Thursday, October 20, 2011

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


Anonymous said...

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

MJ said...

Thanks for stopping by, Stu. I'm looking forward to Penguin Lost.