Death and the Penguin surrounds a man named Viktor living in post-Soviet Ukraine. He gets a job writing obituaries for people who are still living, which seems suspicious at first but he needs the job. Once the subjects of the obituaries begin dying shortly after he writes them, the drama unfolds from there. The penguin in the title is a penguin, named Misha, that Viktor obtained from a zoo, which follows him throughout the book.
Death and the Penguin is an interesting novel because Kurkov captures elements of life in post-Soviet Ukraine through an absurd story. The themes of isolation, confusion and living in a world where things don’t make sense anymore are captured in Viktor’s strange career path. The penguin’s experience out of its natural habitat (Antarctica) only highlights this concept.
This book is, surprisingly, a pretty quick read, and I got through it in a few days back in the summer of 2020. While difficult to find in English, it’s available on the UK website Bookshop.