Death And The Penguin by Andrey Kurkov – Reviewed by Guy Portman
Kiev resident and journalist Viktor lives in a small flat with Misha, his pet Emperor Penguin, purchased from the near destitute city zoo. Viktor has ambitions of becoming a novelist or short story writer, but as he has been unable to get around to actually writing anything down, this plan remains at the fantasy stage. A visit to a newspaper results in a job writing obituaries for a host of high profile and successful people, who are yet to die.
Viktor soon realises his need to be seen in print, but the initial pride turns to horror on the realisation that the article is one of his preordained obituaries for a subject, who has since died in mysterious circumstances. More deaths follow as Viktor finds himself unwittingly immersed in a sinister plot involving the mafia, from which there seems no prospect of escape. Along the way associate Misha, a non-penguin, leaves his child, Sonya, in Viktor’s care. When Viktor hires a nanny, Nina, to care for her, he finds that he has a manufactured family all of his own.
Set in the post-Soviet Ukraine of the 1990s, Death And The Penguin is a bizarre, bleak, surreal and at times darkly humorous crime novel and tragicomedy that combines political and social commentary. The book can be viewed as a satire of the corrupt and organised crime ridden society that replaced communism.