Cute animals don’t make books less depressing: a review of Death and the Penguin

“That evening he was hard put to it to determine which of the ideas dancing around inside his head would, when committed to paper, merit red pencil.”

Death and the Penguin photo“Russian novels are anything but charming,” my boyfriend said after I told him what I was reading last weekend.

I shrugged. “Well, it’s charming and a bit lonely.”

Death and the Penguin is about a struggling writer who writes too-short short stories and keeps a pet penguin named Misha in his apartment. That’s all I needed to know to get interested, but Viktor, who can’t afford to pay his bills, finds luck with an odd newspaper job writing obituaries about people who are still living. Everyone goes sometime, right?

The extra pay is modest at first — a roof over Viktor’s head and more fish in Misha’s bowl. And Andrey Kurkov’s (by way of translator George Bird) writing is simple and, yes, charming. The characters find pleasure in food and drink, in good company, and in watching the penguin splash around in the bathtub, stare at his reflection in the mirror, or “set off at a comical waddling run” into an ice-hole. The book’s first hints of loneliness are found in the knowledge that the economic and political climate is bad, Viktor’s visits with friends are fewer than he might like, the penguin lives in a too warm climate, and that those long contemplations in the glass are done by an insomniac penguin who occasionally stops and sighs “like an old man weary of both life and himself.”

The more Viktor’s status “improves” — he earns more money on top of his salary with the newspaper, meets new people, and even becomes responsible for a child and possible wife — the more he wonders whether his life has become artificial. Is he happy, and his family full of love?

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It’s Monday! What are you reading? #3

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Happy MLK Day! It’s Monday again, which means it’s time to share my latest endeavors. Even if you don’t participate regularly or don’t intend to, feel free to talk about what books you’re reading in the comments.

Penguin LostWhat I’ve been reading

I polished off The Jazz Cage by Ray Chen Smith (review here) and the Russian novel Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov. More on that this week! In short, it’s good and depressing at the same time — so one of “those” books.

I know there’s a sequel, so I’m going to have to read that because I flew through this one.

That makes two books so far for what’s looking like a very busy 2013. :)

What I’m reading now

Here I come, The Casual Vacancy! Yay! I’ve been looking forward to this one.

BoneshakerWhat I plan to read next

February is around the corner, which means I need to read a historical mystery for the Eclectic Reader Challenge. Not sure yet what I’m going to pick. Any suggestions?

I need to squeeze in The Fault in Our Stars next month, too. LONG OVERDUE. And I want to read Boneshaker since I came across that recently.

What are your reading plans? What books have you discovered lately? Any good recommendations — or words of caution? ;)

It’s Monday! What are you reading? #2

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s that time again, folks! Even if you don’t participate regularly or don’t intend to, feel free to talk about what books you’re reading in the comments.

I took a trip to Half-Price Books over the weekend and found Cherie Priest’s sci-fi novel Boneshaker. The girl at the register couldn’t stop raving over it, so here’s hoping it lives up to the hype.

What I’ve been reading

I finished and reviewed a book for Kirkus Indie (I can’t reveal the name of it because of confidentiality reasons, unfortunately), and that’s about it. This week has been crazy busy, and I’m way too addicted to my new iPad Mini. I need to settle down with a book this evening. :)

The numbers are in. How many books did you read in 2012? I read 46 total, surpassing my goal of 40. Some of them were for Kirkus, but 30 are viewable on my Goodreads page. In 2011, I read 16 fewer books. This year, I’m aiming for 55. Are you setting a goal?

What I’m reading now

The Jazz CageOh, yeah — The Jazz Cage by Ray Chen Smith! I almost forgot I had started that!

The story is a historical twist on the Civil War and Roaring Twenties, so while it’s not exactly the type of book I usually go for, it’s good so far. I still have a long way to go, though.

This is Smith’s second but first commercial book, and you can visit his website here.

What I plan to read next

Death and the PenguinUntil I receive another Kirkus book for review, and once I finish The Jazz Cage, I’ll be moving on to Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov (my first pick for the Eclectic Reader challenge’s translated fiction requirement) and The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling for my book club meeting in February.

What are your reading plans? What books have you discovered lately? Any good recommendations — or words of caution? ;)