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Book Review: Death and the Penguin, by Andrey Kurkov People are… - The Titfield Thunderbolt
Heisenberg might have stayed here
Book Review: Death and the Penguin, by Andrey Kurkov
People are understandably sensitive to getting things like one's nationality wrong, but Andrey Kurkov finessed this issue by being born in St Petersburg and living in Kiev, so one could argue for this being a Russian novel or a Ukranian one.

It's set in Kiev during the 1990s post-Soviet era, when various mafia groups seem to be running the show. Viktor Alekseyevich Zolotaryov is an unemployed writer, who lives alone with his pet penguin Misha, a refugee abandoned by the zoo through lack of money. Viktor submits short stories to the local press, but they are declined. The editor of one paper, however, sees an opportunity for Viktor to become their writer of obelisks, obituaries to be held on file, waiting for the right moment.

Viktor happily begins his work, but when he finds his writing in print, things take more sinister turns. He slowly acquires family and friends, partly through his work. There are a few clever plot twists, though I can't say the ending was entirely satisfactory. In this case, however, it is definitely worth travelling hopefully: there is just the right amount of coincidence, the characters are stoical, minimally but carefully constructed, and the humour is deadpan throughout.


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