The Wikipedia article on Death and the Penguin claims that the story is set in 1996 - 1997. However, when Viktor was in the Chief's office,

On the upper shelf lay a folder with several typed sheets on top. Without thinking, he reached for the topmost sheet, and recognized it at once as his obelisk for the director of Ferro-Concrete Reinforcements. In the top left-hand corner someone had written
For 14.02.99
with a bold, sweeping signature.
His growing astonishment proved a release from fear and trembling. Today was only February the third!

He found several more that were approved "for some date ahead", including one that was approved for that very day. This implies that the events in the book actually took place in 1998 - 1999. That being said, why does Wikipedia claim 1996 - 1997? Is it just wrong? Or is this a translation/edition difference?

Edit: To deepen the mystery, at the very end of the book is the line "December 1995 - February 1996". Did the translator forget to change the date? Or did he just fat-finger 1999?

  • FWIW, the Ukrainian Wikipedia page makes the same claim.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 9:30
  • @Randal'Thor Yeah, I'm slightly confused. Although, it is worth noting that the Ukrainian edition is a translation too - the book was originally written in Russian. Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 12:51
  • 1
    in Ru text online thelib.ru/books/kurkov_andrey/…: "Одобряю. На 14.02.96."
    – Andra
    Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 15:12
  • @Andra So, this is a translation error (or edition difference)? Also, wouldn't that make the dates 1995 - 1996 (since they celebrate New Year's Day)? Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 15:14
  • if the book is published in 2001, it may be more marketable that the dates are more recent ?
    – Andra
    Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 15:17

1 Answer 1


Given that

  • The Russian edition evidently says 1996 (see the comments)
  • Both the English and Ukrainian Wikipedia articles identify this as occurring in 1995 - 1996
  • The last line of the book is "December 1995 - February 1996"
  • "9" is right above "6" on a standard English keyboard
  • The previous digit was also a 9
  • This is the only place in the book that says 1999 as far as I can tell
  • There are severe shortages of many goods, including medication (see, for example, the fact that the penguinologist couldn't get medication when he developed cancer), which would be at least slightly more consistent with an earlier, barely post-Soviet date
  • The book was written in 1996. The English translation occurred in 2001, not 1999.
  • The translator may have been prone to sloppiness

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the translator fat-fingered 99 and actually meant 1996.

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