The Silver Bone by Andrey Kurkov translated by Boris Dralyuk

Samson and his father were walking home when a sabre was swung by a cossack hacking Samson’s father’s head in half and slicing off Samson’s right ear. He saves the ear and stores it in a tin, shut away in a drawer. And from this point on, Samson’s world is a reaction to the events going on outside as groups and armies fight for control of the city, Kyiv, and the country. Each day seems to bring a new leadership and if one day you are wearing a white armband you are considered to be on the ‘right’ side, it is almost guaranteed that you won’t want to be seen wearing it the next day as another group sweep in. Set amongst this turmoil, Samson becomes a policeman, of sorts, and sets out to investigate crimes starting with the one happening in his own apartment.

At the mercy of different armies, Bolsheviks, The Chekas, Cossacks, two soldiers who have deserted take up accomodation in Samson’s father’s office, sleeping there and using it as a dumping ground for all the loot they collect. Samson’s ear overhears the deserters talking and he takes it upon himself to get them arrested and all their loot transported to the police station. Through his investigations he meets people that become friends and who help him including a young woman, Nadezhda, an idealist, who moves into the apartment because it is deemed to be too big for Samson on his own.

I enjoyed the history of Kyiv at the time, early 1900s, the descriptions of the place and the emergence of Samson as a detective. He isn’t dark, he has friends and he is a helpful person determined to do the ‘right’ thing. The emphasis on food, warm clothing and firewood helps to show a city on the edge, where small acts of kindness go a long way. Money is constantly changing and you are never quite sure what you need to pay with. I also enjoyed the slightly traditional tale voice that the story had. Parts of it are a little surreal and so it doesn’t read like an American detective novel.

What I was less sure about was the role of the silver bone. I know what happened to it but in itself it didn’t really feel that important to the story and even at the end I was left wondering why. I also didn’t think that the ear had been used to its fullest extent – maybe that will happen in future stories.

A mixed bag of treasure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *