Book Club words surrounded by books

Book Club words surrounded by books ()

UMGC Europe Book Club, which is open to everyone, will host its first meeting of the 2024 reading season on February 27 at 12 p.m. CET via Zoom with Andrey Kurkov’s Grey Bees, a novel that explores the 2018 occupation of the Donbas region of Ukraine. The titular grey bees live in the Grey Zone of Donbas, where separatists and loyalists clash, part of an ongoing armed regional conflict that continues to this day. UMGC Europe Book Club selected Grey Bees to honor the two-year anniversary of the War in Ukraine and to help our overseas U.S. Military Community better understand the region’s culture and history through literature.

As the novel opens, Sergey, the beekeeper, frets over the fate of his bees amidst the cold winter and unfolding war. With live artillery and bombardment, the bees are too traumatized and stressed to leave their hives and continue their life cycle. At last, Sergey decides he must find a peaceful place for his bees to spend the spring and summer pollinating. By the time the novel ends, Sergey’s car has become a skeletal wagon, pulling his hives around Crimea. His dedication to his bees thwarts the Russian occupation and reinforces his humanity.

Described by Kurkov with the same artistry required of apiculture (beekeeping), the novel reveals that it is the kindness of passionate people, whether to the written word or to a buzzing hive, that keeps dignity alive. The Slavic literary tradition has always known this about writing and humanity, and Kurkov’s novel emerges from well-established heritage that includes writers like Nikolai Gogol and Vasily Grossman. Kurkov, though, has the distinction of being the most widely translated contemporary Ukrananian novelist, and Grey Bees is available in both paperback and audio formats.

Kurkov owes his popularity outside Ukraine to his reworking of beloved Western literary genres. Kurkov’s novel reads like The Odyssey or Don Quixote if these classics were set in a post-Soviet absurdist landscape. Kurkov updates these genres to create a Ukrainian road trip and war novel that captures the complexity of Eastern Europe. Kurkov’s masterful storytelling transcends the explicit depiction of war, providing a nuanced exploration of the religious and ethnic diversity among the Muslim Tatars in Crimea, with whom Sergey finds refuge on a fellow apiculturist’s farm. The Tatar family’s compassionate treatment of Sergey highlights how war creates refugees, while also questioning Russia’s often xenophobic claims to the Crimean Peninsula. Kurkov’s inclusion of the Tatar family significantly contributes to the novel’s broader cultural reach and gives an American audience greater insight into the region’s diversity.

Grey Bees offers a unique and valuable perspective on the War in Ukraine. UMGC Europe Book Club’s mission to foster discussion within the military community reflects a commitment to broadening perspectives and better understanding our global world. Please join us and read this powerful narrative that explores Ukraine and the ongoing war in Eastern Europe. For more information, visit our Facebook page or email for questions on membership or how Book Club can facilitate other community reading events.

Everyone is welcome to join the UMGC Europe Book Club, no need to be a student or faculty member! We have been building a community that values diversity, empathy, and literary exploration since July 2020. Our mission is simple: to read literature, to create a reliable and safe community of readers, and, most importantly, to provide a space where resilience and empathy thrive. Whether you’re an avid reader or just looking to connect with fellow book enthusiasts, our club offers inclusive meaningful discussions.

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