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Death and the Penguin (Пикник на льду #1)

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  4,169 ratings  ·  474 reviews
Viktor is an aspiring writer with only Misha, his pet penguin, for company. Although he would prefer to write short stories, he earns a living composing obituaries for a newspaper. He longs to see his work published, yet the subjects of his obituaries continue to cling to life. But when he opens the newspaper to see his work in print for the first time, his pride swiftly t ...more
Paperback, 228 pages
Published May 29th 2003 by Vintage (first published 1996)
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Солодка Даруся by Maria MatiosDeath and the Penguin by Andrey KurkovЛісова пісня by Леся УкраїнкаСад Гетсиманський by Іван БагрянийТореадори з Васюківки by Всеволод Нестайко
Ukrainian Literature
2nd out of 126 books — 52 voters
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail BulgakovOne Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr SolzhenitsynLife and Fate by Vasily GrossmanRoadside Picnic by Arkady StrugatskyCancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Best Post WWII Soviet Lit
8th out of 47 books — 56 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jan 04, 2012 Mariel rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Hugh Jackman
Recommended to Mariel by: my usual method. Russian authors list. I'm unoriginal
Death and the Penguin is a sweet and strange little book. It won't admit it is sweet. Don't call me sweet! I'm so sad. Can't you see that I'm sad? It might say. I'm not sure how to review it without sounding like a weirdo. I liked it a lot and almost loved it. It was almost warm and it almost made me happy. I almost belonged there. It is bittersweet feeling like going to a funeral and looking around to see if anyone else showed up, like that would make a difference. If you were the sort to show ...more
Maja (The Nocturnal Library)
3.5 stars

There's a reason why satire isn't among the most popular literary genres. It has to be extremely well written and you need to be open to that type of humor for it to work. But if you do like that sort of thing, and if the author is someone you can trust to be funny without being (too) offensive, you’re probably in for a great reading experience.

When the Kiev zoo suffers yet another budget cut, they start looking for people willing to take zoo animals as pets. Viktor, being a solitary a
anhedonia - noun \ˌan-(ˌ)hē-ˈdō-nē-ə, -nyə\
:an inability to experience pleasure in normally pleasurable acts

There are characters who live and breathe and make even a crappy novel a wonderful experience.

And then there are some you just want to slap.

Meet Viktor.

He takes pleasure in, well...nothing. He has sex mainly because it's offered, not because he desires it, feels no emotion for the woman in his bed, and is completely unmoved by the charming little girl he gets stuck caring for. Misha, his
Aug 11, 2014 Judy rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Judy by: Amanda
This is not a typical Ukranian novel. It is a hodgepodge socialist government intrigue, living in an oppressed Ukranian society, mystery all wrapped around the troubles of Misha the penguin. Misha keeps the book from being too Orwell-ish and bleak.

The characters are good. Little Sonya brings some lightness to the story. Nina adds some humanity. Viktor represents the typical Ukrainian man fearful of his own government but yet striving to survive.

The book reads quickly. I was able to finish it i
Friederike Knabe
The less you know the longer you live", recommended the Chief to Victor when he inquired about the purpose of preparing certain obituaries, called "obelisks" in the jargon of Capital News, a major newspaper in Kiev (Ukraine). Victor is a struggling fiction writer, who should feel himself lucky to land a well paying day job. So his friends tell him,except that none among them, or the readership of the paper, know what he is being asked to write. All obelisks are of well known personalities, and, ...more
'Death and the Penguin' is one of those books which shouldn't work, but somehow it does. It's a novel which address serious themes of death, loneliness and the casually oppressive nature of post-Soviet society in Ukraine, and yet it does so with humour. And a penguin.

The story of Viktor, a struggling writer who gets a job writing obituaries for people while they are alive who then strangely start dying off, is enjoyable and written in such a way that it seems perfectly logical rather than as unb
Don't get me wrong - I love penguins. I think they're awesome, and secretly I think I'd like one as a pet one day. But when this book was recommended for my book club, I was a bit wary - really? A story about a guy and his penguin? Sigh. I don't read satires very well, normally, so I expected this to be one of those sorts of situations where I missed all the humor. However, I do do surrealism pretty well, and I also do Eastern European literature exceptionally well. Okay, so penguins, surrealism ...more
Did you ever think about writing a book with a penguin being one of the main characters?
- then don't bother. Andrey Kurkov has done it and done it very well.

Death and the Penguin is the story of Viktor and his pet penguin Misha. Viktor saved Misha when the zoo gave away hungry animals to anyone willing to give them food. And Viktor got Misha and his life changed.
Well, not right away, but when he got a new job writing obelisks - obituaries for people not yet dead - things seriously changed. Not o
Aug 11, 2008 Dan rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Dan by: Nick Hornby, by way of his Believer column.
Shelves: 2008
This book has the distinction of being the first work translated from Russian I've ever read (suck it, Dostoyevsky!) Technically, it's from the Ukraine. It follows the story of a struggling writer who takes work writing obelisks, obituaries of those not yet dead in order to pay the bills. It's when these people, dignitaries, VIPs, and so on, start showing up dead that he starts asking questions.
The penguin in the title is an actual penguin, Misha, who is rescued from a failing zoo by the writer
I picked up this book on a whim in City Lights back in 2001 and fell in love with it almost immediately. It's a minor classic, an absurdist tale of Victor, a Ukrainian writer of obituaries who gets saddled with Misha, a pet penguin. When he discovers that someone is writing his obituary, things start to get scary. This isn't laugh-out-loud funny, it's more white-knuckled humor — but the denouement is masterful. Worth hunting down.
At one time, I wrote trailers for television. Like the main character of this novel, I could access reams of background details and reduce them to a few crisp lines. Also like the main character, I seldom saw the shows themselves or any of the results. One Christmas, I wrote only trailers for the science shows, ignoring all the Christmas shows. My manager became quite emotional.

So I can identify strongly with the main character's artistic love of writing obituaries. It's a love which is the sour
Voici une satire de l'Ukraine post-soviétique particulièrement savoureuse. Victor écrit des rubriques nécrologiques sur des individus peu recommandables tout en s'occupant d'un pingouin (en fait, un manchot) récupéré au zoo en faillite. Jusque là, rien d'anormal, si ce n'est que ces personnes ne sont pas mortes... enfin pas encore.
Malgré un style minimaliste qui aurait dû me rebuter, le début, léger, est prometteur et la suite s'avère à la hauteur en prenant un tour plus sombre (mais toujours av
The embarrassing part of electing to review all novels (and other books) read is that gaps in the timetable are very apparent. I actually finished this weeks ago but had no energy to write about it. And started some books since and abandoned them, which is rare and maybe signifies something deeper. And am now battling my way through a novel that's taking me a good few weeks.

So my friend handed me this and said "See what you think of this. I didn't like it very much." Which is a strange yardstick
Perhaps it was the phlegm. It could be the fact that it is hot and humid outside while only being the 17th of March. It could be the steady decompression from the whirlwind trip to Miami. Whatever the primary cause, I started my holiday this a.m. burdened with an ineffable heaviness. This condition appears now in hindsight as a perfect disposition for Kurkov's Death and the Penguin. There is a philosophical calm, almost Stoic to Kurkov's prose. The world is going to shit but the spring dawn stil ...more
Daniel (Attack of the Books!) Burton
I don't typically read crime novels. I've picked up an occasional thriller (David Baldacci's Absolute Power is a fun read), but crime has never really been my cup of tea.

If more are like Death And The Penguin, though, I might pick up another.

Set in Kiev, it's the story of Viktor, an occasionally employed writer whose only friend and companion is, improbably, a penguin. When a job writing obituaries opens up--for people not yet dead--Viktor is glad for the work, and he starts researching his su

ETA In that this novel is predominantly a crime/mystery novel, it is pretty bad that I guessed the ending 2/3 of the way through.


I have wanted to meet Misha, the penguin, for quite some time now! The beginning lines are very, very funny, but please read my thoguhts when I have completed the book. First, go ahead and enjoy the beginning. This is how the book starts:

A Militia major is driving along when he sees a militiaman standing with a
I don't think I'd have ended up reading Death and the Penguin without a little challenge I'm doing to read twenty books recommended by friends. (It took me a while to get my twenty, but maybe now I should post them or make a shelf for them or something.) It's interesting, though. I'm not generally very good at politics and satire, particularly when I'm not very aware of the historical context, but this is enjoyable anyway.

You see, the penguin is not metaphorical. Viktor literally has a pet pengu
Erik Simon
This is a phenomenal mystery, although it's more than just a noir whodunnit. It's a taut glimpse into a surreal post-Soviet Kiev that makes Detroit look like Eden. It taps lightly along the edge of Russian mobsters (who make the Sicilians look like pikers), and it delivers a really fine story whose irony enhances its pathos, unlike American novels wherein irony is often used as a buffer between readers and real emotion. Kiev is a world of cold cement and brutal survival, and this book is a gem.
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,
Several years ago, I heard rave reviews of a book called Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov. I tried to read it but was baffled and bored.

A few weeks ago, I was restlessly trying to decide on something not too demanding but interesting enough to engage me. Then, I decided that in fact I needed something of some substance. All of which led me back to Death and the Penguin.

Which this time, I absolutely loved.

Showing, I guess, that timing plays a large part in the reading experience. At least i
Lakis Fourouklas
This is one of those special novels that one just feels happy to read. The truth is that I didn’t even know the name of its author, until I watched a show about him on Greek TV, and that was it; I’ve decided to dive into his world and, according to those who know best, there’s no better way to start than by reading Death and the Penguin.
This story could be described as a kind of satire. It’s not laugh-out-loud funny, but funny it is, even though it describes a world more or less bleak, where th
Post Soviet isolation at its best. Written in deadpan third person, a black comedy of pet love gone amok. How DOES one properly care for a pet penguin anyway?
Being a penguin lover I was concerned at the outset, but was won over by Viktor's love for his rescued penguin.
Kiev has shut down that part of the zoo so Misha the penguin had no where to go but home with Viktor, who is currently unemployed, and depressed beyond belief. Misha seems to be his only friend.
Viktor finally gets a job writing "
Allan Dyen-shapiro
I picked up this book because of the great review on NPR. It might have rated a five had I spoke Russian and read it in the original--the translation is serviceable prose, but I imagine there's lots I'm missing. The author is Russian, living in Ukraine--this came out in the mid-90s. Think post-Communism collapse into chaos fueled by Reaganite American advice giving way to organized crime and disorganized everything else.

In that backdrop, the penguin is a metaphor. When the zoo can't afford to fe
To break Post-Soviet hiatus as it is said, Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov, from Ukraine, stands out in Contemporary Russian Literature. Set up in cold ambiance of Kiev, this novel passes through murky labyrinths of dark humor and eccentric surrealism lucratively. I found it deliriously meaningful. Transcending through intrinsic themes of Moral Relativism and Existentialism, this book left me gaped-mouthed. One of the best texts I have ever come across. Underlying questions that this book ...more
Post-Soviet Ukrainian existential and absurdist noir is new genre for me and one I think Andrey Kurkov owns, Kurkov crafts tales worthy of Kafka but with warm humanity and humor and plotting that are definitely his own. The hero is a writer with writer’s block and a pet penguin (gotten from a defunded zoo) and while this combination at first seems a little bit precious but their melancholy day to day is described with well-placed rhythms and details and is never too cute. The events get both sin ...more
Nicki Markus
I absolutely whizzed through this wonderful satire of one man and his penguin. This was a really easy read with some great black humour and enough pace and action to keep you interested.

Viktor is an engaging character and I was hooked straightaway, keen to find out what would happen to him and Misha. Although he doesn’t do much, Misha the Penguin plays a pivotal role in the plot, which had plenty of fun twists and turns along the way.

This is a great piece that will appeal to fans of lighter Russ
بهمن بهمن
ادبیات روسیه همیشه چشمه جوشانی است که در طی ادوار مختلف اسامی ماندگاری را به ادبیات جهان معرفی کرده است. وجود آب و هوایی خاص، زبان بسیار غنی و رخدادهای تاریخی و سیاسی عجیب این کشور شرایط بسیار مناسبی را برای استعدادهای روسی پدید آورده تا خود را به جهان معرفی کنند. در چند دهه گذشته وجود یک کشور کمونیستی و فضای بسته و خفقان آور اتحاد جماهیر شوروی از سویی موجب فرار مغزهای این کشور و از سویی دیگر موجب ناشناخته ماندن تعدادی از نویسندگان جوان شوروی شد. پس از فروپاشی و با استقلال یافتن جمهوری های دیگر ...more
Serendipity strikes again. I just read an obscure Ukrainian crime story by Andrey Kurkov entitled Death and the Penguin. The narrator is one Viktor Akelseyevich Zolataryov who writes for publication what his editor refers to as obelisks. These are obituary essays written about living people so that, when death comes to them, the newspaper is not caught short for materials to publish quickly. Oddly, though, it seems that all too many of the individuals Andrey memorializes is deathless prose wind ...more
Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov is a story about an aspiring author who ends up with a tangential job in writing newspaper obituaries. He also happens to own a penguin. As the story unfolds, you get a wonderful glimpse of the sarcastic and ironic humor of the author, and his very Ukrainian outlook on life. I read this book while living in Kiev, so perhaps it was more special to me than it would have been otherwise. But it is a very easy read, with lots of retrospection on the meaning of l ...more
there's a pet penguin!
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Goodreads Librari...: More editions link not working 3 35 Feb 08, 2012 04:58AM  
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Ukrainian writer writing in Russian. He was born in small town Budogoszcz in Leningrad area. In 1983 in Kiev he graduated Kiev Pedagogical Academy of Foreign Languages. He started writing in age of six and he had a hobby of collecting cactuses - he collected nearly 1,500 of them. Ambitiously he wanted to learn their latin names. Thanks to that he had learned such languages such as English, French, ...more
More about Andrey Kurkov...

Other Books in the Series

Пикник на льду (2 books)
  • Penguin Lost
Penguin Lost A Matter Of Death And Life The Case Of The General's Thumb The President's Last Love The Milkman in the Night

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“Life was a road, and if departed from at a tangent, the longer for it. And a long road was a long life - a case where to travel was better than to arrive, the point of arrival being, after all, always the same: death.” 3 likes
“The past believed in dates. And everyone’s life consisted of dates, giving life a rhythm and sense of gradation, as if from the eminence of a date one could look back and down, and see the past itself. A clear, comprehensible past, divided up into squares of events, lines of paths taken.” 2 likes
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