A Pair of Mini Reviews

Death and the Penguin

I’m rather behind on reviews, so I thought I’d post a pair of minis to try to catch up. These two books couldn’t be more different, but hey – I’ve got eclectic tastes.

Death and the Penguin*
Andrey Korkov
Translated by George Bird

Death and the Penguin is the story of a Viktor, a frustrated writer, and his unwitting involvement in a Ukrainian crime syndicate.  When we meet Viktor, he’s a pretty pathetic sight. His girlfriend’s left him, he doesn’t have a job, and his only companion is a depressed penguin, Misha, that he adopted from the zoo after it could no longer feed the poor animal.

Viktor writes short stories, but can’t even get them published in a newspaper that “generously published anything, from a cooking recipe to a review of post-Soviet theatre.” Two days after being rejected everywhere, he gets a call from the Editor-in-Chief of a newspaper, asking him to come in. He’s offered a position writing obituaries – a somewhat morbid, but decently well-paying gig.

Of course, nothing is as it seems. Soon Viktor’s life is full of new characters, including a young girl left in his charge, a young army officer, and a baby-sitter-turned-paramour. Viktor and Misha are invited to attend the funerals of Viktor’s obituary subjects. Our clueless protagonist asks no questions, until it may be too late.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It’s one of those books where you just have to suspend your disbelief and dive into the absurdity. It’s a pretty quick read, as the chapters just zoom along, much like the events in Viktor’s life. There’s a followup, Penguin Lost, that I’m sure I will read soon.

The Catcher in the Rye
The second book for review today is that old classic, The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger. I have to confess that I never read this in high school, and have been avoiding it ever since. After seeing it mentioned several times during this year’s Banned Books Week, I decided to go ahead and read it.

My thoughts? Meh. It wasn’t nearly as excruciating as I was prepared for it to be. Yes, Holden is whiny and sophomoric. I may have pulled a muscle with all the eye rolling, but I’ll recover. On the whole, not terrible. Is there anything else to say? I think this book has been reviewed ad nauseum.

I do wonder what my fifteen year old self would have thought about it. Would I have had more of a reaction? I don’t know. I do think there are some books you have to read (at least for the first time) at a certain age, or they lose something. I read 1984 about four years ago, and had much of the same reaction. I could recognize why it’s a classic, but it just didn’t do anything for me. Have you ever had this experience?

*The publisher, Melville House, sent this book after I won a prize drawing by participating in Melville House’s Art of the Novella reading challenge. My posts for that challenge are here

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2 thoughts on “A Pair of Mini Reviews

  1. I loved death and penguin haven't read penguin lost yet but read his most recent book and that was in same vein a satire as for catcher in rye it is classic holden was the proto type angsty teen ,all the best stu

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