ukraine, there are so many countries (Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine) and regions (Tigray in Ethiopia) that are devastated by war. Wars have happened since time immemorial. Will this present war too become a piece of history for posterity? Or will we learn and strive to prevent such wars from happening again? Will we try to be humans first?
~ JUST A GAY BOY. 😓