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The International Writers Magazine:
Review - The Gardener From Ochakov by Andrey Kurkov

The Gardener From Ochakov by Andrey Kurkov
ISBN: 978-1-846-55615-9.
Harvell Secker, London, 2013, 314 pp.,
translation by Amanda Love Darragh
• Charlie Dickinson
Given my satisfaction with his earlier work, I pre-ordered Ukrainian novelist Andrey Kurkov's latest in English translation, The Gardener From Ochakov, available in the UK on August 1st. I was not disappointed.

Kurkov's protagonist Igor, a thirty-year-old man, lives with his retired mom, Elena, in a town on the outskirts of Kiev. Unemployed, he is going nowhere, has no ambitions in life (other than contemplating the purchase of a motorbike in the spring), and seems bound for the same fate as his father, whom Elena divorced before she retired because "he had started to remind her of a piece of furniture, being inert, silent, perpetually morose and apparently incapable of helping around the house."

Enter the Mysterious Stranger. Stepan, an industrious handyman of about age sixty-five, offers to live in a backyard shed. Elena knows he'll do the work she can't get Igor to do--and for a pittance. As for Igor, he must unravel the mystery of this "Gardener from Ochakov," while finding life taking him to an unexpected time and place.

Igor thinks he's going to a retro costume party at his friend Kolya's, wearing a vintage Soviet policeman's uniform, leather boots, toting a gun and a bundle of roubles, courtesy of Stepan. But soon he's strolling into the coastal town of Ochakov. The year is 1957, decades before Igor's birth in 1980.
Throughout the rest of The Gardener From Ochakov, Igor time-travels, shuttling back and forth between 1957 Ochakov and 2010 Kiev.

Romance finds for Igor a red-headed fishmonger wife in Ochakov, Valya. Kurkov's narrative stew only thickens.

Add to that, murder attempts, murders--present-day and past--and Kurkov is building a storyline typical of his straightforward, but addictive prose (I finished the book in under a day). Interspersed are Kurkov's signature humorous asides, as this describing recent rain:
"A light rain had begun to fall, apologetically, as though embarrassed by its own inadequacy--the heavy storm clouds were clearly capable of thunderous downpours, and yet all they managed to produce was this pathetic drizzle."

The conclusion of The Gardener From Ochakov has more narrative threads in play than did Kurkov's Death and the Penguin. But both novels have a breathless, frenetic finish, in which among other things, the protagonist gains an epiphany about life. In The Gardener From Ochakov, given more characters bouncing off each other, the wonder is it's still sorted out for a satisfying fairy-tale ending.

© Reviewed by Charlie Dickinson. August 2013
His online blog is at

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