Tuesday, September 16, 2008

book review - The President's Last Love

If there is one thing you remember about this book it is the idea of love and the heart after all it echoes right through from the start to the finish. Andrey Kurkov is a satirical writer that weaves you through Eastern European politics with the often heartless corruption rubbing shoulders with the other human emotions of love and happiness.

In this story you follow the president of the Ukraine and understand through various stages of his life flashing backwards and forwards over the last 40 years that he is essentially a straightforward bloke looking for love and something to love.

The four main story lines running alongside each other obviously give the chance to jump around and have various twists and plots going on but after a while you do wish it would settle down and just concentrate on the 2015 storyline of Bunin in the future.

But it doesn’t take long to get to grips with things. The story starts with the president having gone through a heart transplant and there is a metaphor for lost loves there as he relates his story and his great love that left him after his twin children died. He has known loss before with his first wife leaving him after his child was stillborn.

He has also known what it is like to be close to tragedy with his brother an inmate a mental institution after effectively opting out of life. Ironically it is his brother who finds happiness in marriage and fatherhood only to throw his life away when threatened with his existence in a Swiss clinic being taken away from him.

Back in the political world it seems that the Ukraine exists in the shadow of a mighty Russia and it is an odd relationship between them that allows the president just enough power to believe he is independent of his neighbour. The fight between the president and the oligarchs carries on as the central character Bunin wonders where the ottoman from his presidential office has gone after being stolen and why he is being challenged by forces both inside and out of the party.

Ultimately Bunin is just a vehicle to paint a picture of the past and the future and you have to come to the conclusion that not necessarily the right people get to the top and those that do are far from happy when they reach the summit.

In a final scene Bunin has just won another few years in power and wanders over to some old men living in a basement room opposite the Presidential offices. They fail to recognise him and moan about their way of life being threatened. Perhaps it is that simplicity that is something that is not only envied by those in positions that prevent them from feeling, making friendships and loving but also something we should all consider before becoming consumed by ambition.

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