I don't read much from Russia or the Eastern European nations because life is mostly grim enough. The only exception I make is for Chekov's short stories. Until Nick Hornby reviewed this in his column for Believer. And he pointed out, just for me, that the titular penguin is a real seabird from Antarctica not some sort of metaphorical penguin. Had to read it because Penguins.
My opinion of literature in Russian remains the same. This is grim; it is also joyless. There's some contentment, things aren't always horrible, but there's no pleasure, no happiness, nothing but emotional grey from autumn until spring, and even when the sun is shining and the birds are singing, no one is having fun. Viktor writes obituaries, and not in a warm, positive, life-affirming way, nor with any humor.
Also, the penguin isn't doing so well.
Nonetheless, it was bearable, if only for the sheer relief of "At least my life isn't like that." And the penguin, who sometimes comes and rests his head against Viktor's leg while Viktor works at the kitchen table, and Viktor pets him. There's no joy, but there is a penguin. And I can go forty years without reading any more fiction translated from Russian.
I would love to have a pet penguin though.