Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Russian Crime Novel

Book Review: The Case of the General's Thumb by Andey Kurkov

This was my first exposure to Andrey Kurkov, and my first exploration of modern Russian literature more recent than The Gulag Archipelago. [Note: although he writes in Russian, Andrey Kurkov is Ukrainian] It was interesting to see what I have been missing.

Everyone is more or less aware of the English and American crime and espionage genres (spies and crooks oft go hand in hand); they are well established and have their particular trademarks. The Case of the General's Thumb introduced me to a new cultural and literary milieu - and after some adjustment I have to say it was a pleasant surprise.

Some of the adjustment was cultural. Character dialog patterns were unfamiliar, and the settings unknown. It was truly foreign territory in many regards. An American reader of an American novel will understand often unspoken cues to events and cultural commonalities; I had to work sometimes to put pieces together.

The writing style and pacing of General's Thumb were also different than I was used to. Part of this may have been due to translation into English, but I believe it was mostly a stylistic difference, and it was simply that -- different.

Different can be good, and General's Thumb is a thoroughly enjoyable read. Kurkov gives us a story that is fast-paced, with enough plot intricacies to keep the reader on his/her toes. The characters may be foreign to American readers, but they live and die by the same human aspirations and failings we all do. If you want a new spin on crime novels, check this out.