Monday, 15 October 2007

Ukrainian mess finds echoes in a novel

Intrigue continues behind the scenes in Ukraine, as President Yuschenko attempts to cobble together a coalition to govern the politically fractured state.

The West’s favoured Orange coalition has cracked irrevocably.   If Yuschenko elects to form a government with a wafer thin majority, including his former ally Yulia Tymoshenko, whom he now loathes, it is difficult to envisage it becoming stable.

Tymoshenko, whose personal popularity now eclipses any other politician in Ukraine, will refuse to be part of any administration which includes Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions. Incredibly Yuschenko would consider resuming coalition with a man he previously accused of attempting to steal the disputed 2005 election, such is his enmity toward Tymoshenko.

It is against the background of this unfolding, real-life political drama that I have been reading Andrey Kurkov’s ‘The President’s Last Love’ over the past week or so. It is a complicated novel in terms of its structure, but it is also relevant to the past 2 year’s upheavals in Ukraine (despite being released just before the dramas of Yuschenko’s disfigurement and the so-called Orange Revolution).

Kurkov interlinks three separate strands of the story, which take place in three different eras. The first is a fond and evocative coming of age tale, set mainly in the dying embers of the Soviet Union. Second is a tragic contemporary love story, set against the protagonist’s career as a rapidly promoted, post-Soviet apparatchik. Third is a savage satire on post-Soviet politics, set in the year 2015.

To give away much more about the plot would spoil the novel, but it features a malevolent oligarch, a heart transplant and the beatification of Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) by the Orthodox Church.

All the endearing strangeness of Death of a Penguin is present in Kurkov’s book, as well as a timely dissection of contemporary Ukrainian politics. An essential piece of reading, given that fact has proved almost as strange as fiction for Ukraine's government in recent years.

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