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Death and the Penguin

(Пикник на льду #1)

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  7,887 ratings  ·  830 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, UK, 228 pages
Published February 1st 2002 by Vintage (first published 1996)
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3.81  · 
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 ·  7,887 ratings  ·  830 reviews

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Dec 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
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)
Jul 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people with a weird sense of humor
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
Dec 03, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: humorous-fiction
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
Feb 25, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars

A bizarre and troublesome novel.

The plot is pure fantasy, but it is this sense of the ridiculous that makes the details in the background of the novel all the more striking. Kurkov fills it with his lived experience of Kiev and it is such that, by the end of the book, Viktor and his penguin, Misha, feel more normal than the 'real' world. In this society a man needing hospital treatment must bribe the ambulance drivers to get there and is offered life prolonging medicine from the doctor
LeAnne: GeezerMom
Jun 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Ukrainian satire isn't something I'd typically read, but it's good to broaden one's horizons. I think that this book must resonate more with those who lived in the post-Soviet world, although the loneliness - relieved only by a buddy named Sergey and a large, depressed penguin named Misha - was really well written. The humor was witty and dark, the story quirky, and you had to enjoy architecture called "Stalin baroque."

Our hero is a depressive sort who cannot get published for his short stories
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
Sep 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read 'Death and the Penguin' by Andrey Kurkov for my book group and came to it knowing nothing about it.

I really enjoyed the story of Viktor Zolotaryov, a frustrated writer, whose short stories are too short and uneventful to be published. When a newspaper editor unexpectedly offers Viktor a job as an obituarist, with reasonable pay, and working from home, he agrees. His original style delights his editor. Initially he has to select powerful figures from the Ukrainian elite and prepare their
Aug 14, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'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
Rick Riordan
Nov 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Another slim book, more or less a crime novel, this is a translation of a Ukrainian book. The main character, who has adopted a penguin from the local zoo, gets a job writing obituaries, then learns that he is writing obituaries for people who are about to die! Great premise. A quick and refreshing read, and the penguin is a terrific character. I understand there is a sequel too, though given the ending of the book, I don't know how Kurkov will pull that off. The book gave a very depressing glim ...more
Jun 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Jul 28, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Jim Coughenour
Jul 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Lakis Fourouklas
Oct 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: review-in-short
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
Friederike Knabe
Oct 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ce-europe
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
Feb 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009, fiction
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
Jun 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 27, 2011 rated it it was ok

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
Apr 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
اثری جذاب و مبهوت کننده..کتابی با فضایی اثیری که مخاطب رو جادو میکنه و تو خودش حل میکنه یکی از بهترین کارهایی که من در زندگیم خوندم.
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 a
Viktor Alekseyevich Zolotaryov is an unemployed aspiring writer struggling to live in a post-soviet society. He has aspirations to write novels but a job writing obituaries conveniently fell into his lap. Viktor’s job is to prepare obituaries for notable Ukrainian figures. However he quickly found out he was being assigned to write obituaries of the enemies of an unknown organisation, using the newspaper as a front. He is now trapped in a situation and there appears to be no escape.

The title of
Apr 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery, contemporary
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
Mar 08, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Two oddities which may or may not reflect the time and place in which this book was written:

1. There seem to be plenty of ways of making money, but nearly all of them are soiled and compromised in some way. In some cases, you can't even say no to it: the money pours in along with the horribleness.

2. You meet a stranger by chance, and then you life ends up intertwined with their life through favor exchanges and other strangeness. No one ever just meets a person, transacts his business, and move
Mar 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mother-rus
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
Aug 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Oct 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
DEATH AND THE PENGUIN. (1996; Eng. Trans. 2001). Andrey Kurkov. ****1/2.
Andrey Kurkov is a very popular writer in his native Ukraine. I picked up this title on the recommendation of a friend, and was immediately aware that I had found a new writer to have on my favorites list. There really is a penguin in the story, though he doesn’t say much. He has the ability to add his comments to the action by assuming the various expressions that penguins assume, however. He’s very much like a Harpo Marx.
Kaethe Douglas
Death and the Penguin - Andrey Kurkov   I don't read much from Russia or the Eastern European nations because life is mostly grim enough. The only exception I make is for Chekov's short stories. Until Nick Hornby reviewed this in his column for Believer. And he pointed out, just for me, that the titular penguin is a real seabird from Antarctica not some sort of metaphorical penguin. Had to read it because Penguins.
My opinion of literature in Russian remains the same. This is grim; it is also joy
Jennifer (JC-S)
Sep 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: librarybooks
‘The less you know the longer you live.’

Come to the Ukraine in the 1990s and meet Viktor Alekseyevich Zolotaryov and his penguin Misha. Viktor buys Misha from the Kiev Zoo when, after suffering even more budget cuts, they are selling their animals. Viktor’s girlfriend has left him, and he needs company. Viktor writes short stories, which he would love to see published. Viktor’s not the first writer who struggles to make a living, so he accepts a paying job identifying the influential and then pr
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Andreĭ Kurkov, Ukrainian writer writing in Russian. He was born in small town Budogoszcz in Leningrad area, Russia, but his family moved to Kyiv, Ukraine when he was young. In 1983 he graduated Kyiv Pedagogical Academy of Foreign Languages. Later he also completed a Japanese translation training. He started writing in age of six and he had a hobby of collecting cactuses - he collected nearly 1,500 ...more

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Пикник на льду (2 books)
  • Penguin Lost
“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.” 7 likes
“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.” 7 likes
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