Grey Bees

By Andrey Kurkov, Boris Dralyuk (translator),

Book cover of Grey Bees

Book description

With a warm yet political humor, Ukraine’s most famous novelist presents a balanced and illuminating portrait of modern conflict.

Little Starhorodivka, a village of three streets, lies in Ukraine's Grey Zone, the no-man's-land between loyalist and separatist forces. Thanks to the lukewarm war of sporadic violence and constant propaganda that…

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Why read it?

4 authors picked Grey Bees as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

The really unusual setting for this book is a Ukrainian village that has been decimated by war and is inhabited by only two people.

It illustrates the absurdity of war, and it made me think hard about how I would survive in similar circumstances—living without heat or electricity or contact with the outside world. It gave me a window into the terrifying circumstances under which many people are living today.

I found it impossible not to care about the main character, a simple man who wants to do nothing more than raise his bees in peace, but is surrounded by…

This is a heartening story of a beekeeper who is one of the few remaining residents of his town after war breaks out.

He refuses to leave because of his bees, even though his food supplies are running out. This book shows the devastation of war and is of course so timely with the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. I’ve found I’m drawn to books about nature more than ever—because of climate change, the pandemic, and war—and this one shows we’re all more alike than different. 

Kurkov’s novel is about a middle-aged beekeeper who embarks on a Kafka-esque road trip across the conflict-ridden regions of eastern Ukraine to find pollen for his bees. This book provides a unique insight into the absurdity and tragedy of a conflict that pre-dates the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 by 8 years, but has been largely ignored by the outside world. 

I knew the Donbas coal mining communities well in the 1990s, and also met the enigmatic Kurkov some years back when invited to the Kyiv Book Fair. So I was intrigued by his novel about life in the Donbas since Russia invaded in 2014. While most people have fled the region, Sergey has remained in the grey zone, a vast stretch of no-man’s land between the lines of Ukrainian loyalists and Russian-backed separatists. The war is simply the new backdrop to his solitary life. As he says, such near isolation could help one better understand oneself, one’s own life…

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