Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Ukraine: The Gardener from Ochakov, by Andrey Kurkov

The Gardener from Ochakov is a story of time travel - but it is very specific time travel, in which the protagonist makes trips into the past to one particular time and place - the town of Ochakov, in 1957.

Igor's mother, Elena Andreevna, has hired a gardener, who lives in their shed. Stepan, the gardener, bears a mysterious and blurred tattoo which Igor helps him to decipher with the help of a computer hacker friend. As a result, Igor and Stepan visit a house in Ochakov, where they find goods hidden inside a wall, including an old Soviet policeman's uniform and a wad of now unusable roubles.

But when Igor decides to wear the uniform to a party, he finds himself inexplicably back in the past. There he meets a wine smuggler and falls in love with a married woman.

I found this book immensely enjoyable. Despite the time travel, it doesn't really fit into the genre of science fiction. The how and why of the time travel is not important. What the book does very successfully is to depict life in the Ukraine in two eras - the 1950's, when it was part of Soviet Russia, and modern times, when it is an independent country. There is a dark edge to it, especially to the part set in the past, but ultimately everything turns out well for Igor and Stepan (and, we are to be hoped, for Igor's computer hacker friend who flees to the past after blackmailing the wrong people).

The Gardener from Ochakov was translated from Russian by Amanda Love Darragh and published by Harvill Secker in Londonin 2013.

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