Review | Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov

Death and the Penguin

In the strange and surreal world of the former-Soviet Union, where the line between the mafia and, well, everyone else is thin, there lives a writer…and he may not even know which side of the line he lives on himself.

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 subjects. Like any writer, he longs to see his writing in print, but when his obituaries start to appear, he can’t escape the feeling that he’s involved in something far more dangerous than he suspects.

Andrey Kurkov’s writing is sparse and efficient, and his tale is as much about being a writer as it is about being unintentionally wrapped up in a mafia plot. The plot twists are never expected and never cease to add layers to raise questions that are not necessarily ever answered. It is in raising the questions that the mystery of Death and the Penguin becomes interesting, and it is in not answering them (at least not anymore than sufficient to move Viktor’s story forward) that Kurkov raises his story a notch above the average.

I didn’t love Death and the Penguin, but I look forward to recommending it. It was fun, and worth the read…just to get to the twist at the end.


About Daniel

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. He reads about history, politics, and current events, as well as more serious genres such as science fiction and fantasy. You can also follow him on his blog PubliusOnline.com where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas.