The Case of the General’s Thumb by Andrey Kurkov, George Bird

Kurkov

Satire has a new superstar! Andrey Kurkov with his masterful treatment of dark humour not only warms the very cockles of the reader’s heart, but also evokes in a nostalgic vein, the storied memories and magnificence of Mikhail Bulgakov and even to an extent Jules Cervantes. Characters of a Quixotic mien waft in and out of Kurkov’s pages delighting, disappointing and dumbfounding the reader in equal proportions.

The distinguished and now murdered General Bronitsky is found suspended in an advertising balloon – sans his thumb. This sets off a process of investigation that is at once farcical and formal. Police Lieutenant Viktor Slutsky, who is ill equipped to handle cases of such proportions is miraculously assigned to the case and is promptly set off on a wild goose chase. A proven officer in the KGB Nik Tsensky is also formally tasked with the responsibility of bringing the killers of General Bronistsky to book. Neither Nik nor Viktor is aware of the other’s interest in the peculiar case involving a General with a missing thumb.

The two separate patterns of investigations set off an exercise in dangerous absurdity involving near dances with death, criss-crossing of the European continent, involuntary travels involving a modified hearse, a deaf and dumb blonde and a hungry turtle named Nina. The plot represents a brilliant canvas upon which Kurkov paints an inimitable picture of hubris, haughtiness and hollow pride. The socio-economic effects triggered by the post-Soviet collapse and the civilian impact of the disintegration of the Great Bear is brought to full view by the literary brilliance of Kurkov. Nik and Victor, the two unsuspecting pawns in a pre-determined play of farce denote with great vigour the calamitous plight of the citizens inhabiting a post-Soviet era – an era characterised by uncertainty and futility.

Combining morbid humour with a deadpan narrative, Kurkov dazzles and leaves the reader gasping for more. The absurdity quotient even parallels Dostoyevsky at times while the rapier like sarcasm would have won the whole-hearted accord from even the likes of Yevgeny Zamyatin and Arthur Koestler. However within the confines of the humour and sarcasm is embedded a harsh lesson – a lesson to be imbibed by both the politicians and the people who cast their votes in electing their representatives. There is a message and a method to the madness of Kurkov. The underlying essence of such a message is startlingly simple – the dark forces of the day do not represent a spontaneous creation. They are the culmination of factors that are both avoidable and inevitable – the avoidable shedding precious and invaluable lessons for future generations to come.

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