March of the Penguin

JOSEPH SYWENKYJ / REDUX for TIME

OUTSIDER: Kurkov was criticized by Ukrainians for writing his novels in Russian

Thirteen years ago, Andrey Kurkov strolled along Andriyivsky Uzviz, Kiev's main tourist drag, wearing a large sign that proclaimed: I am the author. The first person to pay him attention was a local racketeer, supervising his turf. But after Kurkov explained that he was only trying to sell books he had written, the Ukrainian gangster was so impressed that he granted the ethnic Russian author free protection. A grateful Kurkov wanted to present him with a signed copy of his book, but the friendly racketeer waved him off: "I'm not a reader."

Plenty of other people, however,...

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