Andrei Kurkov is dismayed to see how the portrait of post-Soviet Ukraine created for his political satire Death and the Penguin has come so close to reality. As a writer, he had a moment of satisfaction when he began to see how neatly life was imitating art, but it was a fleeting sensation, quickly overwhelmed by a sense of gloom. Contract killings, executed journalists, rampaging political corruption and an environment of profound moral chaos fuel the plot of Kurkov's novel, creating a humourously bleak picture of Ukrainian life. The absurdities of the lifestyles enjoyed by the new mafiosi and the criminal elite are evoked with the cheerful narrative simplicity of a children's fable.
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Death and the Penguin is a novel by Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov. It is a bleak, satirical work with surreal elements and dark humour, and is also credited by The Independent 's Lesley Chamberlain as being one of the texts to "get Russian literature going again after the post-Soviet hiatus".
The novel follows the life of a young aspiring writer, Viktor Alekseyevich Zolotaryov, in a struggling post-Soviet society. Viktor, initially aiming to write novels, gets a job writing obituaries for a local newspaper. The source of the title is Viktor's pet penguin Misha, a king penguin obtained after the local zoo in Kiev gave away its animals to those who could afford to support them. Kurkov uses Misha as a sort of mirror of and eventual source of salvation for Viktor. Throughout the story, Misha is also lost, unhappy and generally out of his element, literally and figuratively.
One of the striking themes of the novel is Viktor's tendency to go from justifiably paranoid appraisals of his increasingly dangerous position to a serene, almost childish, peace of mind. As such there are many elements of existentialist thought in the text. Viktor's work is accepted enthusiastically by the editor-in-chief of the paper but Viktor soon finds that his obituaries are being used as a hit list for enemies of some unknown organization for which the paper is just a front.
Shortly thereafter, he is left to look after Sonya, daughter of his mysterious friend Misha referred to as Misha-non-penguin in the text to differentiate him from Misha the penguin.
He and the child develop a tenuous though tenable relationship which serves to further highlight Viktor's isolated existence. After Misha-non-penguin leaves Sonya a large sum of money, Viktor hires a nanny Nina who is the niece of his only other friend Sergey. Over time, a physical yet passionless relationship develops between Viktor and Nina and the "family" is crystallized.
The deepest emotional relationship amongst all four individuals is between Viktor and his penguin. After settling into a more or less normal life with Sonya and Nina and a lucrative side job of attending funerals of former obituary subjects with Misha, Viktor's illusion of security is undermined.
He finds that an anonymous man referred in the text only as "fat man" has been following Sonya and Nina and asking them endless questions posing as an old friend. When he tracks down his follower he finds that the fat man has become the new obituary writer and he, Viktor, has become the new obituary subject.
At the same time, Misha has fallen ill and needs a heart transplant. Anonymous sponsors foot the bill but Viktor has decided that Misha is to be returned to his natural habitat in Antarctica. However, after finding that he is a marked man, Viktor decides to let the mafia take care of the penguin and he himself takes the ticket to Antarctica. The book ends with Viktor successfully fleeing to Antarctica.
As such, the actual power of his obituaries and the circumstances surrounding the ensuing deaths are only hinted at, often in the context of Viktor's own musings. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Hidden categories: Use dmy dates from September Namespaces Article Talk. Views Read Edit View history. Contribute Help Community portal Recent changes Upload file.
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A penguin so adds to a funeral
The streets are unusually dark and empty, and the only person to emerge from the shadows runs away from him in terror. After a perplexing conversation with the terrified man, who turns out to be a wine smuggler, and on recovering from the resulting hangover, Igor comes to an unbelievable conclusion: he has found his way back to Kiev. As he travels between centuries, his life becomes more and more complicated. Andrey Kurkov was born in St Petersburg in