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Death and the Penguin (Melville…
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Death and the Penguin (Melville International Crime) (original 1996; edition 2011)

by Andrey Kurkov, George Bird (Translator)

Series: Penguin (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,469647,385 (3.73)119
Member:mfagan
Title:Death and the Penguin (Melville International Crime)
Authors:Andrey Kurkov
Other authors:George Bird (Translator)
Info:Melville House (2011), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 240 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:***
Tags:None

Work details

Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov (1996)

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» See also 119 mentions

English (56)  French (4)  Danish (2)  Dutch (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (64)
Showing 1-5 of 56 (next | show all)
A naive city boy in a world of post-soviet gang thugs. A Candide guy andhis penguin written in a simple childlike style (Kurkov writes children's books besides his murder mysteries) for an entre into a world of murder, theft, gangsterism. Also, all about obits with a purpose. And the penguin gives the young man's life purpose. ( )
  kerns222 | May 25, 2018 |
The style of this work is such that any translation would make it better. Even if the translator does not really understand what the original says, which must quite often be the case.
The content is trash.
That's all there is in this book. Style and content. Bad and empty. ( )
  alik-fuchs | Apr 27, 2018 |
An interesting story, simply written but succeeds in being chillingly sinister, you don't really realise what's going on until it happens. ( )
  Charlotte1162 | Nov 29, 2017 |
It is always interesting to read a story about a writer. This writer is even more interesting both for what he writes - obituaries - and his penguin. When his girl friend abandoned him he adopted a King penguin who was likewise abandoned by the local zoo. Together they share an apartment and one another's unique sort of loneliness. This is the tempting, for some, beginning of what is a melancholy and comic thriller of a novel.

Writing obituaries turns out to be more interesting than one might suspect. His passion for writing and the assistance of a Mafia operative combine to lead him into a mysterious situation from which he may not be able to escape.

"The more he worked, the more his suspicions grew, until they became the absolute certainty that this whole obelisk business was part of a patently criminal operation. The realization of this in no way influenced his daily life and work. And although he could not help thinking about it, he found it easier to do so every day, having recognized the complete impossibility of ever changing his life." (p 156)

The penguin is an updated version of a Bulgakov-style social satire, where the improbable comes to look more and more sensible against the depiction of what is real. While pathos and humor shine through, this is at its core as black of a black comedy that I have read in some time. It has that rare distinction among my reading of being an evocative look at friendship with a penguin and an invention of genius.

It is energized by comic twists and turns that make Kurkov's writing unique in my experience. Subtly humorous and exciting, it contains unexpected moments galore. A vigorous bizarreness makes it a successfully brooding novel, which creates an enduring sense of dismay and strangeness. ( )
1 vote jwhenderson | Jul 5, 2016 |
When the Kiev zoo can no longer afford to feed its animals, Viktor, a struggling Ukrainian writer, adopts Mischa the penguin. He and Mischa live together in complementary loneliness. When Viktor is hired by an unusual newspaper to write obituaries for the rich and powerful while they are still living, his life begins to change, not always for the better. He becomes wealthy, but the people about whom he has written obituaries begin to die under mysterious circumstances. And Viktor has suddenly drawn the attention of the Russian mafia.

While some of the circumstances in the book may seem absurdist, the book as a whole is coherent and reasonable. It's also very funny, as well as being a sharp political and social commentary. And I loved Mischa the penguin, who plays a vital role in all the goings-on. Highly recommended. ( )
  arubabookwoman | Mar 15, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 56 (next | show all)
What they might approximate for the curious reader, however, is what it’s like to sit for a long late evening with a genial and gifted storyteller as he leads you through the most ancient and, in many ways, still most pleasurable functions of literature — making us wonder what on earth is going to happen next.
 
The novel's hero, Viktor Zolotaryov, is a frustrated writer whose short stories are too short and too sensation-free to be published. When a newspaper editor offers him a new job as star obituarist, paying $300 a month to write 'snappy, pithy, way-out' pieces, he agrees. His brief is to select powerful figures from Ukrainian high society and prepare mournful articles in readiness for the possibility that they might suddenly die.

But then the unexpected death of a senior politician after falling from a sixth-floor window triggers a clan war of killings and Viktor's obituaries are suddenly in demand. It is only later, when he discovers that his pieces are neatly filed in the editor's office - marked with dates for imminent publication although their subjects remain alive - that he becomes uncomfortable about his role in the eruption of violence unsettling the city.

The obituarist assumes a pragmatic approach to the uneasy morality of his work - accepting the money and getting on with it. This approach is one which Kurkov believes many Ukrainians have been forced to adopt, and his book is free of any censure for the way characters behave. 'People have got used to the corruption. People here are flexible and they accept the new rules and don't dwell on moral questions. They just watch what everyone else is doing and try to find their own ways of deceiving others to make money for themselves to survive,' he says.

Viktor's blossoming career is watched with melancholic disapproval by the gloomy figure of his pet penguin, Misha, adopted a few months earlier from the impoverished city zoo. In the cynical atmosphere of post-communist Kiev, the penguin is the only being which inspires in Viktor real affection.

The silent, sad penguin is the key to understanding the novel as a portrayal of post-Soviet chaos, says Kurkov. 'The penguin is a collective animal who is at a loss when he is alone. In the Antarctic, they live in huge groups and all their movements are programmed in their brains so that they follow one another. When you take one away from the others he is lost.

'This is what happened to the Soviet people who were collective animals - used to being helped by one another. With the collapse of the Soviet Union suddenly they found themselves alone, no longer felt protected by their neighbours, in a completely unfamiliar situation where they couldn't understand the new rules of life.'
added by VivienneR | editThe Guardian, Amelia Gentleman
 
Viktor, an impoverished writer and penguin-owner in modern-day Kiev, gets lucky when a local newspaper editor hires him to compose a series of obituaries of still living Ukrainian notables. But when his subjects start dying and acquaintances disappearing, it becomes clear that Viktor is involved in something sinister and he's better off not asking questions.
 

» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kurkov, Andreyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Amargier, NathalieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bird, GeorgeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fernández Cuesta, MercedesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mörk, YlvaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roll-Hansen, DinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tompa, AndreaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vogel, ChristaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
A Militia major is driving along when he sees a militiaman standing with a penguin.
"Take him to the zoo," he orders.
Some time later the same major is driving along when he sees the militiaman still with the penguin.
"What have you been doing," he asks. "I said take him to the zoo."
"We've been to the zoo, Comrade Major," says the militiaman, "and the circus. And now we're going to the pictures."
Dedication
For the Sharps, in gratitude
First words
First, a stone landed a metre from Viktor's foot.
Quotations
But Misha had brought his own kind of loneliness, and the result was now two complementary loneliness, creating an impression more of interdependence than of amity.
Everyone was in a hurry, as if afraid of finding their block on the verge of collapsing or shedding its balconies - both occurrences being no longer uncommon.
No. The pure and sinless did not exist, or else died unnoticed and with no obituary. The idea seemed persuasive. Those who merited obituaries had usually achieved things, fought for their ideals, and when locked in battle, it wasn't easy to remain entirely honest and upright. Today's battles were all for material gain, anyway. The crazy idealist was extinct - survived by the crazy pragmatist...
To every time, its own normality. The once terrible was now commonplace, meaning that people accepted it as the norm and went on living instead of getting needlessly agitated. For them, as for Viktor, the main thing, after all, was still to live, come what might.
The past believed in dates. And everyone's life consisted of dates, giving life a rhythm and sense of gradation,as if from the eminence of a date one could look back and down, and see the past itself. A clear, comprehensible past, divided up into squares of events, lines of paths taken.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Viktor is lonely, having only Misha, his penguin, for company. He is also desperate, trying to earn a living as a writer. Until one day he gets his long-awaited break: the editor-in-chief of a major newspaper commissions Viktor to write obituaries of Kiev's VIPs - to be kept on file. The job pays well and Viktor's luck seems complete when the editor-in-chief sends along a friend who needs Viktor to compose an obituary of one of his associates. This friend, also called Misha, turns out to be a Mafia operative with a big heart. Viktor confides to Misha-non-penguin that he longs to see his work published, even if under a pseudonym, but he subjects of his obituaries cling to life...A few days later he opens the newspaper to find his work in print for the fist time. His pride swiftly turns to terror as he and his penguin are drawn into a trap from which there appears to be no escape. This humorous, moving portrait of the troubled country of contrasts which is today's Ukraine, while in the tradition of Mikhail Bulgakov, is an original and penetrating development of that tradition.
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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 find 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.… (more)

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