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"The Silver Bone" by Andrey Kurkov is a clever crime-solving story set in socially and politically turbulent Kyiv.

“The Silver Bone” by Andrey Kurkov is a clever crime-solving story set in socially and politically turbulent Kyiv.


Andrey Kurkov’s most recent book, translated into English, The Silver Bone, starts with a tense scene. The protagonist, Samson Kolechko, is walking through the streets of the revolutionized city of Kyiv in the spring of 1919. Out of nowhere, two Russian Cossacks suddenly appear and use a sabre to chop off Samson’s ear before riding away. Kurkov describes how the blood flowed down his cheek and soaked into his collar. Tragically, Samson’s father is also attacked and killed.

The right ear, which was cut off and kept in a tin, holds great significance in Kurkov’s fantastical and entertaining tale. Despite being separated from its original owner, it still has the ability to hear. Samson, an electrical engineering student, uses this unusual power to eavesdrop on the conversations of two Red Army soldiers who are staying at his house. With this newfound detective role, he cleverly utilizes the ear to crack puzzles and unravel complex storylines.

Last week, Kurkov – Ukraine’s most famous author – was longlisted for the International Booker prize for the first installment of his new crime series, The Silver Bone, titled the Kyiv mysteries. The story is set over 100 years ago, during the Russian civil war, a time of significant chaos where political shifts occurred just as rapidly as the unpredictability of English weather. The novel follows the power struggles between Bolsheviks, Whites, and Ukrainian nationalists as they fought for control over Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.

Even in current times, there are noticeable parallels to the situation in 2022 when Vladimir Putin invaded. Like then, citizens are facing uncertainty, chance events, and brutal acts of violence. Moscow is attempting to take control of Kyiv. The main characters created by Kurkov – Samson and his future wife, Nadezhda – are incredibly captivating. Kurkov had access to confidential documents from the early days of the secret police, provided by the daughter of a KGB leader, which served as inspiration for the novel.

A new book, titled The Heart Is Not Meat, will be published by MacLehose Press next year, adding to the mystery series based in Kyiv. The author, Kurkov, had also started working on a third book, The Public Sauna Case, but was interrupted by the invasion of Russian tanks into Ukraine. During the two years of conflict, he focused on writing journalism, such as a war diary and articles for global publications. However, he has since returned to writing fiction and is currently working on it at his dacha outside Kyiv.

“The Silver Bone” is a captivating soundscape depicting a city in a volatile state. The bustling streets are filled with the clamor of hooves on cobbled paths, horse-drawn carriages, and glimpses of progress with tram cars and Soviet-style cafeterias. Diners can be heard loudly enjoying bowls of hearty buckwheat soup. The trees are alive with the calls of crows, adding to the ambiance. On the city’s renowned Andrew’s Descent, there are gunfights that shatter the night silence, with bullets whizzing past like pesky mosquitoes.

The mood remains consistently whimsical. Samson, who does not believe in God, is hired at a communist police station after telling its exhausted commissioner: “I understand you.” This is mistakenly interpreted as him endorsing the new socialist government as they struggle with chaos. Samson’s first task is to look into stolen items left in his hallway by two soldiers. These items include designs for a striped brown and black outfit.

The unique clothing and historical items play a crucial role in propelling Kurkov’s suspenseful story forward. Samson uncovers a larger scheme involving a enigmatic outsider and the significance of the novel’s silver bone. Throughout his journey, there are multiple murders, a rebellion among inmates, and Samson’s gradual romance with Nadezhda, an optimist who works for the Soviet bureau of statistics and dreams of a brighter tomorrow.


Despite its playful tone, the novel raises crucial inquiries during a time of renewed violent conflict in Europe. It ponders the ethical actions one should take in extreme circumstances and whether it’s feasible to maintain decency in the face of lawlessness and malevolence. One potential solution, according to Kurkov, is the power of the human heart. Love and companionship can thrive even amidst darkness. The author also hints at the significance of sound reasoning and effective strategies. Upon finishing The Silver Bone, I was left wanting to read more.


Luke Harding’s book, titled Invasion: Russia’s Bloody War and Ukraine’s Fight for Survival, has been nominated for the Orwell Prize and is released by Guardian Faber Publishers.

  • The book “The Silver Bone” written by Andrey Kurkov and translated by Boris Dralyuk is available for purchase at MacLehose Press for £20. You can order a copy to support The Guardian and Observer at guardianbookshop.com. Additional delivery fees may be applied.

Source: theguardian.com