First of all I have to apologise for the misleading title. I am not going to talk about Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov nor am I going to review one of his books.
I am fascinated by Eastern Europe, I’ve visited all those countries except the ones that really matter to me (Russia and Ukraine). Instead I do read their authors’ novels which probably come 2nd in my reading list right behind Algerian ones.
Kurkov is one of my favourites. I feel I know many of Kiev’s streets just because of the description he made in his novels. But I do not like Kurkov only because of his writing style and his black humour. I do love his novels because they remind me of my own country, Algeria. Post-Soviet Ukraine is indeed very close to today’s Algeria and it’s easy to draw a comparison line between the Ukrainian way of life, youths, politicians, journalists, oligarchs, etc. and their Algerian counterparts.
In Kurkov’s latest novel, the Milkman in the Night – which by the way is not his best, the author relates more absurd stories. These tales, which are less absurd than the ones he related in his previous novels, include one which I want to share here.
A single mother of a three-month-old baby is so poor that she sells her breast milk in a special salon instead of giving it to her baby. Apparently in Ukraine rich people do, or used to, buy breast milk to give it to their babies when they don’t have milk themselves or because they think the milk they buy is of a better quality. But when the young woman decides to find out about the baby who’s having hers, we discover that her milk is given to some oligarch/politician who bathes in it to preserve his looks and chances to be re-elected. Her salary is even increased and she’s driven from and to her house in a black Mercedes when she decides to “retire” because the client doesn’t want any other milk for his skin.
When I read Kurkov, I cannot but think why the heck do we not have a writer like him? The situations are the same, the issues are the same, but our authors choose to be such a sad ones and deprive us from laughing. You read a recent Algerian novel and you feel like you are reading the newspaper and you are depressed. Where is this self-derision that is so present in the Algerian streets? Why is satire rarely used?
If some writer out there reads this, please stop and go write something less depressing for us to read!