4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 3 August 2011
The Milkman in the Night follows the doings of a number of different characters on several seperate plotlines. Irina is a young Ukranian mother who ekes a subsistence living as a wet nurse. Semyon is a security guard who has a sleepwalking problem and Dima is an airport sniffer-dog handler and cat-murderer who has made a potentially profitable discovery. The book follows these characters (and their friends and acquaintances) as their individual stories evolve and develop. At first, the plotlines appear to be independent but it gradually becomes evident that they do intersect...
I can only speak from personal experience (and it is, I admit fairly limited, as I don't a read huge amount of contemporary literary fiction), but when I think of the genre I suspect that the majority of authors that we are exposed to are from the english speaking world and there are probably not that many mainstream non-english authors getting translated for us. Certainly, I can't think of any contemporary Russian authors in the UK market so to come across this offering was a pleasant surprise and the sheer "foreign-ness" attracted me to the book. What is more, reading the blurb and review excerpts on the cover suggested that I would be reading something quirky, even surreal. Yet again, the majority of Amazon reviews of his previous works (and there are plenty) were also encouraging and all in all I picked the book up expecting - even intending - to like it.
I'm afraid, however, that I found The Milkman in the Night to be long, fairly conventional and not a little dull. Quirky? Surreal? Not as far as I can tell. Most of the happenings are much the sort of thing that I could imagine happening in real life. Some of the events and behaviours may be a little out-of-the-ordinary but they are by no means inconceivable and not that surreal.
Humour. Not much of this either. Certainly there are attempts at humour but these come across as weak, underdeveloped and almost listless. What there is seems largely to be a by-product of the plot rather than a genuine attempt to amuse the reader. Perhaps the laughs have been lost in translation or maybe it is simply a matter of cultural differences but I found little to raise a smile. I wonder, perhaps, if the humour is lost in translation?
Don't get me wrong. Kurkov is clearly an accomplished and highly capable author. He writes well and with no little flair but the subject material he is putting across just failed to spark for me. Ally this to the length of the book (480 pages does not make it a short story) and I found it hard going. I would suggest that this is probably one for Kurkov's fans.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Blurb writers do Andrey Kurkov no favours when they compare him with authors such as John Le Carre, Gogol and Dostoevsky, the latter two being invoked on the cover of this, Kurkov's latest novel to be translated into English. Kurkov is a much lighter read than any of those, shows no sign of expecting to be taken anything like so seriously, and is a lot more fun.
In the past, Bulgakov's name has also been placed alongside Kurkov's. That was pretty ambitious too, but in the case of The Milkman in the Night there are some realistic comparisons to be made. In common with Bulgakov in Master and Margarita, Kurkov firmly roots surreal, absurdist events in actual streets, parks and other locations in and around a contemporary city. Kurkov's city is Kiev, Ukraine's capital and Kurkov's home. I know Kiev well. I read the novel with a streetmap to hand and never once faulted Kurkov on his geography. Perhaps surreal works best when given such a foundation.
Like Bulgakov, Kurkov satirises some genuine but nevertheless absurd political and other goings on by placing them in the space he has created between real and surreal. You may find it hard to believe that corruption and graft among Ukraine's ruling classes, police, security operatives, everyone with a service that they can sell, including priests, are really as bad as Kurkov describes. Tragically, they are. So is theft from baggage at the city's main international airport, and the degree to which superstition influences many people's lives.
But I begin to make the novel sound serious, which it is not. Kurkov has some entirely valid things to say about corruption, graft and superstition, but they are built into his story in such a way that they might scarcely be noticed by many readers. He has much affection for his characters, imperfect human beings as they all are. This is Ukraine today. For most people, life is far from easy, presenting many limitations and frustrations. Kurkov describes their lives with great care and much sympathy - people in Kiev and its outlying areas really do live like that.
So where does the surrealism come in? The jacket blurb hints at it and to tell more might spoil the story. I will mention, however, that another feature that echoes Master and Margarita is a cat that seems to have supernatural qualities. He is a modest fellow, though, doesn't stretch our credibility by speaking, and is selflessly benevolent.
As with many works translated from Russian, the uninitiated reader will struggle at times with names. Hardest of all is when Volodka (a Ukrainian pet name) suddenly becomes, just once, Vladimir (the Russian version of his given name). The `our Yulia', variously Yulechka, referred to is the former Prime Minister and Presidential candidate Yulia Timoshenko, but many readers might not guess. Nikochka will surprise as a pet name for Veronika, and so on. To know that pelmeni is similar to ravioli and that Soviet champagne is a real and much favoured beverage, even in our own time, may be helpful to some. And there are some loose ends in the story that are never tied up - one even wonders why some events are described at all. Kurkov seems to be aware of that problem, writing that his story is ongoing, with some aspects of it still not understood by himself. Is he suggesting there might be a sequel? To read about the next phase in the lives of some of his characters would be interesting, but the story as it stands is brought to a more or less satisfactory conclusion.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Andrey Kurkov's latest book is an excellently translated tale of weird goings on set in Kiev, Ukraine.
The Milkman in the Night starts with an unexplained murder during the hours of darkness, somehow involving Semyon who has woken at home with blood on his shirt, an angry wife and no idea where he was the night before.
The tale then switches swiftly to Dima, an airport guard who steals a suitcase full of very peculiar ampoules containing an even stranger liquid which manages to cause all sorts of problems throughout the whole of Kiev including having a spectacular effect on a cat!
Kurkov also introduces you to 'Irina' a single mother who in desperation for money has disturbingly found herself mixed up in a private clinic that pays a minimal amount of money for breast milk expressed daily on the premises. Irina compelled by a desire to find out what or who her milk is being used for, solicits the help of a young official. This causes more problems.
The novel contains masses of plots (most of them fun if somewhat implausible) however some of the plots are over elaborate which can leave you a little confused at times. Also 'Irina' and her breast milking problems feature just a little too often for my taste.
Still the characters are original, the stories totally bizarre and the book thoroughly enjoyable.
Well worth a read!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Andrewy Kurkov is a great writer of modern Russian fiction. He lives in Ukraine and this is where events take place in this book. In charming Kiev. But not everything is as beautiful as Kiev's streets and mild climate. Just like in Death and the Penguin, Kurkov knows how to keep you hooked. His writing is addictive and entertaining.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 4 November 2011
Milkman in the Night is...er...ok. It's a tale set in and around Kiev, and follows the fortunes of a wet nurse, a deputy in Parliament and his security guard, and a member of airport security at Kiev airport. The airport security guard steals a suitcase full of some form of contraband, and this contraband causes all sorts of crazy things to happen in Kiev. Dead cats come back to life and prowl the streets seeking out and punishing injustice. A man sleepwalks in the middle of the night, meeting a strange lady who is not his wife, but is unable to remember it in the morning. And so on.
All this sounds brilliant, and evokes the magical realism of, say, The Master And Margarita (Penguin Classics). But this, for me, is exactly the problem. Kurkov's novel feels like a faint shadow of Bulgakov's. Where Bulgakov uses brilliant comedy and ludicrous farce to create a piercing critique of Russian politics, Kurkov's novel just seems mildly amusing, a little non-sensical and occasionally touches on the corruption of Ukrainian politics in a light-hearted way. In other words, it seems a pale imitation.
I wonder if perhaps I am missing something about this novel? If I am, I'd love to know!
Kurkov is a surreal and truly off the wall writer.I loved his Death and the Penguin for its quirky, dark story and fascinating look into a Russia that we in the West only have a limited understanding of.
I admit that I took a little time to get into this book, but only because of the large cast of characters and the fact that Russian names are difficult at time to assimilate and often a returning character is referred to my a diminutive rather than full given name.
However, once over that hurdle, it's a cracking, weird almost at times fantastic tale of strange goings on, in and around Kiev. Any novel that can combine murder, widows living with heir embalmed husbands, large amounts of donated breast milk, somnambulists and some feisty felines is worth a look. I have struggled at times and retread passages to get a clearer view of what's going on, but I did that with Kurkov's other books, sometimes it's good to have to work a bit harder! Whilst some parts are really dark and disturbing there are passages of laugh out load madness.
Like all books translated from their native language a lot must lie with the translator and I feel that in this instance Amanda Love Durragh is on Kurkov's wavelength and has a deep understanding of his black humour and narrative detail.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 18 April 2013
The life paths of the engaging and sometimes rather odd characters in this novel cross and interact in unexpected and ways delightful for those with a darker sense of humour. In a post-soviet Kiev, unknown "connections" shape destinies. This story is lighter than Death and the Penguin and I loved it. Kurkov is definitely one of my favourite authors now.