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A whimsical story set in Lviv

6th June 2023

Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv by Andrey Kurkov, a whimsical story set in Lviv. Translated by Reuben Woolley.

A whimsical story set in Lviv

First, to point out that, despite its title, this book has very little to do with Jimi Hendrix. One of his hands is allegedly buried in a cemetery in Lviv and every year, on his birthday, a group of ageing hippies gather to pay homage. That is about it. The book gently explores the lives of these hippies and others in the city. Taras earns his living by driving clients (often Poles) around the city’s cobbled streets late at night in a beaten up old Opel in an attempt (which is normally successful) to dislodge their kidney stones. Just before dawn every night he takes his currency earnings to a Foreign Exchange booth manned by Darka, a girl with whom he begins to fall in love. His best friend, Oksana, is an actress who runs a shelter for the homeless. She also knows Alik, another of the ageing hippies, and his former KGB ‘tormentor’ Captain Ryabtsev – now reformed but staying on in the city. Ryabtsev leads a lonely life focussed on his doves.

But strange events are beginning to take place in Lviv. Seagulls have appeared (and are far from friendly). There’s a smell of the sea – hundreds of miles inland – and rumblings occurring in the earth. Is a prehistoric sea bed beginning to rise again? Or do the events have anything to do with a drunken, and far from sweet smelling, old sailor who is roaming the city. Our characters in various ways sense the phenomenon and try and find the solution.

The strength of the book, as ever with Kurkov, is the nature of his characters. He describes them lovingly, and the reader receives an intimate idea of their lives and what makes them tick. The plot is a vehicle to explore them. He is one of my favourite authors.

I have not been to Lviv, but I imagine the descriptions of the city ring true. Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv is a book I would recommend.

Tony for the TripFiction team

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