Saturday, March 07, 2009

Penguin Dreams

#23 -- "Death and the Penguin" by Andrey Kurkov

A friend with a shared interest in Eastern European literature recently pitched this one. A Ukrainian novel in which the main character keeps a pet penguin? Why, yes, that does sound like my sort of thing.

That premise is tough to live up to, at least in my eyes (others may not have such high expectations for penguincentric literature) but thankfully Kurkov pulls it off. It's the story of a depressed writer whose only companion is a similarly depressed penguin (with a heart problem, no less) rescued from the Kiev zoo. He (the writer, not the penguin) gets a job preparing obituaries for a newspaper, to be used upon the subject's death; not long after he starts, the obituary subjects start croaking on a regular basis.

It manages to be absurdly charming, blackly funny, and bleakly sad all at once. I tore through it and enjoyed it immensely; there's a sequel, "Penguin Lost," also contained in the omnibus edition I got. I'll take a break but I'm anxious to get to that one as well.

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