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Ukraine’s most famous novelist dramatises the conflict raging in his country through the adventures of a mild-mannered beekeeper.

“A warm and surprisingly funny book from Ukraine’s greatest living novelist” Charlie Connelly, New European Books of the Year

Little Starhorodivka, a village of three streets, lies in Ukraine’s Grey Zone, the no-man’s-land between loyalist and separatist forces. Thanks to the war, only two residents remain: retired safety inspector turned beekeeper Sergey Sergeyich and Pashka, his “frenemy” from his schooldays.

With little food and no electricity, under ever-present threat of bombardment, Sergeyich’s one remaining pleasure is his bees. As spring approaches, he knows he must take them far from the Grey Zone so they can collect their pollen in peace.

This simple mission on their behalf introduces him to combatants and civilians on both sides of the battle lines: loyalists, separatists, Russian occupiers and Crimean Tatars. Wherever he goes, Sergeyich’s childlike simplicity and strong moral compass disarm everyone he meets.

But could these qualities be manipulated to serve an unworthy cause, spelling disaster for him, his bees and his country?

Translated from the Russian by Boris Dralyuk


Phoebe Taplin, Guardian.
A latter-day Bulgakov . . . A Ukrainian Murakami.
Colin Freeman, Daily Telegraph.
A post-Soviet Kafka.
Michael Palin.
Kurkov draws us with deceptive ease into a dense complex world full of wonderful characters.
Ian Sansom, Spectator.
A kind of Ukrainian Kurt Vonnegut
India Lewis, Arts Desk
This time, the Ukrainian author of Death and the Penguin, known for his brilliantly dark humour, has written a modern-day odyssey, with a return that is ambiguously hopeful.
John Thornhill, Financial Times
Strange and mesmerising . . . In spare prose, Ukraine's most famous novelist unsparingly examines the inhuman confusions of our modern times and the longing of the warm-hearted everyman that is Sergeyich for the rationality of the natural world.
Charlie Connelly, New European Books of the Year
A warm and surprisingly funny book from Ukraine's greatest living novelist.
Strong Words.
Carries top notes of Beckett and Pinter, along with a slug of Kafka.
Uilleam Blacker, Times Literary Supplement
Sergey is at once a war-weary adventurer and a fairy-tale innocent . . . His naive gaze allows Kurkov to get to the heart of a country bewildered by crisis and war, but where kindness can still be found . . . Translated by Boris Dralyuk with sensitivity and ingenuity.