Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov, translated by George Bird

What a deliciously absurd novel from 1996. Our hero, Viktor, is, like the author, a Russian-speaking writer stuck in a post-soviet Kiev. He lives with Misha, a penguin that he adopted from the Kiev zoo which could no longer afford to look after its animals. His luck changes when he gets work writing for a newspaper which is storing up obituaries on living notables for when they snuff it. And snuff it they do, in increasing frequency.

Death and the Penguin has the weltshmerz of Henning Mankell, the absurdity of Kafka and the sparse, dreamy prose of Haruki Murakami. Written in close-focus third person (like we’re watching events unfold from over our hero’s shoulder), it’s really a crime caper novel but our hero doesn’t know the plot until the surprising end.

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No. 3 of 50 books I intend to read and review in 2022.

I’m Patrick Sherriff, an Englishman who survived 13 years working for newspapers in the US, UK and Japan. Between teaching English lessons at my conversation school in Abiko, Japan, I write and illustrate textbooks for non-native speakers of English, release Hana Walker mystery novels, short stories, paint, sketch and write essays and a monthly newsletter  highlighting good fiction published in English about Japan.