Book of da Week: Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov

Death and the Penguin - Andrey Kurkov
Kurkov’s melancholic work of brilliance.

Ukranian author Andrey Kurkov had this published back in 1996. Professional Moron’s editor Mr. Wapojif first read it towards the end of 2006. Now a decade on from our first reading, and two decades after it’s publication (we recently updated this book review – 17/11/16) we pay homage to an intriguing piece of writing which did wonders for creative writing over in Russia.

Rightly so, too, as this is quirky and melancholic piece of writing which deserves continuous recognition. Be warned, too, as it will also likely make you want to own a pet penguin – why not? They’re such weird and wonderful creatures!

Death and the Penguin

The novel deals with the withdrawn Viktor Alekseyevich Zolotaryov, a struggling author in post-Soviet society. In the aftermath of the collapse of the soviet union many zoos shut down and staff sold the animals to locals as pets (a true story). Due to this Viktor has picked up a king penguin which he has called Misha.

He also soon picks up an unusual job writing obituaries for a newspaper and, although the pay is good, it becomes increasingly apparent he’s rather cluelessly being drawn into a weird web of deceit, corruption, and penguins. Unusual characters crop up to make demands of him, he’s left looking after an acquaintances’ child, and soon he’s realised something is rather amiss.

On the Wikipedia summary page, you’ll find this line:

"One of the striking themes of the novel is Viktor's tendency to go from justifiably paranoid appraisals of his increasingly dangerous position to a serene, almost childish, peace of mind. As such there are many elements of existentialist thought in the text."

Marvellous, yes? Bloody right yes, as Mr. Wapojif wrote that back in 2007 whilst at university! We don’t have many forays into Wikipedia, but we can (ironically) also confidently claim to have filled out the Adélie penguin behavioural section on its Wikipedia page, following on from reading about their hilarious antics in the brilliant Worst Journey in the World.

Anyway, strangely we didn’t make much of the novel’s sequel, Penguin Lost, first time round. However, we re-read the two books last year and decided we actually prefer the sequel now. How times change, eh? Get them read for your homework, please, as they’re both quite gloriously melancholic.

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