Penguin Lost by Andrey Kurkov

‘It took Viktor three days to recover from the four spent crossing Drake Passage.’

At the end of ‘Death and the Penguin’, Viktor was fleeing vengeance on an Antarctica-bound flight which had been booked for Misha the penguin.  Viktor has an opportunity to return to Kiev with a new identity.  Once back in Kiev, Viktor tries to find Misha.  Viktor feels bad (as he should) for abandoning poor Misha who was recovering from a heart transplant and who would really have been much happier in Antarctica.

So, how will Viktor set about finding Misha?  How hard can it be to track down an Emperor Penguin who has had a heart transplant?  Viktor’s journey will start with a Mafia boss who wants his help with an election campaign and will take him to Chechnya.  Misha is rumoured to be in a private zoo in Chechnya, but Viktor cannot approach directly.  He finds himself in some awkward, dangerous and difficult positions as he attempts to find out where Misha is.

Can there be a happy ending to this story?  Perhaps.  But the journey is not straightforward.  And Viktor’s personal life is very complicated.

I strongly recommend reading ‘Death and the Penguin’ before reading this novel. Both are sad and humorous. Both are darkly satirical with more than a hint of absurdity.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov

‘The less you know the longer you live.’

Come to the Ukraine in the 1990s and meet Viktor Alekseyevich Zolotaryov and his penguin Misha. Viktor buys Misha from the Kiev Zoo when, after suffering even more budget cuts, they are selling their animals. Viktor’s girlfriend has left him, and he needs company. Viktor writes short stories, which he would love to see published. Viktor’s not the first writer who struggles to make a living, so he accepts a paying job identifying the influential and then preparing obituaries for them. After all, the newspaper wants to be prepared. Unsurprisingly (perhaps) some of those famous people die, and more surprisingly (perhaps) Misha is hired to attend their funerals. At least it’s a change for Misha from standing in the corner looking at the wall.

But Viktor’s life becomes complicated. He meets a mobster, non-penguin-Misha. Non-penguin-Misha leaves suddenly, leaving his daughter Sonya with Viktor and Misha. Viktor hires Nina as a nanny for Sonya, and the four of them are a family. For a while.

What can I say about this novel? It’s black, bleak and surreal. Safer, Viktor thinks, not to think about things you don’t understand. One could easily go mad wondering how letters and packages appear in locked apartments. And Misha? He needs lifesaving medical treatment. Viktor has to make some difficult choices.

I first read this novel in 2014 and revisited it in 2018, just before reading ‘Penguin Lost’. It’s both sad and humorous. If you enjoy dark satire with more than a hint of absurdity, you may also enjoy this.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith