Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Book Review: Penguin Lost by Andrey Kurkov

In Penguin Lost we follow the most recent adventures of Viktor the writer and Misha the penguin, whom we’ve first met in Death and the Penguin.
     Andrey Kurkov does in this book exactly what he did in the previews one: he throws his hero into the most extreme and extravagant situations and using black humor as his weapon of choice he once again comes to describe the world as it came to be after the fall of the Soviet Union.
     At the beginning of the novel we meet Viktor onboard a big ship heading for Antarctica, where he’s supposed to settle in a research facility. During the journey he becomes a very good friend with a mysterious man called Stanislav Bronikovsky, a man who’s very sure, and afraid, that someone’s following him. While playing chess and drinking vodka the two men will come so close to each other that the latter will trust the former with a very serious and kind of mysterious mission, and he’ll also offer him the means to see it through. So, using Stanislav’s Polish passport, Viktor will return to Kiev, his home town, which he had to leave in a hurry not so long ago, hunted as he was by some criminals.
     Arriving there though, he’ll come face to face with a few surprises, as things during his absence seem to have taken a turn for the better and for the worse at the same time. On the one hand he’ll find out that his life is no longer under threat, but on the other he’ll also discover that his girlfriend Nina and his kind of adopted daughter Sonia are now living in his house with another man. For some reason though he’ll not get as upset as one would expect about that. Besides, he has other things in his mind. Firstly he has to learn where his beloved Misha is, and then he has to honor his word and deliver a package to Stanislav’s wife in Moscow.
     How is he going to do that? Well, he’ll once again be blessed with good fortune. Thus from the one day to the next he’ll find himself landing a great job, as he will be hired by an ambitious politician to write his speeches. The latter will not only pay him good money but will also do whatever he can to discover the whereabouts of missing Misha. As they are both soon to find out Viktor can thrive in a job like this: he does not only write outstanding speeches but also organizes a few quite original events for his employer, while when needed he’s not unwilling to offer his not so outlandish advice: “Once elected, you never stop promising.”
     His career in the political arena will not last for long, but during it he’ll play his part in some outrageous events, while its end will find him on his way to Moscow. There he’ll meet, as planned, Stanislav’s wife and thus fulfill his duty. Hell, he’ll do even more than that. However, as a man on a mission, he cannot stay still, so soon enough he’ll hit the road once again, heading for Chechnya this time, where, according to his sources, Misha is. As expected when there he’ll once again go through a kind of hilarious, for the reader, hell before reaching his promised land, the penguin. But that is not the end, since it’s exactly then that his new odyssey into unknown waters will begin.
     Kurkov, repeating the feat of Death and the Penguin, tells us a story that doesn’t seem to take anything seriously, not even itself, and which can be read as an adventure or a comedy or even as social commentary. However, no matter what the Americans insist to say, this is not a crime novel. The author is interested in entertaining the reader, but not through the suspense and the action. He simply seems to say: “Just relax, and everything will be fine.” Relax and enjoy, I would say instead!

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