Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 25, 2019

The Revenge of the Foxes (2018), by Ak Welsapar, translated by Richard Govett

Earlier this week I posted this excerpt from The Revenge of the Foxes by Turkmen author Ak Welsapar, author of more than 20 novels including The Tale of Aypi which I read and reviewed in 2017.  At the time of posting the excerpt I thought that the autumn leaves’ failing quest for survival was a metaphor for the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union, and so it is, but it is also about the way people will do whatever they can to stave off the possibility of death…

The novella is set in a hospital in Soviet Russia where young people are waiting their turn for heart surgery.  Nazarli is a frisky young Turkmen, who is determined to live for the day, make mischief and indulge himself with amorous adventures.  His companions on the ward are Bitya, Slava, Akhiliman and Anatoli, and there is also an attractive nurse called Olga (with whom Nazarli has a brief fling) and a bossy old matron called Baba Nastya.  The hospital is dingy and unclean, and they have to wait for what seems to be experimental heart surgery because the five year Soviet plan trains the necessary doctors in a different five year plan to the arrival of medical equipment.

Nazarli isn’t happy in Ward 6, which is an allusion to a short story by Chekhov which forces a character to realise that suffering is not all in the mind and cannot be vanquished by a change in attitude.  The authorities in Nazarli’s hospital seem to have the same unfeeling attitude because they tell him that if he puts in a request to transfer to a different (cleaner) ward, he will have to re-register and that will place him at the bottom of the waiting list again.  So it is surprising when he is abruptly transferred, until he realises that he has been placed in the new ward to act as a translator for a Greek Comsomol boy called Apostolis.  He is a keen Stalinist (though Stalin is long dead) and Nazarli finds him ‘robotic.’


Nazarli is suddenly whisked into surgery, and there are vivid descriptions of his panicked thoughts about death when he comes round afterwards.  He retrieves memories from long ago, from innocent interludes when he is very young , to an episode when he is a Peeping Tom when he’s fourteen in a remote village.  Like the dying autumn leaves fading from their glory, he and the Soviet Union clutch onto ephemeral moments in an effort to stave off the inevitable.  He seeks freedom and pleasure in brief dalliances though he knows they will not last, while the once firm grip of Baba Nastya is weakening.

You can find out more about Welsapar at his website.

Author: Ak Welsapar
Title: The Revenge of the Foxes
Translated from the Russian by Richard Govett,
Publisher: Glagoslav Publications, 2018, 113 pages
ISBN 9781912894109
Review copy courtesy of Glagoslav Publications

Available from Fishpond: The Revenge of the Foxes



  1. I’ve been working over the weekend (and I’ve run out of drafts to post), just starting on catch up. Did you see the news story a couple of weeks ago, of a young girl being filmed by her friends as she crashed her car and died (I only saw a still). I often wonder what I would feel in those last moments – accepting of the inevitable I hope.


    • No, I didn’t see that.
      I’m hoping to go out with a bang and not see it coming!


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