Best-selling author and humorist Andrey Kurkov
The Kiev Post has a fascinating interview with best-selling Ukrainian author and humorist Andrey Kurkov:
Andrey Kurkov, a native of St Petersburg, Russia, has become somewhat of a globetrotter in recent years, but he still feels at home in Kyiv, where “nearly all, even the oligarchs, are relaxed.” Just back from Belgium and shortly before leaving for France, this top-selling Ukrainian writer took time out to meet me for lunch in El Asador, an Argentinian restaurant in Podil.
Kurkov has a radiant smile and appears to be very much at peace with himself as we talk.
“Kyiv has this sort of Mediterranean ambience,” he says. “It's a city where no one wants to work but rather sit back in a cafe over a cup of coffee. Lovely ambience, isn't it?” With these words he orders the Alubias vegetable soup (Hr 20) and the El Gauchito grilled veal chop (Hr 51) with baked potatoes.
One wonders whether Kurkov has always been that relaxed. His way to success has been long, as with the breakdown of the Soviet Union there came a collapse of the publishing business. In the early 1990s he switched to writing film scripts to earn his living, eventually gaining fame in that domain. Now a member of the European Film Academy, Kurkov was on the jury team of the recent Berlin International Film Festival.
Worldwide recognition first came to my outspoken lunch companion after the release of the French-Ukrainian comedy-drama “A Friend of the Deceased” (1997) for which he wrote the script. The movie was produced in France and premiered in Cannes, bringing the scriptwriter a nomination at the European Film Awards.
“So far it's been, I think, the only film of Ukrainian co-production that ever ran in cinemas in Europe, the U.S. and Australia,” Kurkov says finishing his Diet Coke (Hr 4 for 250 ml).
It was indeed the year when luck smiled at him. Shortly afterwards his novel “Picnic on Ice” became the first bestseller by a writer from the CIS. The screen version of this story is currently in pre-production in Britain, where earlier the cartoon based on the novel was released.
Kurkov is a frequent guest in Britain, Germany, Switzerland and France, where he spends half of the year on business. These are his primary destinations, though sometimes he heads as far north as Iceland.
“Nice people up there,” he says of the Icelandic. “I remember meeting their prime minister for a talk. We drank vodka, the local specialty called 'Black Death,' which goes with rancid shark fillets.” The writer looks forward to visiting Iceland again in September to take part in a literature festival in Reykjavik.
In Search of Lost Humor
Kurkov is about to resume work on his next novel, though these days he seems to be more of a reporter. Among other things, he has recently done a feature for the Guardian on the upcoming British parliamentary election. His entry apparently provoked a heated debate among the editors there, as Kurkov raised the issue of humor's decay in Britain.
“The Britons have stopped laughing at their politicians,” he explains with a concerned look. “It's just that the quality of political caricature leaves much to be desired. There's total apathy in that respect, as if life wasn't funny anymore.”
Humor is something Kurkov considers vital for the mental health of society, especially when it comes to politics. He recalls the first-class caricatures in the Punch magazine issues of the early 20th century (he happens to own some) and admits the Guardian is likely to do a follow-up on the humor issue, so it's not yet a hopeless case.
Neither it is for Ukraine. Isn't there humor involved in the Culture Ministry's calling Kurkov before the election to say they'll fund a film that he wrote a script for – provided he publicly supports Yanukovych? The writer grins at the mere thought, taking a sip coffee with whipped cream (Hr 8). He seems to be quite enthusiastic about the Orange Revolution and believes in its long-term, if not immediate effects.
“We'll have to wait nine months at the least till something has changed,” he says again, kiddingly, but in a way he means it.
President's Unreciprocated Love
Kurkov's latest novel, “The Last Love of the President,” was published in Ukraine more than a year ago and became quite prophetic. The narrator is someone who becomes president of Ukraine in 2011, almost by chance, after being poisoned in the third round of the election. All along the way, his team is hindered from coming to power by Russian officials headed by Putin, “the president of Russia till 2016.”
The novel was published in France in March of this year and immediately became a bestseller. Happy about its success with readers, Kurkov admits he still hasn't gotten over it himself.
“It's not easy getting back to who I am after writing it in the first person... Not that it was much fun, though. As soon as I imagined myself president of Ukraine, I no longer wanted to work or do anything but sit back and sip whisky.”
And what of the president's love?
“It's all in the novel,” the author smiles, unwilling to give away the intrigue. “There are four love stories there, three where women are involved. An extra story is the guy's attempted love of his country, but which is not reciprocated. Your country never reciprocates your love, especially not if you are the president.”