Death and the Penguin – Andrey Kurkov

Yes – in case you’re wondering – I bought this book because it’s called ‘Death and The Penguin’. Simple as that. No big story. Can’t say I’m overly familiar with Ukrainian fiction, or even that the name Andrey Kurkov rang any particular bell with me.

I didn’t even think, ‘Ooh, like Batman.’ I just got straight into the idea that the story was going to about death and a living, breathing Penguin. Why? Well, I’ve read the book, and I’m still not precisely sure on why the author chose to include a Penguin, but AK did, and so here I find myself trying to write a review.

Andrey Kurkov

Where to start my review? Well, it’s not as funny as I was hoping it was going to be. I’d admit that there are bits that make you smile, and a few that even have you genuinely laughing aloud, but they’re few and far between. It’s certainly not as hilarious as the reviews I’ve read seem to think it is – but perhaps I’ve missed something.

To my mind, I fancy that Death and the Penguin has probably lost something in the translation. Comedy writing is so dependant on setting a tone early on, and then building up a good rhythm- getting the readers laughing, and then keep them laughing – that’s the way.

It happens with translated literature – something I consider myself to be a knowledgable fan of (I just love the way varying nations/cultures think and build their stories in subtly different ways). Sometimes you get the sense that you might be missing out on the top 10% of what might make a particular book great.

I’d suggest that in addition to losing most of the easy laughs to the translation, I’ve probably missed another level entirely, by not being overly cognizant of the political situation in the Ukraine. No doubt there are uderlying political tensions within the nation, and their relationships with Russia, but my limited general knowledge on the subject (such as it is) isn’t sufficient for me to pick up on the true meaning of the little nods that are made along the way. 

I’d sum up my review of Death and the Penguin by saying that it’s probably a better book than I appreciate. I can’t honestly swear I’ll ever recommend it to a fellow reader, I am certain though that it’s a book that will come up in conversation at some future point, and on that day I’ll certainly be glad of the afternoon I spent reading it.


[I know far from everything about books and the art of writing. If you have any thoughts on Death and the Penguin that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them. I can be reached on Twitter @LCross137 or feel free to email me at leopoldbroom@gmail.com]

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