About the Book
Viktor is an aspiring writer with only Misha, his pet penguin, for company. Although he would prefer to write short stories, he earns a living composing obituaries for a newspaper. He longs to see his work published, yet the subjects of his obituaries continue to cling to life. But when he opens the newspaper to see his work in print for the first time, his pride swiftly turns to terror. He and Misha have been drawn into a trap from which there appears to be no escape
Format: Hardback (240 pages ) Publisher: Vintage
Publication date: 28th April 2022 Genre: Contemporay Fiction, Literature in Translation
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Death and the Penguin was the May selection for the book club run by Waterstones in Reading. Although the book is available in paperback, most of us chose to purchase Waterstones’ special edition containing a new introduction by the author and with £10 from each copy sold being donated to Oxfam’s Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.
First published in 1996, Death and the Penguin has been described as ‘a chilling black comedy’ and there are definitely moments of surreal humour; Misha the penguin’s funeral attendances spring to mind. And anyway how often do you come across someone who has a penguin for a pet, especially when that person lives in an apartment? However it does show that, although solitary by nature and with a history of keeping other people at arm’s length, Viktor can show affection. Touchingly when Misha falls ill, Viktor seeks out a penguinologist (who knew there was such a thing) to advise him on what to do and, as a result, enters into an agreement that will have quite incendiary results.
Through a series of chance events and quite without knowing how it happened, Viktor acquires what he regards as the requisites of a ‘normal’ life: wife, child, pet penguin. Set largely in the city which we now know to call Kyiv, there are occasional glimpses of Ukranian lifestyle such as when Viktor travels to a friend’s dacha for New Year celebrations.
Though he doesn’t comprehend it for a long time, Viktor has become entangled in what turns out to be a web of corruption run by some very shady individuals. When he finally puts two and two together, he realises he knows too much. ‘This isn’t a film, it’s for real.’ But has that realisation come too late?
Although all the book club members enjoyed the whimsical nature of the book, we were left with the feeling that we’d missed something and that perhaps you had to be Ukrainian to really appreciate the satirical element of the book.
In three words: Quirky, playful, charming
Try something similar: Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar
About the Author
Andrey Kurkov was born in St Petersburg in 1961. Having graduated from the Kyiv Foreign Languages Institute, he worked for some time as a journalist, did his military service as a prison warder in Odessa, then became a writer of screenplays and author of critically acclaimed and popular novels, including the bestselling Death and the Penguin which was first published in 1996.
Kurkov has long been a respected commentator on Ukraine for the world’s media, notably in the UK, France, Germany and the United States.