Magazine article The Spectator

Blundering after a Bird

Magazine article The Spectator

Blundering after a Bird

Article excerpt

Blundering after a bird PENGUIN LOST by Andrey Kurkov, translated from the Russian by George Bird Harvill, £10.99, pp.255, ISBN 1843430959

Anyone who gave themselves the pleasure of reading Death and the Penguin should certainly treat themselves to this sequel. And if you missed it, never mind, read this one anyway: it's delicious; it will not detain you long and you can always go back and catch up later on its predecessor.

The earlier book left our hero Viktor somewhere near the Antarctic. He had intended to repatriate his penguin, Misha, but a spot of bother made it expedient for him to go there himself and leave Misha behind (complete with his new heart). Now he wants to get back to Kiev and find Misha. Kurkov fixes things briskly at the start of Penguin Lost and Viktor picks up the trail with a mafia boss, now aspiring People's Deputy in Kiev. The plot is at once labyrinthine and simple. Viktor is looking for his penguin; on the way he has lots of adventures. While canvassing in Kiev, for example, he is involved in the delivery of some artificial limbs to the Café Afghan, haunt of disabled war veterans. When the consignment arrives it transpires that the limbs are child-sized, and the documents show them to be the gift of the Save-the-Children-of-Rwanda-Fund, Salzburg. No matter, pack them back into the crates and make sure that the presentation is properly filmed ... This is a picaresque novel, and we move on to the next incident. Soon Viktor finds himself working for Khachayev, who is described at the outset as an 'entrepreneur'. A well-spoken ex-banker, Khachayev has carved out a private fiefdom in which he has diverted an oil pipeline to a furnace where, for a fee, he incinerates casualties from both sides in the civil war. …

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