Harvill Secker, £9.99. Order at £9.49 inc. p&p from the Independent Bookshop

Ukraine Diaries by Andrey Kurkov, trans. Sam Taylor, book review: Soul-searching diaries recount the tumult of revolution

 

Not many diaries contain such laconic-sounding entries as: "Drove the children to school, then went to see the revolution," but then Andrey Kurkov is no ordinary dad doing the school run, and the recent overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine was a strange kind of revolution. A novelist whose home was 500 yards from Kiev's central Maidan square, from last November until April he had a ringside seat at the popular revolt against the President and his Praetorian guard of pro-Russian cronies.

The prospect of reading Kurkov's diary initially inspired some trepidation because the thoughts of East European intellectuals do not always work well in English. The style can jar, and sound ponderous for Anglo-Saxon tastes. I need not have worried. Kurkov is not a prickly, status-conscious writer. He guides us through months of tumult in Kiev in the style of an informed but convivial flaneur, and his entries crackle with irony and humour. The revolution that unfolds through these pages has an old-fashioned air to it, almost as if it were a throwback to 1848 – although that is my reading, not the author's.

As in the time of the "Springtime of Nations", patriots deliver stirring speeches in the shadow of the statues of long-dead poets, students proclaim their willingness to die for the Motherland, open-air meetings commence with blessings from bishops and protesters shelter from the police in the sanctuary of monasteries. Clouds of incense seem to waft over many proceedings. At one point, all the heads of state of Ukraine – past and present – troop off to church to pray for guidance. That entry alone was a jolt. One struggles to imagine David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and John Major kneeling in a row in Westminster Abbey in search of divine guidance.

Kurkov is not a disinterested observer, coolly weighing up the respective strengths of the pro-Russian and pro-Western parties in Ukraine as they slug it near his home. He supports the pro-European option with conviction, and with difficulty restrains his children from joining the students on the barricades down the road. His position in this battle clearly involved much soul-searching, as he himself is Russian by birth and ethnicity. He does not labour the point; it is only halfway through that he drops in the fact that his grandfather died in eastern Ukraine in 1943, fighting for the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany and its local Fascist allies. Yet, today, he stands alongside those whom the Russian authorities and media routinely call "Fascists", rendering himself deeply odious in the eyes of the Kremlin and its supporters. Their fury worries him, but he doesn't budge. It's the Russian nationalists who are the true Fascists in this situation, he maintains.

The struggle over Ukraine's destiny is often presented as a straightforward tug-of-war between Ukrainian-speakers living in the one half of the country and the Russian-speaking majority in the other. Kurkov's dilemma, and his response to it, are an important reminder that the dividing lines running through Ukraine have more to do with ideology than geography, language or ethnicity. A divided country indeed, but perhaps not divided on the lines we imagine.

Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Gravelle on trial for Danny Latimer's murder as Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

Review: Broadchurch episode 7

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Barry Norman has predicted a Best Actor win for Michael Keaton at this Sunday's awards

oscars
Arts and Entertainment
The right stuff: 'Ukip: the First 100 Days'

Review: UKIP: The First 100 Days TV
Arts and Entertainment
Anastasia Steele with Christian Grey in his offices in Fifty Shades of Grey

film
Arts and Entertainment
Class act: Julia McKenzie and Keeley Hawes in 'The Casual Vacancy'

JK Rowling's story is a far better drama than it is a book

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Channel 4's Indian Summers

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The BBC's version of 'The Crimson Petal and the White'

Books

Arts and Entertainment
We will remember them: 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' at the Tower of London

Art Police investigate abuse sent to Paul Cummins over Tower of London installation

Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman was named worst actress for her performance as Grace Kelly in Grace of Monaco
film
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game; the film’s producer, Harvey Weinstein, said the UK government ought to honour its subject
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower