Smert’ postoronnego [Death and the penguin]
The post communist Ukraine and a penguin – that’s what this little book is all about.
Viktor is a failed writer who gets a very odd job at a newspaper: writing detailed obituaries for people who haven’t died yet. He asks no questions – happy to see his words in print and to get a steady paycheck – and simply goes with the flow of all that’s happening around him. By the time he starts to be aware that he’s in the middle of all kinds of mafia dealings and vendettas he’s already in it too deep and there isn’t really a way out. All this would be pretty interesting on its own – a look at a country driven by nothing but corruption through the eyes of a clueless man, who doesn’t for a second question or try to overcome his condition – but also a little bit trite at this point. What sets this book apart is Misha – Viktor’s pet penguin. When the Kiev zoo no longer had funding to maintain all the animals, they appealed to the public to adopt them – and that’s how Viktor and Misha ended up sharing a small apartment. Oh – Misha apparently suffers from depression – which makes him all the more endearing and the situation all the more surreal. He’s never front & center, but his presence lingers in every scene, somewhere out of focus, throwing a melancholy glow over the proceedings.
It’s a pretty good book – and I’d recommend it. You can read more about the plot on Wikipedia and a really good review in NYT (and one in Spike Magazine too, thrown in for good measure). I should have written more – I thought to write more while I was reading – but I’m really caught up watching The Wire right now and I don’t seem to feel like doing much else.