Few authors have been as sought after in recent months as Ukrainian novelist Andrey Kurkov. His latest book, Grey Bees (Deep Vellum; trans. from the Russian by Boris Dralyuk), received glowing reviews and has sold briskly since its March 29 publication. In January, PW called the novel, which follows a beekeeper from the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas, “a wistful elegy for a nation being slowly torn apart.” Today it feels even more urgent.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Kurkov—who was born in Leningrad in 1961 and moved with his family to Kyiv before turning two—has become a tireless representative of his country, its culture, and its independence. He contributes weekly “Letters from Ukraine” to the BBC, gives interviews to PBS, Ouest-France, and others, and writes articles for the New Yorker and outlets across the Western world. Yet he’s quick to note that he’s not the only author speaking out.

“I know several of my colleagues in Ukraine who are doing similar things, but directed at specific markets where their books are popular,” Kurkov says. For instance, “Markian Kamysh, a young writer, is publishing diaries in one of the main newspapers in Italy because his book [Stalking the Atomic City] was very successful there before [the war].”

Despite the constant stress of “reading the news and checking video coverage of everything that is happening,” Kurkov says he’s fine, for the moment. When he’s not speaking with journalists, he spends his days communicating with friends, family, and colleagues.

What he isn’t doing, he notes, is working on a new novel. “I forget about writing fiction because I write articles and essays and my diary. Sometimes I have ideas that are good for fiction, so I put them down, but immediately forget about them.” For someone whose career has included writing nearly two dozen novels, several children’s books, and multiple screenplays, it’s a dramatic change.

Kurkov’s dispatches to the BBC and elsewhere aren’t his first foray into reportage, however. Thirty years ago, after a PEN International conference in Dubrovnik, which he says was “organized as a naive attempt to end the war [in the former Yugoslavia],” he went to the Bosnian-Croatian front line with Norwegian publisher Anders Heger. “I stayed about 10 days,” he recalls, and ended up writing “the first report from the Balkan War for Ukrainian newspapers.” Watching Yugoslavia’s violent rupture so soon after Ukraine had gained its independence from the Soviet Union was sobering. “I remember a lot from that experience, and I remember thinking that this crazy thing cannot happen in Ukraine.”

Andrey Kurkov will be in conversation with PW bookselling and international editor Ed Nawotka on Tuesday, May 24, 10:30–11 a.m. ET.

Return to main feature.