Anybody who knows me understands that I am a little bit mad about penguins. My mantlepiece is littered with them and I even have a life-size cardboard cutout nailed to my living room wall (to the horror of some of my friends). So, when I was informed a week ago about the existence of a book about a man who has a penguin as his best friend, of course I was obliged to seek it out.
The short story by Andrey Kurkov, a Ukrainian author from St Petersburg Russia, centres on the life of Viktor Zolotaryov, a failing writer who works as an author of Obelisk, obituaries for a local paper, and his pet penguin Misha whom he adopted from the zoo a year previously.
The obituaries that Viktor writes are for persons still alive and are intended for use at some unspecified future time when the dignitary to whom they belong has departed from this world. The problem, however is those dates always seem to come too soon.
Early on in the story Viktor is befriended by a local mob boss who requests the use of Misha to attend a number of funerals. Viktor is uneasy about this request but concedes when he hears the price for a single appearance. This uneasiness is later emphasised when Viktor learns who the funerals are for.
The story is a wonderful parody of mystery and intrigue set in post war Soviet Ukraine and Andrey’s style keeps you enthralled right through to the very last word although I did feel some of the details could have done with being embellished a little. For instance we never find out what kind of penguin Misha is other than he is depressed and has a bad heart.
Overall this is a must read for anyone who has a penchant for black humour and a love of penguins and I am very much looking forward to reading the sequel ‘Penguin Lost’ as well as other works from this author.