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The Gardener from Ochakov
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I love Andrey Kurkov's books. I can't say I always understand them fully. I have the same sense of enjoyable confusion say reading Haruki Murakami gives me. I quite like the fact that I don't quite get it. This book however, seems slightly less obscure than others of his I have read. It follows a fairly standard time line, albeit with time travel thrown in, but everything links together in an explicable manner and the ending is neat.

I thoroughly enjoyed the humour and the slight dark edge to the writing. Igor is a great character and it was a great pleasure to find out what happens to him.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Andrey Kurkov is Russian born and writes in Russian, but lives in Kiev, Ukraine, and all eight of his novels so far published in English are anchored in contemporary Kiev. Typically, they take the form of a thriller, but accurately describe life in Ukraine with all its hardships and difficulties, satirising the politics and widespread corruption. Ochakov (Ochakiv in Ukrainian) is a small city way down south on the Black Sea coast but, notwithstanding its title, The Gardener from Ochakov is again Kiev based. The main protagonist, Igor, is a native of Kiev now living a few miles beyond Kiev's city limits, but a frequent visitor to the city.

On this occasion, modern Ukraine's politics are not a target of Kurkov's satire, but most of the other familiar features are present, with a new twist in that the action shuttles back and forth between Ochakov as it was in 1957 and Kiev as it is today. In 1957, the year of the launch of the first sputnik, and under Khrushchev, the Soviet Union was as confident of itself as it was ever to be. Yet, as Kurkov mercilessly points out, technology at all levels below sputnik was scarce and primitive, and corruption and criminality rife. He allows Igor one brief observation that corruption and criminality are yet worse in today's Ukraine, but the point is not laboured.

Igor blunders into Soviet Ochakov in the guise of a policeman. The policeman's uniform, complete with gun and with pockets stuffed with high denomination rouble notes, was one of the treasures collected by himself and his mother's unusual and exceedingly casual gardener, Stepan, on an earlier (so to speak) 21st century visit to Ochakov. Stepan's past was mysterious to himself as well as others, but his childhood link with Ochakov was confirmed by an old and almost indecipherable tattoo. Igor as Soviet policeman gets perilously close to the activities of a criminal gang; and astonishes himself as well as us with the beginnings of an affair with a red-headed fishwife with dress sense, an impressive wardrobe and a sexually transmissible disease.

Besides the other features of his novels already mentioned, Kurkov can usually be relied on for a bit of home-spun philosophy. In The Gardener from Ochakov we learn that "Pity is stronger than love" and nod in approval as Igor is warned, "Just make sure you don't get too attached to that uniform, or you may find you won't be able to live without it." Particularly appropriate to the 'then and now' aspects of the novel are "Time is a flexible concept. The present is woven from the recent past ... and as long as people remember the past it will remain alive ... watching you and telling you what to do." Also "The past changes its size and shape to fit whoever tries it on."

It would be easy enough, though, to let the philosophy, the social commentary and the accuracy of Kurkov's descriptions of place pass you by and just read the novel for the story. It keeps moving and is easy enough to follow. An attempt, towards the end, to contrast gardeners (gentle and creative) with foresters (violent and destructive) I am not so sure about. Surely forestry is also gardening, with bigger plants. See what you think.
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on 8 October 2013
Andrey Kurkov is addictive in the weavings he constructs between shots of vodka, daily bread and fish! This time he takes us so very unobtrusively into a nether world of two way mirrors which serve to reflect the vices and virtues of his protagonists - so opaquely and enigmatically that when the simplicity and difficulties of beleaguered lives over two centuries collide in principles - the solution is pragmatic and practical as are the lives of all concerned. The magic is so very real that it disperses itself like the genie in the bottom of the homebrew - reddens the hair of the glamorous Valya - colours our perspective down the kaleidoscope into 1957..... so that we are intrigued by our working heroes........ finally the values and virtues of honesty and labour against the necessity of corrupt survival tactics are balanced in the darkness of inexplicable night transformations - each era having a dialogue - the twist being the former is able to rescue the latter state. I would heartily recommend all of Kurkov's amazing novels to any reader hankering after insight into the human condition, specifically in this other politically different place of which 'we'knew and know little - but above all for the wickedly wonderful humour which is absolutely superbly observed and delivered! BRAVO!
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on 6 November 2014
This is a fun and enjoyable read. Igor’s time travel between 1957 Soviet Ochakov and the present day shows the continuity of Ukrainian culture in communist and capitalist guise. In one case wine is stolen from the local factory and sold in the public market, whilst in the contemporary scene the computer hacker gets rich by blackmail, with brutal retaliation. Even the honest hard working gardener is tainted with corrupt behaviour. Life is about petty crime, criminal gun power, tricking your way through a dysfunctional social system.
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I bought this because it was recommended by someone whose judgement I trust. I wasn't sure about it at first and still think some background knowledge of Soviet politics, and particularly in light of current events, Lithuanian history, would add to understanding and enjoyment. I didn't actually find it that funny but perhaps that was because of my lack of insight. However, I did find it extremely interesting and will be ordering more books by this author.
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on 1 September 2013
Andrew Kurkov delivers a master class in literature, up there with the Penguin series. Intrigue, under currents and much more. Tantinglisly I think he left us a clue in last few pages that there is more to come. A great stand alone read.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 29 September 2013
There is atmosphere and occasional charm and colour in this book, but it is unsatisfying. It is a potentially lovely conceit that the hero keeps travelling in time to and fro between the 1970s and present day, but it becomes less and less interesting and doesn't seem to tell you anything much. The book is one dimensional - a single track idea without varied dimensions, and to me it becomes claustrophobic. I kept reading to the end, but by then was glad to put it down.
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on 13 December 2014
I've read all of Kurkov's fictional books and this one is up there. I was skeptical having read some reviews, but it sucks you in and doesn't disappoint.
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on 28 March 2015
Classic Kurkov tale comparing the good old days with present day dilemmas. Everything is resolved by the last page leaving nostalgia as the winner
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on 5 January 2015
I don't think I've read an Andrey Kurkov book I didn't love. So wonderfully quirky and entertaining. There's always something different from him :)
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