Podcast: Then & Now #4 – Teresa Cherfas in conversation with Andrei Kurkov

16 March 2023

by Teresa Cherfas

Welcome to the fourth episode of our new Russian-language podcast Then & Now with me, Teresa Cherfas.  

Our latest guest is the Ukrainian writer Andrei Kurkov. Andrei Kurkov became widely known to readers around the world in 2001 when his novel Smert’ postoronnego [Смерть Постороннего] was published in English translation as Death and the Penguin. Other novels followed and, in their wake, worldwide recognition and success at prominent international literary awards.  

His latest novel, Grey Bees, tells the story of an elderly beekeeper in the occupied territory of Donbas. The novel touches on the war in Donbas and on the violation of Crimean Tatar rights in Russian annexed Crimea. In 2015 his Ukraine Diaries was published in English and, recently, his Diary of an Invasion.  

This recording took place on 14 April 2023.

Diary of an Invasion (pictured above) is published by Mountain Leopard  Press, ISBN: 9781914495847, pp 304, London, 2022. It is a collection of Andrei Kurkov’s writings and broadcasts from Ukraine in the lead up to and during the war.

You can also listen to the podcast here:

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My questions include:

  1. You begin your Diary of an Invasion just before New Year at the very end of 2021. Have you always kept a diary?
  2. What were your emotions when you learnt what had happened on February 24th?
  3. How do you see the role of writer in a time of war?
  4. Before the invasion, your remarks in the Diary about your Ukrainian compatriots are quite subtle and many-faceted. But after the invasion, you seem to describe them as if they were characters from legends – you write of their bravery, their freedom-loving nature, and you compare them with Russians, as though the latter are a different species.  It is as though the all-too-human traits that make characters in your novels so memorable and touching have no place here. What’s the explanation?
  5. You write about the traditions of the Ukrainian people and the creation of myths in times of crisis. What is the role of tradition and myth in forging the identity of a people?
  6. Your native language, in which you became famous as a writer, is Russian. Have you ever had any problems in your relations with Ukrainian writers or Ukrainians in general because of it?
  7. How do you feel about the Russian language now?
  8. How do Russians react to your advocacy for Ukraine all over the world – do you get hate mail from Russians?
  9. Do you think Russian-speaking Ukrainians will ever publish in Russian again in Ukraine?
  10. You write in your Diary that you have an unfinished novel… is it doomed to remain unfinished until after the Russian invasion?
  11. Do you believe in the concept of ‘good Russians’? Who is a ‘good Russian’ for you?
  12. Has Russian culture played a major role in your own development as a writer?
  13. How do you see the future of Ukraine? And of Russia?

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