Inflected with Kurkov’s signature humour and magical realism, The Silver Bone crafts a propulsive narrative that bursts to life with rich historical detail. Translated from Russian by Boris Dralyuk.

Kyiv, 1919. The Soviets control the city, but White armies menace them from the West. No man trusts his neighbour and any spark of resistance may ignite into open rebellion. When Samson Kolechko’s father is murdered, his last act is to save his son from a falling Cossack sabre. Deprived of his right ear instead of his head, Samson is left an orphan, with only his father’s collection of abacuses for company. Until, that is, his flat is requisitioned by two Red Army soldiers, whose secret plans Samson is somehow able to overhear with uncanny clarity. Eager to thwart them, he stumbles into a world of murder and intrigue that will either be the making of him – or finish what the Cossack started.

The Silver Bone was longlisted for the International Booker Prize 2024, announced on March 11 2024.

The International Booker Prize 2024
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MacLehose Press
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Andrey Kurkov

Andrey Kurkov

About the Author

Born near Leningrad in 1961, Andrey Kurkov was a journalist, prison warder, cameraman and screenwriter before he became well-known as a novelist.
More about Andrey Kurkov
Portrait of translator Boris Dralyuk

Boris Dralyuk

About the Author

Boris Dralyuk is an award-winning translator and the Executive Editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books.
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What the International Booker Prize 2024 judges said

‘A surprising book from Ukrainian novelist and journalist Andrey Kurkov, The Silver Bone is a crime mystery set in 1919 Kyiv during a time of chaos, shifts of power and random violence in the aftermath of war. But amidst the brutality is Kurkov’s sense of irony and absurdism. A young engineering student sees his father cut down by Cossacks and, moments later, a sabre cuts off his own right ear. He manages to catch it and keep it in a box, where it can still hear for him, wherever he is. Inspired by real-life, post-First World War Bolshevik secret police files, Kurkov’s novel creates an atmosphere that ranges from 19th century Russian literature to the immediacy of the current war in Ukraine, though it was initially published before Putin’s invasion.’  

Group photo of the International Booker Prize 2024 Judges; Romesh Gunesekera, Natalie Diaz, William Kentridge, Eleanor Wachtel and Aaron Robertson.

What the critics said

Mythili G Rao, Financial Times:

‘Translated from the Russian by poet Boris Dralyuk, Kurkov’s prose is brisk but capacious, with a quiet flair. The innumerable annoyances and small indignities of living through conflict (persistent lice, gelatinous porridge, insufficient kindling, erratic power outages) are presented in all their grating detail. And though it is clear-eyed in its depiction of war’s sheer senselessness, The Silver Bone has an unusual poetic lightness too.’ 

Julian Evans, Telegraph:

‘It’s really Kyiv, a city Kurkov knows perfectly, that plays the leading role, its geography and lawlessness sharpening the tense atmosphere. Kurkov first published this novel in 2020, two years before Putin’s full invasion of his country, but an eerie contemporaneity stalks its pages. The city’s blackouts, a consequence of its firewood having been stolen, have echoes of today’s Kyiv, blacked out by Russian missile strikes.’

Publishers Weekly:

‘Kurkov eschews conventional mystery plotting – the eponymous bone isn’t discovered until two-thirds of the way through the novel – but the finely drawn characters and harrowing descriptions of daily life in 1919 Kyiv leave a far more lasting impression than clever genre tricks ever could. With its earthy prose and stunning attention to detail, this stands apart.’

Other nominated books by Andrey Kurkov

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