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Grey Bees: A captivating, heartwarming story about a gentle beekeeper caught up in the war in Ukraine

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With his license and registration still from Soviet times as well, he is at one point even asked: "What, are you still living in the U. As the weather begins to change, Sergeyich decides to take his bees away from the sounds of the war (even though these have for himself by now become part of the norm, ‘fused into [his] silence’) and travels first to Ukrainian territory and later to Russia occupied Crimea where he looks up a Tatar whom he had met at a beekeeper’s conference years ago. It’s rare to encounter a narrative like Andrey Kurkov’s Grey Bees, set in the middle of an ongoing — and intensifying — military assault . as if the actions of the Russian government were in some ways reflective of a deeper national character.

And while Sergeyich doesn’t see himself as concerned with the war, he ends up becoming more involved than he would like to, all the same.

Sergeyich's experiences over the course of the novel are mostly of the fairly simple sort, and Kurkov wisely stays mostly away from the overtly political, Sergeyich very careful as to how he positions himself. Different kinds of silence are experienced at different times—that of the snow when you stare at it long enough, for instance. Oddly charming tale of an odd and solitary beekeeper living in a grey zone (the areas between the fronts of the Russia/Ukraine war in the 2010s).

Wherever this wisdom was visible and comprehensible to him, he would compare its manifestations with human life—always to the detriment to the latter. And so it became with his wartime silence, in which military sounds suppressed and displaced peaceful, natural ones, but, in due course, also nestled under the wings of silence and ceased to draw attention to themselves. Kurkov has a way of explaining to the rest of us what’s happening in his country in an entertaining way. I could have stayed with Sergey the beekeeper indefinitely as he pottered around in his humble home in the war zone, fixing meals, looking after his bees, dreaming strange dreams and being kind to others.

Such a gentle, passive character who somehow manages to show more human decency and bravery than most people he encounters. Now Sergeyich lay in bed, seized by a strange anxiety because of the snowfall, which seemed too loud. This is the setting for Grey Bees by Andrey Kurkov, a novel of the conflict that takes place aside from it to capture the everyday life of those trying to get by while forces greater than them vie for their land and existence.

Among Kurkov's most famous Russian novels are 'Smert postoronnego' (1996, translated into English in 2001 under the title 'Death and the Penguin') and 'Zakon ulitki' (2002, translated into English in 2005 under the title 'Penguin lost)'. While on the one hand, Grey Bees explores (and reveals for people like me who didn’t know so much about the background) some of the complexities of the conflict that has only further heightened in the past year or so but has been continuing for some time now and many of the realities of life in some parts of these territories, on the other it also manages to remain a heart-warming story of likeable characters (particularly our central one) whom one roots for all through. The beekeeper is a good-natured, creative, resourceful character who resonates at a time when we are witness to heinous war crimes taking place in Ukraine (Mariupol is also in the gray zone), when nuclear brinkmanship brings us closer to World War III, when failing climate leadership makes us fear the future that awaits our children, when mass shootings have become commonplace, when polarization stunts our conversations with friends and family, when misinformation floats around us like swirling dust, making it difficult to spot common signposts that can guide us back to better ground.Sergeyich passes through many different checkpoints whose occupants all have something to say about their country. Sergeyich’s ‘peacetime silence’ soon converts to his ‘wartime silence’ as he becomes accustomed to the distant shelling (its sudden disappearance turning the atmosphere heavy instead of light). Szergej nem is viszonyul hozzájuk sehogy sem, így aztán az olvasó se érzi szükségét, hogy az egyik vagy másik pártját fogja.

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