Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov

A Kafkaesque tale set in a communist country about a down and out failed author who stumbles into a paid gig writing obituaries for people who haven’t died…yet. He gets information packets about people and writes incredible obituaries for them. He starts to notice a pattern with the assignments he gets. He notices it’s all certain types of people and they are linked up. He pays it no mind and just keeps collecting his money. As he has this assignment longer things get weirder and his pet penguin feels more and more depressed. The failed author starts thinking about an exit plan for his penguin as his work seems to get more dangerous. In the end, he has to decide between saving himself or the penguin.

I really enjoy Soviet translated literature. I have never lived under communism but reading literature from someone who did gives me a sense of the mood and atmosphere of it. You can feel the tension of not knowing when things are safe or when the wind will shift in government and there is a new Enemy. You feel how people are struggling to survive but also have a good time by enjoying good food when they can get it.

The whole book seems like a metaphor. The author blindly accepts this job although he knows he is a part of something unseemly. He needs money to eat and feed his penguin. Eventually, the system comes after him. It’s also a comment on how all these systems in communist countries don’t work without the people running in the treadmill to keep it going. Although, if this failed author didn’t take up this job, wouldn’t the state just find another person to do it? A theme for this book, the good times never last; once your usefulness has waned, you will be spit out and replaced. A dark but humourous look at a man and a penguin just trying to make it.

Rating: ★★★★

Book #62 in my 2022 Reading Challenge

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