The Revenge of the Foxes

Written by Ak Welsapar Richard Govett (trans.)
Review by Mandy Jenkinson

The Institute of Cardiovascular Surgery in Moscow specialises in the heart problems of young people. The narrator Nazarli arrives from his native Turkmenistan and soon becomes part of the patient community. He gradually gets to know some of the other patients, all of whom seem to be there for an indefinite period as their operations are regularly cancelled or postponed.

Being young and hopeful, none of them wants to face the possibility of death, and within the confines of the hospital they make friendships, form romances and enjoy as much as possible the life they have as they battle the seemingly arbitrary hospital rules. Apart from these human stories we also get a glimpse into the Soviet health system. Many of the patients have arrived via the back door, by bribery or influence, and foreign patients receive preferential treatment. We meet a young Greek Komsomol, sent by the Friendship Society, who has his place as the USSR seeks to extend its reach. We learn how the five-year plans impact on the Institute, with the purchase of vital equipment in this plan but with staff training scheduled for the next.

At its heart the novel is a moving tale of young people whose lives are overshadowed by their potential death, and a portrait of life on the wards, with its ups and downs, hopes and disappointments, seen through the eyes of young Nazarli as he faces his own trauma. The author is from Turkmenistan, although now in exile, and he pays homage to his native land in Nazarli’s thoughts and dreams. Overall this is a compelling snapshot of six months in the life of a hospital, and I very much enjoyed it.