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Two Cousins of Azov by Andrea Bennett

PUBLISHED BY BOROUGH BOOKS
REVIEW BY PENNY NOM

Andrea Bennett’s Two Cousins of Azov is a charming and heart-warming story about family responsibilities, mental health and friendship. It has beautiful descriptive passages, perfectly written suspense, brilliantly drawn characters, and plenty of dark humour.

The book switches between the stories of Gor and his cousin Tolya, and between Capitalist Russia and the Community Soviet Union.

Gor is a magician coming out of retirement and in need of an assistant – enter Sveta and her precocious, but ultimately endearing daughter, Albina.

After an initially uncomfortable start to their relationship, this trio become the very best of friends. This relationship is forged through the various crises they help each other through and quests they they jointly solve.

Gor’s relationship with the plucky mother and daughter is transformative, bringing love, friendship and acceptance of the past to his colourless and solitary existence.

The chapters dealing with Tolya’s story are just as engaging. Through Tolya’s story we experience what it was like to live in Communist Russia.  From his bed in the Vim and Vigour Sanatorium, Tolya tells the story of his childhood to the handsome but somewhat ridiculous young Dr Vlad, and we feel pathos both for the young Tolya doing it tough with his grandmother in the woods of Russia under Stalin’s regime, and for the slightly senile old man who is seemingly alone in the world.

If you like your stories darkly comical, you’ll appreciate the scene where Sveta is locked in a box waiting to be sawn in half by Gor, when she is attacked by his cat and splashed with the blood of a dead rabbit. If you like a mystery you’ll enjoy trying to decide whether the odd things that happen to Gor are of supernatural origin, the work of a dastardly third party, or all in his mind.

And if you enjoy well-written description you’ll enjoy this book, as Andrea Bennett has great ability in this area – in just a few words she can transport you to Gor’s local market with its “sacks of potatoes and turnips lounged in lumpen splendour,” and the pigs’ heads laughing at you “from hooks in the beams, dribbling blood onto the sawdust below”.

She’s equally skilled in the way she brings her unique and whimsical characters to life so quickly and effortlessly: characters such as Elena Dmitrovna, the nosy hostel manager, who is a spidery form with a shrieking voice and sciatica; and the psychic Madame Zoya, “a tiny, wizened woman, her puny body entirely swathed in shiny purple, including her head [where] an attempt at a turban … sat up on her strangely solid hair like a purple hen on a blue-black nest.”

To cut a long story short, this is a lively and quirky book. It’s an immensely enjoyable read with a bitter-sweet ending, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

 

Find this novel in store at Planet Books. Ask the friendly staff for guidance too, and they’ll be more than happy to order you in a copy if it’s already sold out.