Publisher: The Borough Press | Published 12th February 2015 | Edition: Hardback (own copy)
You’d be forgiven for thinking, ‘how on earth can a story set in a Russian village that time forgot (with elderly people clad in head scarves and unattractive pop socks) be remotely entertaining?’
Well, I’m sorry. I can’t shed any light on it either.
It’s just a magical read and reminds me of an alternative version of ‘Allo ‘Allo. There are some thoroughly hammed-up shenanigans to whip up quite a storm, and I absolutely loved it.
Let’s get some quick intro’s out of the way. The stars of this comic caper are:
- THE star is undoubtedly: BORODA, a 3 legged dog (with a beard). Loves scraps of fat and the occasional scratch under the chin.
- GALINA PETROVNA, a stereotypical Babushka and NOT the owner of Boroda (despite allowing the dog to live in her apartment). The widow appears hardened by life and shows little emotion, except when she offers scraps of fat to Boroda.
- VASILY SEMYONOVICH VOLUBCHIK (or Vasya to his friends). An elderly resident and neighbour and chairman of the Azov House of Culture Elderly Club. Vasya has at least five of his own teeth and would also like a scratch under the chin, as he holds a torch for the old Widow.
- MITYA the exterminator. A hateful character if ever there was one.
- With special mention to the Kommandant Krapivin of the SIZO, who is convinced he’s running a Butlins style holiday camp for hardened prisoners (strangely, he was my favourite).
Between the consumption of vast quantities of gherkins, vodka, and tea served with jam, the residents of Azov are set for an unexpected turn of events. And it all surrounds a scruffy dog called Boroda.
The little canine might only have three legs but she’s a perfect companion for Galina Petrovna, who has been widowed from Pasha for some while now.
There’s not much to do in Azov, except visit the entertainment factory that is: ‘The House of Culture Elderly Club’. You just can’t contain your excitement, as they talk about crop infestations, play chess and sometimes they watch the old folk throw punches when things get heated over a triviality. A typical member resembles this lady:
The oldest old woman stood up with a clearly audible creak, her mosaic face cracking open to produce a voice that rumbled up from her belly, or perhaps her boots, which were fashioned from the same stuff as her face.
Only Mitya seems to have achieved any delight in his life. He’s a vindictive animal exterminator who you will loathe from the first breath he draws on the page. When he encounters little Boroda waiting for Galina outside the House of Culture, he has a big grin on his face.
You get the impression that Mitya just can’t bear to see anyone, or anything, happy. He is spiteful and vile – however, throughout the story we are given an insight as to why he’s so cruel, and his character evolves considerably.
One of the children playing outside raises the alarm, but it’s too late, Boroda is missing…
(…SHARP INTAKE OF BREATH…)
From then on, each turn of the page allows the perfect caper to unfold. With a cast that is well past its expiry date, it’s lends itself to all manner of situation comedy moments.
There’s a motor bike chase, a sickle-brandishing crazy mother, MANY officials to bribe, underground connections to be made, while all the time there’s a canine rescue to organise. But it’s not all fun and games. As the plot develops, plenty of home truths crawl out from their deepest, darkest burrows concerning Galina’s husband, the chairman with a crush, and there’s just a whole heap of trouble for the exterminator man.
You can’t help but connect with every single character and the oddities that accompany them. Without creating an entirely depressive atmosphere, Andrea Bennett describes their grim, simple lives and how they’ve each settled for whatever little happiness they possess at that moment in time. We learn more about their friendships, their loves (or lack of) and their bizarre living habits.
There’s some cracking dialogue exchanged between them, which makes their personalities sing – by the time I was a quarter of the way through I found I’d developed a comfortable Russian accent whilst reading, albeit a bad one!
But all the while my heart was in the wringer, forever wondering whether the witless rescuers would find Boroda and bring her home…the dry humour in this often surprising tale held my attention until I found out.
Best devoured as a chunk, rather than several nibbles (the book, not the gherkins).
FYI: It should come as no surprise that there are quite a few Russian words, place names and hard to pronounce surnames in the story, but there’s a small glossary at the back of the book. And no, I didn’t find it until I’d finished. Should have gone to Specsavers…
You can follow the author on Twitter: @andreawiderword | Publisher: @BoroughPress