i read grey bees.

In about 2014, my reading life changed with the establishment of Dallas’s Deep Vellum Publishing, a publisher at the time dedicated to literature in translation. They’ve since branched out, drawing in smaller imprints and recently buying the legendary catalog Dalkey Archive. But for me, they’ll always be a go-to place to read the world. As they were for me this week, when I read Ukrainian novelist Andrey Kurkov’s Grey Bees.

Kurkov’s Sergey Sergeyich lives in Little Starhorodivka, a village in Ukraine’s grey zone, a region caught between loyalists & separatists. It’s a lonely village reduced to two inhabitants, Sergey a retired mine inspector & beekeeper, and Pashka his lifelong frenemy also retired. They visit each other out of boredom & necessity, eventually even deepening something of neighborly affection & concern for one another. The frequent shelling in & around the village, however, mean that Sergey must leave — not for his own safety primarily, but for that of his bees.

His journey to let his bees take wing draws you into the variety of the region & its people, and into the depths of Sergey’s emotions. The wartime checkpoints & worries, bureaucratic absurdities & cruelties had me on edge a lot — soldiers & militia, governors & petty officials alike wield the kind of control over Sergey & his fate, his friends & his bees, that make for apt comparisons to Vonnegut, Kafka, Bulgakov, and Beckett.

Relationships with women complicate & nurture this journey throughout. One that turns erotic, others that turn familial, and still others that were once familial & strained … Sergey isn’t the bravest or clearest heart you’ll read but he is one of the realest, needing nudges from women to love & to feel & to sacrifice when it’s needed most (for himself & for others & for his bees).

Oh, and the bees.

Don’t worry — Kurkov leans on the apiary just enough. In hands-on maintenance & in nightmarish visions, in liter-by-liter accounts of production and in (quick) allegorical meditations on belonging & endurance, rebirth & sweetness.

You can buy Grey Bees here, and you can read about other stuff I’ve read here.

9 responses to “i read grey bees.”

  1. So glad you have joinied this writing community. I found you today because you post 2-people before me. I make it a habit to reply to the 2 before me and the one after. Then if I have more time, I search for names I recognize. I’m glad we are only half-way through this month. I’ll keep looking for you! Thanks for teaching me about this imprint and about htis book, especially as Ukraine is on my mond constantly. I also wrote about a book today, a middle grade novel by Kelly Yang. You and I both seem to find comfort via stories. One more thing….here’s a tip when posting. To ensure your entry doesn’t take up too much space, I do this. I write my sentence about what I wrote and then I add 3-period (,,,) and then copy my link and then click on the POST COMMENT. I know the directions tell you NOT to add a space. That confuses me. I prefer to do something so I add the 3-dots which does NOT cause my post to be displayed in a large way. Hope that makes sense. Keep writing!


  2. This sounds really interesting. I’m not sure I can read it right now, though. My heart breaks every day for the people of Ukraine. Going to add it to my TBR list though. Thank you!


  3. I just ordered this, Joel. I am reading, trying to become less ignorant, about the Ukraine and Russia’s relationship. I just read (skimmed, I admit) Tim Judah’s, In Wartime, Stories from the Ukraine and have Between Two Fires by Joshua Yaffa beside my bed. Thanks for a story that sounds awesome. I love when an author creates real characters.


    • Thanks, the table helps me look at my habits critically — once I finish a row, I try to see where I should go next, which stories I haven’t sought out lately


  4. Thanks for sharing this! I am watching the Frontline episodes featuring Putin and I heard a podcast about the rumors behind his reason for starting the war with Chechnya. One of my favorite books that explained a part of the world I didn’t know very much about was the children’s book Night Journal which is about the split between India and Pakistan.


    • Ooh, I’ve got to find Night Journal then. Thanks! Oh, and the Ezra Klein Show has a load of podcast convos this past week that have taught me a lot about this part of the war


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