Death and the Penguin (Пикник на льду #1) by Andrey Kurkov, George Bird (Translator)

Penguin

What’s with Russian and former Soviet writers? It must either be the quality of Vodka that they imbibe or a powerfully recombinant DNA that is coded to write! Either way the benefits of such a trait accrues to the literary world. Andrey Kurkov does his best to embellish this extraordinary fact by producing an absolute masterpiece in dark satire. “Death And The Penguin” is a tragicomic tour de force that inspires, astounds and leaves you craving for more.

Viktor Zolotaryov is a disillusioned writer whose literary ambitions are non linear to his output, both monetarily and tangibly. Trying to make a living as an author in violence-torn Kiev, his prospects get bleaker every passing day. When his love interest decides to abandon him, dropping him like a sack of potatoes, his life reaches a nadir of desolation. In a fit of spontaneous impulse, Viktor tries to make up for the vacuum created by his girlfriend by buying himself a penguin from a zoo which gives up animals for free on account of economic constraints. Misha, the penguin becomes Viktor’s constant companion in times of tribulation and doom.

As luck would have it, Viktor obtains an employment which to say the least is bizarre. He is foisted with the task of writing obituaries of eminent personalities who are still alive and well. Things take a murky turn when the subjects of Viktor’s obituaries start dying under circumstances that can only be viewed as contrived. In a strange quirk of fate, Viktor comes into the possession of a small girl Sonya and a nanny Nina. A reluctant affair with Nina soon puts Viktor in a quandary. And when the mafia become involved, seeking the services of Misha for exhibiting him at funeral wakes of the personas who were the protagonists of Viktor’s obituaries, things really begin heating up.

The book laced with black humour and satire comes alive in every page. The Chemistry between Viktor and Misha, their interdependency and the symbiotic relationship where a man’s sole reason for existing is a penguin and vice versa is both hilarious and heart warming. Misha’s melancholy is Viktor’s bane and Viktor’s dangerous existence akin to treading on thin ice is Misha’s unwitting hubris. Even when Viktor becomes the unexpected and unsolicited beneficiary of a family consisting of Sonya and Nina, Misha does not cease to be the vital cog that spins the daily existence of Viktor. While his dealings with both the little girl and her nanny-turned-lover are merely prosaic, his attitude towards Misha is profound. A fine thread of sadness bounds both man and animal in a bond that is inextricably linked and which has the dangerous possibility of imperiling and hurtling them towards calamitous consequences.

“Death And The Penguin” – A man’s search for finding his own soul within the visage of a pet that has become the very symbol and meaning of his existence.

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