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Death And The Penguin (Panther) [Paperback]

Andrey Kurkov
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
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Book Description

27 Feb 2002 Panther
Viktor is an aspiring writer with only Misha, his pet penguin, for company. Although he would prefer to write short stories, he earns a living composing obituaries for a newspaper. He longs to see his work published, yet the subjects of his obituaries continue to cling to life. But when he opens the newspaper to see his work in print for the first time, his pride swiftly turns to terror. He and Misha have been drawn into a trap from which there appears to be no escape.

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Death And The Penguin (Panther) + Penguin Lost + A Matter Of Death And Life
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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 (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 32,787 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.


"Death and the Penguin is a brilliant satirical take on life in modern-day Kiev. Watch out, though, as Kurkov's writing style is highly addictive" -- Punch

"Death and the Penguin lives and breathes the puzzled dislodged dignity of its better-than-human-hero. It may turn out to be a minor classic and get Russian literature going again after the post-Soviet hiatus" -- Lesley Chamberlain, Independent

"A minor tragi-comic masterpiece. This appears at first to be a bizarre comedy but it darkens, gripping the reader and drawing him into the grey world of post-communist Russia, where serious crime flourishes, revenge and greed are paramount, violence gratuitous and terrifyingly sudden, and where anything can be bought with a crisp American dollar bill" -- Martin Booth, Daily Telegraph

"A successfully brooding novel, which creates an enduring sense of dismay and strangeness" -- Joanna Griffiths, TLS

"Amusing charm" -- Kathleen Wyatt, The Times

"Genuinely original" -- Katrina Dixon, Scotsman

"It's engrossing stuff, from the snappy title through to a neat pay-off" -- Omer Ali, Time Out

"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" -- Anthea Lawson, The Times

"Wry, black humour infuses this unusual, moving satire from the Ukraine" -- Scotland on Sunday

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quirky, deadpan and very good 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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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
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 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars enjoyed but not bowled over 6 May 2012
By Rob Kitchin TOP 1000 REVIEWER
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
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent novel in the tradition of Bulgakov, etc. 23 April 2002
By A Customer
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Death and the Penguin 12 Aug 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The other reviews say most of it; an excellent, dry-funny, involving story. I just wanted to add, the translation is superb. There are so many foreign books that are spoiled by bad translation. The translator here is totally in tune with the author. Wonderful. Buy it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent, quirky insight into life in the old USSR 28 April 2002
Black humour at its best and you do not have to be a fan of Russian, rather morbid sense of humour to enjoy this. Enjoy the first principles, who after all takes on a penguin as a pet, and then let the story unfold with grim inevitability.
Well worth it.
A special mention must go to George Bird the translator who has managed to keep the 'flavour' of the orginal language cadences without making it hard to the eye of the Western reader
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Superb, hilarious, magical served with a straight prose-face
Published 6 days ago by Marran Grey
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional
Brilliant novel, should really be a penguin classic (get it?) Terrible pun aside this is an excellent book with a depth of thought into human psychology, like most East... Read more
Published 8 days ago by blackskuareviewer
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good amusing novel. The second one 'Penguin Lost' is also recommended
Published 2 months ago by MR DAVID G WALLIS
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Got the cover I wanted. Fast and reliable.
Published 2 months ago by uksherka
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
Loved this book. So different and the characterisations were brilliant.
Published 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Strangeand haunting
Published 2 months ago by karen oram
4.0 out of 5 stars Quirky
I liked getting more insight into Ukrainian-style post Soviet culture at this point in time and the quirky characters and plot made it fun to read.
Published 7 months ago by Alison Gould
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice style of writing.
Enjoyed reading this book and like the authors style of writing. Unusual story, nicely written so can recommend the book.
Published 9 months ago by Mrs. S. Thorndahl
4.0 out of 5 stars Great story, great laugh
I bought this with no idea what I was buying. It was riveting, it was gripping, and it was very funny. I can't wait to read his next.
Published 9 months ago by A. Hoggan
4.0 out of 5 stars Dry humour about a writer and his penguin in Kiev
Simple, deadpan writing, about some very unusual events. Not laugh-out-load, but very funny. "Life" just happens to the main character (and his pet penguin?!). Read more
Published 9 months ago by Mr Tired Eyes
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