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Death and the Penguin (Melville International Crime) [Kindle Edition]

Andrey Kurkov , George Bird
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A masterful tale set in post-Soviet Kiev that's both darkly-funny and ominous...

In the widely hailed prequel to Penguin Lost, aspiring writer Viktor Zolotaryov leads a down-and-out life in poverty-and-violence-wracked Kiev—he’s out of work and his only friend is a penguin, Misha, that he rescued when the local zoo started getting rid of animals. Even more nerve-wracking: a local mobster has taken a shine to Misha and wants to keep borrowing him for events.

But Viktor thinks he’s finally caught a break when he lands a well-paying job at the Kiev newspaper writing “living obituaries” of local dignitaries—articles to be filed for use when the time comes.

The only thing is, it seems the time always comes as soon as Viktor writes the article. Slowly understanding that his own life may be in jeopardy, Viktor also realizes that the only thing that might be keeping him alive is his penguin.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

"To every time, its own normality." As if to test the limits of his own premise, Ukrainian writer Viktor and his pet penguin, Misha, find themselves in a situation so bizarre as to challenge the very idea of normality. When Viktor is hired to write obituaries of Kiev VIPs to be kept on file, it seems like a great gig. Then the VIPs start to die with a regularity suggesting that Viktor has been signing death warrants, not writing obituaries. From there it's only a short step to Viktor's realization that someone is writing his obituary. As with Daniel Pennac's series about the Mallaussene family (see review on p.2089), Kurkov's novel exists in an all-encompassing vacuum that, like a kind of narrative narcotic, insinuates itself into the reader's pores until, yes, what was once surreal has achieved its own normality. Viktor and Misha, in the grip of circumstances beyond their control, are like us in ways we would never have dreamed possible, and Kurkov, we realize with a bit of a shock, is a strangely entrancing writer. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


Praise for Death and The Penguin

"Death and the Penguin
 comes across as an almost perfect little novel ... fast-paced and witty and on the side of the angels." —John Powers, NPR's Fresh Air

“Pathos and humor shine through to make this a black comedy of rare distinction, and the penguin is an invention of genius.” —The Spectator

“A striking portrait of post-Soviet isolation. . . . In this bleak moral landscape Kurkov manages to find ample refuge for his dark humor.” —The New York Times

“Delicious... when Viktor finally finds Misha it is as if Woody Allen had gone to meet Kurtz.” —The Spectator

“The deadpan tone works perfectly, and it will be a hard-hearted reader who is not touched by Viktor’s relationship with his unusual pet.” —The Times (London)

"Misha, the most memorable character of his thriller Death and the Penguin, left web-footed prints all over my imagination" NPR

“I loved the f*ck out of it.” —Paul Constant, The Stranger

Death and the Penguin successfully balances the social awkwardness of Woody Allen, the absurd clashes of Jean-Luc Godard and the escalating paranoia of Franz Kafka.”
Vikas Turakias, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Product Details

  • File Size: 1188 KB
  • Print Length: 242 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: B0099WLCZC
  • Publisher: Melville International Crime; Reprint edition (June 7, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004ZZN0SU
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #150,196 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dry and quirky, but a pleasure December 13, 2001
It's been a while since I've read a novel or seen a film whose ending more than lives up to the preceding plot. Too many conclusions these days fail to deliver on their promise. This one succeeds.
Viktor, a lonely journalist nearing 40, lives in Kiev with an Emperor penguin he adopted a year ago when the zoo gave up many of the animals it could no longer afford to feed. Misha, the penguin, lives a quiet, subdued life consisting of little more than a steady diet of fish and cold baths.
Happily, a newspaper hires Viktor to write advance obituaries: summings-up of notable persons' lives to be kept on file for the day the subject dies. It's steady work for decent pay. The editor even encourages Viktor to stretch out the pieces with a little literary-philosophical content.
One day, a sinister but friendly visitor passes along his own obit assignments for very good money. When Viktor complains about having composed more than a hundred obits but having nothing published, the visitor asks which Viktor thinks is his best piece ... and within a day, the subject is dead! Complications and further deaths ensue.
More assignments come from the mobster ("Misha-not-penguin"), who then leaves his young daughter with Viktor "for a short time," but never returns. Little Sonya comes with a big packet of money, so Viktor is able to hire 20-year-old Nina as a day nanny for her. Soon, this quasi-family is settled in for the long haul -- with their penguin -- except that more and more of Viktor's obituary subjects get killed!
_Death and the Penguin_ is written in a dry, simple style. The chapters are short, the narrative rarely embellished. Though there is plenty of humor, it is not laugh-out-loud but of the wry-smile-to-oneself variety.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Absurdist Satire from Ukraine October 4, 2003
Ukrainian author Kurkov's slim novel combines modern political and social commentary with traditional Russian absurdist satire in a story about a writer whose pen is literally mightier than the sword. Set in contemporary Kiev, the tale revolves around Viktor, a friendless and familyless 40ish writer who lives alone in a dreary apartment with Misha, an emperor penguin. Apparently Viktor grew lonely after his girlfriend left him, and got Misha a week later when the zoo could no longer afford to keep him. The penguin lives in his apartment, with occasionally cold baths drawn for him to topple into, and plenty of frozen fish to munch on. This is presented so matter-of-factly that, like the best absurdism, it seems entirely reasonable.
Viktor's life consists of sitting in his apartment struggling on short stories, until one day he is offered a job writing obituaries of public figures for a newspaper. These are not to be written upon the subject's death, but are for the paper to have on file and ready to go when the person dies (this is common practice in the news world). The work is steady and the pay quite generous, as long as Viktor is sure to include veiled innuendoes and subtle moral commentary on the person, as directed by the editor. This is all well and fine, until Viktor's subjects start suddenly meeting their end with alarming regularity... Meanwhile, a mysterious mafioso shows up at Viktor's apartment and leaves his little girl and a huge wad of cash with Viktor for safekeeping.
Kurkov appears to be satirizing the society that has risen from the ashes of the USSR, a society where corruption and organized crime have hijacked the "democratic free market" that replaced communism.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Quixotic, bizarre, amusing, engaging romp of a story. October 29, 2002
Andre Kurkov's Death and The Penguin provides an interesting--if somewhat improbable--look into post soviet life in the Ukraine. The protagonist of this wild tale is Victor, a thirty something, sort-of aspiring novelist. "Sort-of" because, in fact, Victor can barely produce a coherent one page short story. Victor bangs out his pathetic efforts in the company of his pet penguin Mish, whom he rescues from the Kiev zoo when the zoo can no longer afford food for the animals in their care.
One day, more or less on a whim, Victor drops off one of his stories at a newspaper. This leads to a job essentially creating a "morgue" file--obits on persons of note not yet dead. Except, in short order, Victors subjects begin to experience an extreme rise in mortality rates. Eventually Victor cotton's on to the fact this is not a natural phenomenon--and the source of the phenomenon may well have Victor himself in his sights.
The book is patently absurd. However, Kurkov makes masterful work of converting the absurd to the plausible. He utilizes several artifices to accomplish this. One is the presence of Misha, the penguin. The notion of a flat holder in Kiev catering to a pet penguin is presented right off the bat in such a way that the outlandish concept seems plausible--and, thusly, Kurkov has established a precedent for acceptance of the outlandish within the context of the story. There is also the exotic (to westerners, anyway) aspects of the locale ands society that Victor inhabits. Really, how many people could locate Kiev on a map if their life depended on it? Yet, we know Kiev is a real place. The mixture of a fact with a created fiction allows Kurkov to create a realm wherein the fantastical seems rational.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars interesting mystery
A look at modern life in Ukraine, with believable characters involved in political intrigue. I may have felt most sympathetic to the penguin!
Published 1 month ago by Victor Pokorny
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Book
I absolutely loved this book! Some people think that the translation is rough, but I had no problem with it. Read more
Published 3 months ago by readlikeastorm
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 4 months ago by Sam Patten
4.0 out of 5 stars "Death as planned economy"
"The less you know the longer you live", warned the Chief when Victor inquired about the purpose of preparing certain obituaries, called "obelisks" in the jargon of Capital News, a... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Friederike Knabe
4.0 out of 5 stars Death and the Penguin
Strange title, had a surprise ending. The whole story was very different, not what I expected at all, and kept me very interested throughout the book.
Published 8 months ago by Goin' Good!
5.0 out of 5 stars great reading
I thoroughly enjoyed this book - and quite timely now with the current situation in Ukraine. A really great read.
Published 10 months ago by mosaicmuse
5.0 out of 5 stars fully 5-star level read
I normally read horror books. I saw this novel in a cult book. Its very entertaining and had me still thinking after I put it down. It made me feel. LOVE it.
Published 10 months ago by Brett Grossmann
5.0 out of 5 stars compelling
More so given the current conditions in the Ukraine. A man, his pet penguin, civil war, gangsters, obits for those about to die, a pseudo family, and then it gets incredibly,... Read more
Published 12 months ago by rob e
5.0 out of 5 stars You should read this book.
Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov is a story about an aspiring author who ends up with a tangential job writing newspaper obituaries. He also happens to own a penguin. Read more
Published 13 months ago by bjm gator
5.0 out of 5 stars A fun romp through the former Soviet Bloc in its political infancy
In this and its sequel, Kurkov's protagonist, at first blind with a numb melancholy and then increasingly blithely and with genius intuition inspired by the penguin, leads us... Read more
Published 14 months ago by john
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