Thursday, August 16, 2012
REVIEW: Death and the Penguin, by Andrey Kurkov
The last in my little mini-series of reviews of Melville House's International Crime line is the first book in Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov's Penguin series, Death and the Penguin. This book is laced throughout with both black humor and tenderness, but it's still a crime novel about murder and death.
We start off with Viktor Zolotaryov, a poor writer living in Kiev whose best friend- only friend- is a penguin named Misha, whom Viktor has rescued from a closed-down zoo. Soon, though, Viktor gets a job writing "living obituaries" of people who have not yet died- though they do die, and not long after Viktor pens their obits. At the same time, Viktor takes in little Sonya, the young daughter of a friend, and Nina, a young woman he initially hires to look after Sonya. Tentatively, the four form a family that becomes threatened by the mafiosi behind the obituaries.
Of the three crime novels I've reviewed this week, Death and the Penguin is definitely the lightest and silliest, but there is an undercurrent of tragedy in Kurkov's depiction of the chaos of post-Soviet Ukraine, where people are adrift and almost everyone is a criminal or threatened by criminals. At the same time, the serious stuff never overwhelms the surreal and comic side, or the tender, bittersweet side. You'll have to read to find out how exactly Viktor comes to own Misha, how Misha becomes a pawn and how he eventually saves the day for Viktor and his new found family. Kurkov is the author of 13 novels and definitely knows how to tell a story, and he knows how to tell one unlike anything you've read before at that.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Melville House.