Prelude Apology: Sorry for being a bit behind—I’m home sick with a nasty cold . . . More posting and podcasting next week.
This week’s featured Read This Next title is Penguin Lost, the second book in Andrey Kurkov’s detective series that, yes, includes a penguin (and is translated from the Russian by George Bird):
Andrey Kurkov’s first book to be published in English, Death and the Penguin, was hailed by leading critics in the US and the UK as “a tragicomic masterpiece” (The Daily Telegraph) of suspense about life on the crime-riddled streets of an impoverished, post-Soviet Kiev. But until now, fans haven’t been able to read the sequel and find out what happened to Viktor and his silent cohort, the penguin Misha, whom Viktor was forced to abandon at the end of the novel while fleeing Mafia vengeance.
Admirers need wait no longer. Now available for the first time in the US, Penguin Lost sees Viktor grab at the opportunity to return to Kiev incognito and launch an intensive, guilt-wracked search for Misha.
It’s a search that will take Viktor across the Ukraine to Moscow and back, vividly depicting a troubled landscape. It once again lands Viktor in league with a series of criminals and corrupt officials, each of whom know something of what happened to Misha, and each of whom are willing to pass that information along if Viktor will just help them with one more job. . . And it’s a tale told once again in a style that’s part Bulgakov and part Hitchcock, simultaneously funny and ominous, nearly absurd and all-too-real.
Readers may find themselves rooting even harder for Viktor this time, as he presses forward on his odyssey under even more dangerous circumstances, in another brilliantly rich and topical book from a contemporary Russian master.
Everyone I know who has read Death and the Penguin absolutely loves it, and I’m sure this is going to be a huge favorite as well.
In addition to the preview, we also posted a short interview with Kurkov himself:
Read This Next: To butcher a quote from Michel Houellebecq: it’s a writer’s responsibility to find a theme and then use their novels to explore that theme. In your novels, I sense that this kind of thematic exploration is going on. Do you feel that your work has an overarching theme? That you’re returning to the same ground again and again? If so, what do you feel this theme to be?
Andrey Kurkov: Until recently I had been writing two kinds of novels. The first kind are novels dedicated to the history of the evolution of the Soviet utopian mentality, and the second—evolution of post-soviet mentality. Now I am going on only with post-Soviet theme, i.e., what happens to people who live in the country much younger than they are. The fact is that in the early-mid 90s most of people (who were not old) were really infantile and were waiting either for a miracle, or for luck, or were looking for would-be victims. I was interested in evolution of post-Soviet infantile intellectuals, until I noticed that, with time, some of them stopped being passive and left their hide-outs, where they were hiding from roughness of life. Penguin Lost is actually a transitional novel in this sense—Viktor was very infantile in Death and the Penguin, but became more entrepreneurial and dynamic in the sequel.
Finally, you can also read E.J.‘s review of the novel:
Viktor Zolotaryov, the hero of Death and the Penguin, here returns for a second adventure, this time seeking out his friend and closest companion, the penguin Misha. At the start of the novel Viktor is in Antarctica, having taken Misha’s seat on a plane to escape with his life at the end of Death and the Penguin. Misha has, in the meantime, disappeared, and most of the action in Penguin Lost consists of Viktor’s increasingly dangerous attempts to track down his friend, whom he thinks has been moved from Kiev to Moscow.
And so begins a tour through the underworld, which in this case is the world of the moneyed elite, or which has instead has become the only world, of post-Soviet Russia and Ukraine. [. . .]
The Viktor of Penguin Lost is a more energetic and invigorated figure than the one we met in Death and the Penguin, one who, at first, seems to have taken his fate in to his hands in a way that the earlier Viktor seemed incapable of doing. But for all his activity, it becomes apparent that all this energy and vigor is only allowed to find expression by the good graces of the moneyed and powerful, that only stubbornness and luck allow him to accomplish anything at all—his seeming willfulness masks a helplessness, a complete domination of the public and political sphere by the demands of criminal-capitalism, that seems an even more damning criticism of the post-Soviet East than the one represented by the beaten-down Viktor of Death and the Penguin.
Enjoy all of this, and be sure to get a copy of the book . . .
And if you’re looking for something new to read, we now have extended previews of 14 titles up at Read This Next that you can check out.
Just got an email about this awesome offer from Melville House that I wanted to share for a few reasons.:
From the As-If-The-Cover-Didn’t-Tip-You-Off-Already department: Death and the Penguin by Andrei Kurkov is the perfect example of why the Melville House International Crime series is like no other: It’s political, it’s literary, it’s hilarious, it’s terrifying, and IT DOESN’T TAKE PLACE IN SCANDAVIA.1
To get the word out, for the next four days the ebook version of Death and the Penguin is on sale all over the interwebs for only $3.99.
To make this deal even sweeter if you buy it in the next 48 hours we’ll reimburse the complete cost of your purchase with a gift certificate to our website. All you have to do is buy the ebook, — we recommend from your local Independent Bookstore’s website — and email us your receipt —firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll reply with a coupon. It’s that simple.
I might be jumping the gun here—currently, the book is stil $14.95 via the Indie Bound website, although the Amazon price is updated—but as soon as you can TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS DEAL.
I read this book a number of years ago when it came out from Harvill in the UK and thoroughly enjoyed it. We’re actually going to be featuring the sequel Penguin Lost as part of Read This Next, so you should start preparing now . . .
The idea of giving readers a $3.99 gift certificate is super-awesome as well. And if you look at Melville House’s website, it will take approximately .03 seconds to find something you want to buy.
Coincidentally, L Magazine released their “Best of Brooklyn” lists today, including one for Books & Media that includes this award:
Best Small-Press Branding
How to trick attractive young people into buying reissues and literature in translation? Collect-‘em-all series of jacket-pocket sized titles with clean covers. Their Art of the Novella and Contemporary Art of the Novella now being imitated by New Directions’ Pearls series, the Dumbo publisher has moved into an International Crime line (shades of Europa Editions and, well, large-house trends) and started the Neversink Library for out-of-print classics (including slim, terse Simenons) not already rediscovered by NYRB Classics.
1 Yeah, we all make spelling mistakes. Especially when typing in ALL CAPS which, for some reason known only to Bill Gates and that Jobs guy, seems to circumvent most spellchecking programs. LIVING ON THE EDGE.2
2 Also interesting is that there are over 465,000 instances of SCANDAVIA on the interwebs. Including sites like this, where crazy people can ask batshit questions such as “What is the official language of Scandavia?” I LOVE THE WORLD WIDE WEB.
However, such a determined sense of the outward emphasizes what is often missing from The President’s Last Love: love, emotional insight. If the surreal is allowed to slip by in understated fashion, so is the real suffering of Bunin, who is often a sadly isolated individual, and a Job like victim of periodic disaster. Having lost three children stillborn, he learns of the death of his remaining family with typical brusque briskness: “waiting at the door of my office that morning had been Colonel Svetlov with the news that my brother and his wife had jumped to their deaths. Details to follow from the embassy”. This is a novel where the details that follow always offer little comfort; when his twins die he receives “a large envelope from the clinic containing Polaroid photographs of our little ones, together with their birth and death certificates, plastic identity wristlets and small cellophane packets with locks of light brown hair”. Here as elsewhere, the writing is deliberately unyielding and affectingly unhuggable; all hard facts with little softening sentimentality.
It’s not an overly positive review, but it does sound like Kurkov, which is good enough for me.
The Literary Saloon details what went wrong with the recent translation of Andrey Kurkov’s The President’s Last Love. I loved his Death and the Penguin and A Matter of Life and Death, so it’s too bad that something not-so-good seems to have happened to his latest book.
Sometimes the translator just gets it plain wrong – one character, posing for a sexy photo shoot, apparently “lies on the floor [and] flays her arms and legs” – and he, or she, also has a habit of switching tenses in mid-sentence (“Now I know what my wife wished for, it only remained to think about what I wanted”).
Today’s SignandSight.com calls attention to this article by Andrey Kurkov from Welt Online (in German) about the language war going on in Ukraine.
All these years I have protested against the plans to raise Russian to the second state language. Then finally I understood that everything was just a political game. It’s only the politicians that need a language debate. The people don’t have any such problems. The differences between Russian and Ukrainian are less than between German and Dutch. In Kiev, I often hear people asking a question in Russian that gets answered in Ukrainian, and no one is bothered in the least.
Article sounds interesting, and if you can get your hands on them, Kurkov’s novels are definitely worth checking out.
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .
Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .
Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous. . .
Founded in 1960 by such creative pioneers as George Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, the Oulipo, shorthand for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, came about in when a group of writers and mathematicians sought constraints to find new structures and. . .
There’s little to say about a series of prose poems that willfully refuse to identify pronoun antecedents. Or perhaps there are a million things. The poems in Morse, My Deaf Friend— the chapbook by Miloš Djurdjević published by Ugly Duckling. . .
The Crimson Thread of Abandon is the first collection of short fiction available in English by the prolific Japanese writer and all-around avant-garde trickster Terayama Shūji, who died in 1983 at the age of 47. This collection would be important. . .