cover image Grey Bees

Grey Bees

Andrey Kurkov, trans. from the Russian by Boris Dralyuk. Deep Vellum, $15.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-646051-66-3

In Kurkov’s heartwarming and bittersweet latest (after The Bickford Fuse), a beekeeper determines to take care of his bees during wartime. Sergey Sergeyich, 49, and his lifelong frenemy Pashka Khmelenko are the only residents remaining in Little Starhorodivka, a village inside eastern Ukraine’s 450-kilometer “grey zone,” the no-man’s land between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists backed by Moscow. In the winter of 2017, Sergey befriends a Ukrainian soldier and Pashka does occasional favors for the Russians, but the men’s complicated friendship endures. In March, Sergey heads south with his six hives seeking more peaceful fields for his bees to forage. In Vesele, he takes up with a widowed shopkeeper, but hits the road after being attacked following the funeral of a local soldier killed in a skirmish at Donbas. Sergey tracks down the family of a Crimean Tatar beekeeper whom he’d met at a convention years before, but realizes the Russian annexation of Crimea has done little to bring peace or stability to the region. The old-fashioned, ambulatory story slows to a crawl by the end, but Kurkov’s well-crafted characters make it all worthwhile. It adds up to a wistful elegy for a nation being slowly torn apart. (Apr.)