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Death And The Penguin (Panther) Paperback – 27 Feb 2002


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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (27 Feb 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1860469450
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860469459
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.1 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 25,575 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

The publication of Death and the Penguin, Andrey Kurkov's debut novel, heralds a unique new voice in post-soviet satire. Set in the Ukraine in the years immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, this dark, deadpan tale chronicles the journalistic career of Victor, who shares a flat with Misha, his depressed Penguin, rescued from the under-funded zoo in Kiev. Victor is asked to write obelisks, obituaries, for a prominent city paper about notable figures in the community, and quickly transforms himself from struggling writer to wealthy journalist. It soon becomes apparent that there is a more sinister motive at play, and Victor finds himself descending in a Kafkaesque realm of suspicion and unease.

This strange, thoughtful and gentle novel will leave the reader satisfied and perplexed at its conclusion. Kurkov seems to question whether Victor or the Penguin is lonelier and more out of place in his environment. The Death in the title is ever present, though not in an oppressive way, but this also makes one want to question Victor's belief that a long hard life is better than a quick death. Many comparisons will undoubtedly be made between Kurkov's novel and the writing of other authors from the former Soviet republics to make it to print in the United Kingdom. Certainly it's fair to say that this belongs to the tradition of Russian satire made well known in this country by writers such as Mikhail Bulgakov and Venedikt Yarofeev. It is also interesting to read this alongside the works of contemporaries such as Evgenev Popov and Viktor Pelevin. However, where Pelevin drifts off into the fantastical and esoteric, Kurkov keeps it deadpan and very real. It is important to remember that many of the strange events that occur in this book are grounded in fact: amals really were given away by Kiev zoo--truth is often stranger than fiction. --Iain Robinson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"A tragicomic masterpiece" (Daily Telegraph)

"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)

"A black comedy of rare dinstinction and the penguin is an invention of genius" (Spectator)

"A chilling black comedy" (Guardian)

"A striking portrait of post-Soviet isolation... In this bleak moral landscape Kurkov manages to find ample refuge for his dark humour" (New York Times)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By BookAddictUK VINE VOICE on 3 Dec 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Kurkov's understated humour and perfect, deadpan style makes this quirky little story, full of quirky characters, a gem. Death and the Penguin is the nectar of booklovers and Misha, a penguin rescued from a struggling zoo, is one of the most animated, engaging and touching characters in contemporary fiction. But there's more to Kurkov's writing than a sideways laugh at human foibles. Death of Penguin shows many pictures of loneliness and human isolation. Viktor is an aspiring writer but lacks the energy to follow his dreams and, by settling for bread today and giving up on the idea of jam tomorrow, finds himself drawn into a mafiaesque world of crime and assassination in the chill starkness of post-Soviet Kiev. Misha comes to live with him when the local zoo can no longer afford to feed him. Both are lonely, Viktor isolated from human society and Misha alone amid it. Yet it is Misha who seems able to make strong relationships - first with Sonia, a little girl who comes to live with Viktor when her father is swept away into oblivion by his life of crime, and then with the reader: who cannot fail to adore the quiet, reliable, predictable animal, or to delight in his pleasure in fish and cold bathes, or sorrow over his inability to adjust to life in a climate so much warmer than his native land?

Here too is a stark, if one-sided, portrayal of life in the former Soviet state of Ukraine. And it's not a nice life. It's cold, it's hard and seemingly pointless. Deprived of the structure of the state, each seems to struggle to embrace with vigour the concept of democratic freedom. What Death of a Penguin amounts to is a strong indictment of a political reform which has left a population, bereft of communist community, without any societal fabric at all: without hope, without security and unable to realise the promise of liberty. This book is very funny. It's very sad. And it's very, very good.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Rob Kitchin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 6 May 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Death and the Penguin is a black tragic-comedy. It is written in short, simple sentences and told through a series of short scenes in a deadpan style. The premise of the story is interesting and the telling is deceptively effective. There is a nice building up of additional characters and there is a good sense of place in post-Soviet Kiev, though some wider political contextualisation would have been useful. The inclusion of Misha was, I thought, was a nice touch and was well used. There were, however, two main issues with the story. The first was that Victor was very one-dimensional as a character with little emotional depth or resonance. He seemed quite monotonous regardless of circumstance or context. The second is that towards the end of the story, the narrative veered towards the absurd and for me, at least, started to fall apart. Overall, I enjoyed the read, but wasn't bowled over by it.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 23 April 2002
Format: Paperback
While it doesn't quite reach the heights of Bulgakovs "Master and Margarita", this book is the best black comedy I have read in years. If you enjoy authors like Bulgakov, Voinovich or Zamyatin then grab a copy of "Death and the Penguin", as it really is a worth it. The main characters are described in a cursory way, but they are still very believable - the sparseness of the writing leaving space for your own imagination to flesh them out. The plot is undeniably Kafkaesque, but the whole novel is imbued with a warmth that I found lacking in "The Castle" or "The Trial".
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 14 May 2001
Format: Paperback
Kurkov's tale of a freelance writer hired to write a stock of obituaries for a Kiev newspaper is easily one of the most rewarding books I have ever bought. The plot and style of this work offer a piece that is unpretentious and accessible yet, at the same time, very deep and ingeniously funny.
Viktor, working under a lonely naivety and distracted by the care of his penguin 'Misha' (rescued from a cash strapped zoo), becomes unknowingly embroiled in the dark politics of Ukrainian politics and feuding Mafia gangs, whilst he searches for the cure to his lonely existence.
Getting a job as a writer hired to write obituaries of the most notorious characters in Kiev, he soon grows suspicious when the subjects of his premature tributes begin to conveniently die. We never see anything of the bloody feuds behind the scenes but are fed enough snippets via Viktor's own misguided speculation to begin to piece together the dark underlying truth.
The ending was perfectly executed, without being too obvious and yet remaining true to the plot and tone of the rest of the book. The whole novel left me feeling deeply satisfied, I cannot recommend this novel enough.
I have just read this book along with Joseph Conrad's 'The Secret Agent' and Christian Cook's 'Broken Eggshells' and can wholeheartedly recommend these three as a complimentary set. Conrad's as a historical backdrop to the genre and 'Broken Eggshells' as a nice, but subtly different, contemporary cousin to Kurkov's own work.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 30 Oct 2003
Format: Paperback
I bought this book after it came up as an Amazon recommendation for me. I was intrigued by the title of course, and the cover, and the existing reviews suggested it would be my kind of book.
The tone is bleak, but darkly comic, too. The weather, for much of the book, is icy cold – this described so beautifully and vividly by Kurkov that I felt chilled myself! The environment is stark, whether Viktor’s apartment, the surrounding streets, the nearby zoo, even the dacha where the characters escape to celebrate the New Year. The prose matches the sparse environment, and I loved the economy in Kurkov’s writing. There is no flowery prose, and yet the evocations are vivid; beauty peppers the novel, but simply. I’m left with an overall impression of coffee, strong alcohol and bright, freezing air.
Misha, Viktor’s pet penguin, is a delightful character. For one who does so little, he really engages the reader. He is vividly drawn (as far as my imagination is aware of penguins!), and adds warmth to the bleak apartment, and to the monotony of Viktor’s life.
Viktor’s unfortunate association with the criminal underworld is presented as inevitable. Everything in Viktor’s life seems inevitable. He just lives, shuffles through life metaphorically as Misha does literally, really at the whim of others as to what he does next. He writes obituaries because he’s told to, he includes more of his Editor’s selected “facts” about his subjects, sacrificing his own writing, because he’s told to.
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