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Death and the Penguin (Melville International Crime) by [Kurkov, Andrey]
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Death and the Penguin (Melville International Crime) Kindle Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 103 customer reviews

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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: 2488 KB
  • Print Length: 242 pages
  • Publisher: Melville International Crime; Reprint edition (June 7, 2011)
  • Publication Date: June 7, 2011
  • Sold by: Penguin Random House Publisher Services
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004ZZN0SU
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #301,903 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David J. Loftus on December 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Viktor lives with a depressed penguin named Misha. Viktor is also depressed despite recently acquiring a job writing obituaries for VIPs in anticipation of their deaths. He fills the obituaries with philosophical musings about life and loss. Since his subjects are still living, Misha's obituaries (like his short stories and unfinished novels) remain unpublished. A greater cause of Viktor's unhappiness, however, is his isolation -- he feels much like his penguin, who stands in the corner for long stretches, staring at the wall. Viktor feels "remote from events and even from life itself." Eventually a government official whose obituary Viktor has written falls from a window and Viktor learns of a connection between his writing, the man's death, and the rioting the death precipitates. Viktor later learns that his editor has a hidden purpose for publishing the obits -- a purpose that causes Viktor to ponder the role of death in a planned economy.

Viktor finds his solitude eased by the presence of Sonya, the four-year-old daughter of a militia officer who drops her off with Viktor before disappearing. Yet Viktor's feeling of seclusion is supplanted by an uneasy sense that the new situation created by his temporary visitor is precarious, that in the absence of any real attachments his respite from loneliness is vulnerable to fate. The addition of a nanny allows Viktor to imagine he is part of a family, but he knows the family -- like much of the life that surrounds him -- is only an illusion.

Death and the Penguin is set in Ukraine, a country troubled by hardship and violence. A sense of menace pervades the novel; people live with the expectation that death --or worse -- is lurking nearby. Yet most of Kurkov's characters are generous and kind-hearted.
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Format: Paperback
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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