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The President's Last Love by Andrey Kurkov

Preparing to write a review I considered what I knew of the former Soviet country from which Andrey Kurkov hails. And it amounted to this:

1) Former Ukrainian footballer Oleg Romanovych Luzhny [Олег Романович Лужний] is the most capped captain of the international side (which at the time of Luzhny's retirement from international football also included erstwhile Liverpool FC striker Andriy Viktorovych Voronin [Андрій Вікторович Воронін])

державний прапор України
2) The national flag is split equally between two fields of yellow (bottom) and blue (top) thus:

3) Andrey Kurkov had written (at least) two novels featuring a truly poignant penguin named Misha, rescued from Kiev zoo when it closed.

4) I habitually but inexplicably refer to the country as The Ukraine.

No, not that Man of Steel, this one.
I am also loving the pipe, Joe.
This last thought caused me some confusion. I considered first that it might be because it begins with a vowel, but I don't say "The Albania". Perhaps because it begins with the letter U? No again; Uzbekistan does not share Ukraine's fate (I nearly did it then too!). The only plausible hypothesis, still bollocks, is that as a former Soviet state, it was somewhere one was sent to - a bit like Coventry but colder and without the death of the soul involved in even contemplating life there - in the event that one displeased the Man of Steel. Consider the mountain range in the east of Russia, The Urals, another common exile of naughty free-thinkers. Like I said, bollocks.

So my shameful knowledge of Ukrainian history is exhibited for public scrutiny. Going into the novel I spent a little time worrying that I would not truly understand the humour, many political jokes, and topical (or at least contemporary) references within the various time frames operating therein, being a threefold narrative from Sergey Pavlovich Bunin's life at key moments - his youthful development, his early political career, and his Presidency into a projected future for this young democracy. But typical of my own disjointed narrative, I was worrying for nothing.

Kurkov is deadpan, hilarious and completely accessible. A keen observer and caricaturist of Homo-Sovieticus and the reformed Communists of the dissolved USSR alike, his humour transcends place, his pathos possessing the keen edge of a sword which hangs over us all. Additionally, he appears to be somewhat prescient of developments in world politics, confidently predicting that in 2013 there would be a dynamic young Conservative Prime Minister of the UK (ah! so maybe that explains the almost automatic use of the definitive article!) courting the approval of world leaders. Once one becomes acclimatized to the rhythm of his writing, and to the fractured nature of the triumvirate of tales, something which at first annoyed but quickly became addictive, there seems little lost to translation*. Bunin is personable, entertaining, and worthy of both sym- and em-pathy, and despite nagging worries that later proved unfounded (an old refrain) about political infidelity from his colleagues and subordinates, manages to come out pretty well in the end, all things considered. What we get is a strangely well-constructed novel, moreish and satisfying, and despite constant stereotypical references to drinking, something Tibor Fischer laments, really has no serious flaws to stop one from properly enjoying oneself. 

As a voice from a country incongruously lacking in home-schooled, resident literary tradition, Kurkov possess all he needs in terms of skills and ability to properly wow an international audience. And contrary to the chaps at The Guardian, not everyone wishes he would bring back the penguin.

*Oddly, Kurkov's translator prefers to remain anonymous in my edition - unlike in previous and subsequent works (George Bird [Death and the Penguin, The Case of the General's Thumb]and Amanda Love Darragh  [The Milkman in the Night])


How's about that then?

Metaliterature - what meaning to have is this for meaning?

Not a review this time, more of a curiosity. It seems I'm receiving lots of hits from Russia (Здравствуйте России!) from people searching for the definition of "metaliterature". As such, it is something of a bespoke word, created to fit a need and probably not yet recognized outside literary theory / criticism circles (Merriam-Webster Online certainly don't like it). I was wondering what they typed in to end up here, so, for fun (it's not fun, sorry) I thought I'd bung it in Google Translate and see what came out. As it turns out, one needs a little hyphen for the rather ponderous machine to understand it, and even then only does half the job (meta seems to be meta in any language). 
Incidentally, below is, ironically, a Google Chrome Thesaurus definition* of "meta":

met·a Adjective/ˈmetə/
(of a creative work) Referring to itself or to the conventions of its genre; self-referentialInterestingly (not interesting, sorry) it says this for the full term, t…

Under The Dust by Jordi Coca

So, wheel of fortune, count to 29, pin the tail, freebies off of peeps on Twitter etc. etc. Whatever the methods sometimes employed to pick the next book in my intertextual experience, the one that brought me to Jordi Coca brought me to a whopping great slice of nostalgia. Before I'd even opened it, it brought to mind Richard Gwyn, himself a published poet, author, biographer, translator and course director of the MA Creative Writing course at Cardiff University, who I recall for some odd reason gently encouraging me to read this novel, and by whose own work I was quietly impressed at the time. He was also an advocate of Roberto Bolaño, another writer in whose work I can immerse myself but from which I emerge drained, as mentioned previously. Before that, though, there is this sticker on the front, declaring 'Signed by the Author at Waterstone's'. It is indeed signed by Jordi Coca, not adding any particular intrinsic value to the book, not for me anyway, but more impor…

Hereward: The Last Englishman by Peter Rex

By all accounts, Hereward was the guerrilla scourge of the invading Norman armies in eleventh century Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, famous for isolating and dismembering members of the Norman nobility who strayed too far from home, and also for trashing Peterborough and hiding on an island. Called variously (and often erroneously) The Wake, The Exile or The Outlaw, his infamy was such that families in search of noble English lineage have usurped his "heroism" for their own glory even until this very day. Rex delights in highlighting one author's particular folly, entitled Hereward, The Saxon Patriot, in which Lieutenant-General Harward attempts to run his antecedents right back to the loins of the eponymous gentleman-rogue. 

Having only read the introduction to Peter Rex's myth-busting (and often ill-edited) work, I was already struck by an initial thought which ran thus: if as Rex asserts Hereward was the son of Asketil Tokison, a descendant of a wealthy Danish family …

A Death In The Family: My Struggle Volume 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard

I sit here, wearing my limited edition Knausgaard t-shirt, immensely grateful to the kind people at Vintage Books for their surprising gift of the first four novels (and aforementioned t-shirt) simply as a result of being able to post a comment on their YouTube Vlog. There may have been a hidden agenda, considering I'm a book blogger (What, interrobang, a book blogger, interrobang and so on...) but I prefer to believe they picked me at random. Because I'm ace. 
Nonetheless, I had no idea what to expect of these books. I did do a little reading, and found lots of very interesting articles about Karl Ove Knausgaard, including this entertaining one in the Wall Street Journal. But in all honesty, nothing prepared me for reading them, and I can see why they cause controversy and consternation wherever they are translated (which is pretty much everywhere).
First off, being intelligent and perspicacious readers as I trust you all to be, you will no doubt have spotted the whole Godwin&#…