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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 (89 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: #101,369 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
50 of 54 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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12 of 14 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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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Satire charged with air of menace. January 18, 2004
A black comedy delivered in an emotionless, deadpan manner, "Death and the Penguin" is a sinister satirical take on life in post-Soviet, modern-day Ukraine. Things take a turn for the better for Viktor, a struggling writer of short stories living alone with only a king penguin for company, when he is taken on by Capital News editor Igor Lvovich to compose obituaries of the various big shots and political big-wigs pulling the strings in post-Soviet Kiev society, these to be kept on file for future use as and when the subjects die. Victor is instructed to incorporate into his compositions, certain loaded material, underlined in the file notes provided him, designed to undermine reputations through insidious innuendo.
Shortly after expressing his frustration to a visitor, Misha-non-penguin, (a Mafia-linked figure who wishes Viktor to write an obituary) that none of his work ever appears in print because none of his selected subjects to-date has died, Viktor is shocked to find that in no time at all, the subject of his best obituary is - lo and behold! - suddenly dead. Thereafter, deaths of Viktor's subjects proliferate with such alarming rapidity that Victor fears his penning of an obituary is tantamount to passing a death sentence, his obituaries of the still living having become in effect, requisitions for future death, each obituary providing per se more than sufficient cause for the snuffing out of a life.
The unwitting dupe of State Security conspiracy, at least initially, Victor has become enmeshed in the violent underworld of Mafia dealings and political machinations where his own life may end being written up in an obituary. Around Victor, the very air seems charged with menace, an air of menace that pervades the novel. Viktor is at the mercy of dark and dangerous forces swirling around him that he can't exactly get a fix on but knows are there, lurking ominously in the background. Entertaining and original!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Political Intrigue and power
This story hooks the reader first by introducing the penguin and it's place in the life of the main character and secondly through ethical or moral dilemmas that character faces in... Read more
Published 5 days ago by Irene MacFarland
5.0 out of 5 stars Happy to land a job
Written by Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov, Death and the Penguin explores the life of a man and his penguin in the post-Soviet world. Read more
Published 10 days ago by Michael
5.0 out of 5 stars Misha is endearing because he isn’t morally ambivalent like...
The main character in the novel Death and the Penguin is Viktor Alekseyevich Zolotaryov. He is a relatively unaccomplished writer that makes a meager living from having his short... Read more
Published 10 days ago by Bryan Raub
5.0 out of 5 stars Morally Ambiguous
In this novel, Andrey Kurkov opens a window into life in Ukraine during the 1990’s. This was a unique time in Ukrainian history that is almost an era unto itself. Read more
Published 11 days ago by Alex Leonhardt
4.0 out of 5 stars While the book is an easy read, its content is meant for readers who...
Andrey Kurkov’s Death and the Penguin lives up to its title. It is interesting, if a little strange, and of course, the novel features death and a penguin. Read more
Published 11 days ago by Sydney
2.0 out of 5 stars I don't like to post negative reviews
I don't like to post negative reviews, because it's not the author's fault that I did not like his/her book. Read more
Published 14 days ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Dry, but insightful
Set in post-Soviet Kiev, the novel follows struggling writer Viktor and his pet penguin Misha through life in a time filled with poverty and violence. Read more
Published 14 days ago by Julie Kron
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
To quote the film "Red Heat": I give up. This whole thing's very Russian.
Published 16 days ago by Brent Jatko
5.0 out of 5 stars Death and the Penguin is a great novel for anyone who wants to better...
Andrey Kurkov’s novel Death and the Penguin revolves around Viktor Zolotaryov and his penguin, Misha, who Viktor bought on whim when his girlfriend left him and the Kiev zoo was... Read more
Published 21 days ago by Ashlynn
5.0 out of 5 stars Penguin living in an apartment
Give me a penguin living in an apartment, I will read it . Like the way it just went along day to day as the calamities turn into good to the solution the author chose for his... Read more
Published 23 days ago by Jacqueline K. Hand
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