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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Matter of Death and Life

Andrey Kurkov

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To purchase A Matter of Death and Life

Title: A Matter of Death and Life
Author: Andrey Kurkov
Genre: Novel
Written: 1996 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 128 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: A Matter of Death and Life - US
A Matter of Death and Life - UK
A Matter of Death and Life - Canada
A Matter of Death and Life - India
L'Ami du défunt - France
Ein Freund des Verblichenen - Deutschland
Querido amigo, compañero del difunto - España
  • Russian title: Милый друг, товарищ покойника
  • Translated by George Bird

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Our Assessment:

B : melancholy novel, both creepy and affecting

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ C- 25/4/2002 Doris Meierhenrich
The Guardian . 26/3/2005 David Jays
Literary Review . 4/2005 John Murray
Scotland on Sunday A- 27/2/2005 David Martin
Sunday Telegraph . 6/3/2005 Christopher Tayler
TLS . 25/3/2005 Jonathan Derbyshire

  From the Reviews:
  • "Etwas Surreales hat diese ironisch dahinsinnierende Kriminalgeschichte, die in Blockflötenintonation die Motive ihrer großen literarischen Vorgänger nachspielt: Bulgakows apokalyptisch-albtraumhafte Stadtszenerien und Dostojewskis Gedankenschwere. Kurkow aber läßt seinen Tolja so viel Küchenphilosophie über zurückerhaltenes Leben, alte Schuldkomplexe und "die Natur der Wünsche" in seinem Samowar aufkochen, daß man bald nur noch den Wasserkessel blubbern hört, es aber nach nichts mehr schmeckt." - Doris Meierhenrich, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Kurkov writes fabulous webfoot, but his humans lack soul. (...) (N)othing in this slender work, translated by George Bird into prose of stuffy obfuscation, conveys the spry despondency that made Kurkov's reputation." - David Jays, The Guardian

  • "Serious stuff, then; but never too sober, thanks to the copious draughts of vodka, gin and whisky which lubricate our heroís journey, and the mordant wit of Kurkovís pen. (...) A Matter of Death and Life is a slight, if perfectly balanced read. Its premise would be unlikely to sustain a work of great length." - David Martin, Scotland on Sunday

  • "Just when you're expecting this tragi-farcical set-up to spin out of control, however, the novella takes a more meditative turn. Kurkov manages the transition very skilfully, and an unexpected epilogue gives weight to what might otherwise have seemed little more than an atmospheric shaggy-dog story." - Christopher Tayler, Sunday Telegraph

  • "The effect is not altogether satisfying, and the reader is left wishing that Andrey Kurkov had indulged his protagonist a little less. " - Jonathan Derbyshire, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Tolya narrates this story set in the triste and violent post-Soviet world. His marriage is falling apart, and soon his wife is completely out of his life, leaving him pretty much all alone. Sharing his troubles with his questionable friend Dima he tells him he wants his wife's lover rubbed out -- and Dima has the contacts to arrange the hit, for a mere $450.
       When the time comes to supply a photograph and personal details of the victim to the hitman defeated and despondent Tolya instead provides a picture of himself and a description of his own routine. Of course, once it's too late, he decides against it: the friendship of a prostitute, Lena, is enough to remind him that maybe there is something worth living for. But it turns out not to be too late: the first hit-attempt is botched, and that gives Tolya time to turn the tables and order another hit.
       Tolya is glad to have preserved his own life, but doesn't feel entirely comfortable with what he had to do to. His guilty conscience leads him to visit the hitman's widow, another lost soul just like him. Their lives are drawn together -- though how far it goes does come as somewhat of a surprise (though Tolya's drifting into what he becomes does, ultimately, feel like it was inevitable).
       Tolya leads an aimless life: society has little use for him, and he has little compulsion to do much. He earns money in decidedly odd jobs -- as a potential (false) witness in a divorce case, for example. The dollar rules in this world, there's little room for morality, and corruption is the order of the day.
       A Matter of Death and Life shows a world where lives are tossed about by fate, islands that come together and drift apart (and, often, simply sink). Life is literally very cheap, but everyone is philosophical about it: it's almost impossible to fight it.
       An atmospheric if triste novel of the contemporary post-Soviet world, it is short, terribly melancholy, and quite effective, even as it is a bit too simplistic -- and too difficult to truly sympathise with the protagonist.

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A Matter of Death and Life: Reviews: Other books by Andrey Kurkov under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Andrey Kurkov (Andrej Kurkow, Andreï Kourkov, Андрей Юрьевич Курков) was born in Leningrad in 1961 and now lives in Kiev.

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