Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov


Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov

Death and the Penguin is a cool and quirky book by Ukranian writer Andrey Kurkov. It tells the story of an unsuccessful writer called Viktor who is living in Kiev during the post Soviet turmoil in the early 1990s.

His only companion in the quiet and isolated life that he leads is a penguin called Misha who he adopted when the zoo in Kiev could no longer feed and look after all the animals. Misha is clearly living in the wrong environment for a penguin and is seemingly depressed, but potters quietly around the apartment and provides company for lonely Viktor.

Viktor's life changes however when he is hired by a newspaper to write obituaries. He is given files of famous people who are still alive and his job is to create a bank of work that will be readily available should these people die. He is initially pleased to have regular work and a regular income but things quickly become more sinister when the subjects of his obituaries start dying. Misha the penguin is also dragged into this murky situation when it is requested that he attends (for a fee) the funerals and wakes of those that have died.

The book isn't laugh out loud funny and is better described as black comedy; a slightly exaggerated and comic take on the difficulties of navigating the post Soviet world where all the rules and social cohesion that had previously existed have been swept away. Mafia gangs have infiltrated society and life is cheap but the serious subject matter is dealt with in a charming way through the eyes of Viktor, Misha the penguin and the various people he forms friendships and relationships with during the story.

I really enjoyed reading 'Death and the Penguin' and will definitely be seeking out 'Penguin Lost', which is the sequel to Viktor and Misha's story.

Reviewed by Alison Walker

Happy reading! 

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Hannah Gough