27401836._sy475_Eduard Limonov isn’t fictional—but he might as well be.

This pseudobiography isn’t a novel, but it reads like one: from Limonov’s grim childhood to his desperate, comical, ultimately successful attempts to gain the respect of Russia’s literary intellectual elite; to his immigration to New York, then to Paris; to his return to the motherland.

Limonov could be read as a charming picaresque. But it could also be read as a troubling counternarrative of the second half of the twentieth century, one that reveals a violence, an anarchy, a brutality, that the stories we tell ourselves about progress tend to conceal.

Source Format Pages Publisher Genre Publication Date
Bookshop Paperback 400 Varrak Nonfiction September 1st, 2011

Fuck it, who could have known this book would shake my world so much. I wonder what makes a look at a person’s life in this title so charismatic- is it the person who’s being written about, or is it the writer? Or is it both which makes the whole experience even more devastatingly consuming? I guess, this is how great books are written, all the ingredients are just right.

Thing with Limonov is that however you feel about him, you’re still in the wrong because he is, was, a person of contradictions, epitome of oxymorons. Always the charmer with great intelligence who can talk black into white and you can’t help but admire his unwavering principles, his iron will to make himself into something big, to leave a mark; but who at the same time IS simply black and white. The ‘things are either shit or they’re good and there’s no in between’. And yet, he seemed to be like a flag in the wind, swaying in the direction which benefitted him the best at any given time. He could be cruel (albeit reading this book it seems he was cruel in thought only and not action; although, yes, a certain incident at war is still under question) and crude and unforgiving, and yet he, too, loved, so completely. So utterly and consumingly and loyally, in a way he knew how to.

When his poetry didn’t quite reach the masses he wanted, or receive the welcome he would have liked, he cursed those who were more successful than him. When he was homeless in America, he found a way to turn that into an experience (and later on write it into a book that would shock many). When he was working for a rich dude, Limonov knew exactly how to be the perfect housekeeper whilst enjoying the comforts. The list goes on. Dude was a total chancer, he was a cat-fight; an absolute mess of claws and screams with the want and need to come out on top. And he yearned for the ultimate experience, the ultimate chance to leave something of a mark of himself, and he wanted to be on the right side. Wanted. Was he? Hell, I don’t even know.

The book itself is from one moment to the next a complete turmoil of happenings. I was reading it, thinking, oh, this is not so bad, and then bang, the next minute I recoiled with the horror of it all. No joke. It’s a total brain-fuck of a read. Not forgetting that you WILL end up feeling very contradictingly about Limonov. Made me swear at myself, my morals, everything… Carrére has also very cleverly structured it – sure, it’s all in chronological order, but Carrére peppers the account of Limonov with some snippets of Carrére’s own life at that time… just when you start to think, hang on, there’s this new theme or thing happening here, how does it all relate to Limonov, and there it is- all of a sudden, two loose ends being tied together, leaving you with a sense of well, I’ll be damned.

I didn’t get to experience the Soviet rule all that much, hardly, actually, I was born too late to pull coherent lines in between the then and the now. I have however heard of and witnessed this Soviet-nostalgia that is also mentioned in the book. It’s like communism was a massive steamboat that didn’t shake all that much (on the surface, at least) and people in majority didn’t see the need to shake things up. With democracy and freedom there are, seemingly, too many choices, too much stuff, too many unknowns. And when a human has been condition to think and act a certain way for the 70 years of the great imperium, then you can’t really blame them for feeling their world has been knocked on the side. And through it all, Limonov, one man, from Harkov, Ukraine, intended to get ahead, to get big, to rule and lead and do it right. Right, his way. And it appears he was smart, too… he knew when shock factor would work in his favour, he knew when to keep quiet, he was a thinking man. Thing is though- he didn’t become the next ruler of Russia. He didn’t. Even if he wanted to. And I think that’s the little thing that separated Limonov from the true dark side. He was, might have been, in the grey area, sure, but not quite gone over to the evil, I think.

The fall of the empire where Yeltsin was included, the coming of Putin, the arrest of Limonov, his imprisonment and release – really, these events are truly all you need to know to understand Mother Russia. At times, it’s like reading a script from a comedy sitcom. You can’t make this shit up and yet it happened. At times it’s so harrowing and blatant and ridiculous and you wonder- how was this all possible?

I guess with all great power-systems it’s the same… They are the windmill, you are Don Quixote. The scheming, the lies, the absolute hypocrisy… how a huge nation is swayed to fall or rise by the words of few men… I tell you- in such power lies a lot of evil, and in front of such power one can only feel frightening awe- just look at it, they’re doing it. Everyone knows, and they’re still doing it…

The places the reader is taken throughout the book as we learn about Limonov’s life are ones not to miss… the trip through time as history was written in that very moment in Soviet, Paris, America and Serbia and… you truly think, can all of this be one person’s life? I think it was all summarized in one short sentence at the end of the book (which I won’t include here so I won’t ruin the surprise for the would-be readers), when Carrére met Limonov. Limonov asked Carrére why he wants to write this book, and Carrére explained that to him, Limonov’s life has seemed to be utterly exciting, full of danger and adventure and that it has dared to weave it’s timeline with history in such way. And then Limonov delivered his line, and my jaw dropped. It spoke volumes about everything. About hindsight, about choices made, about regrets, about the man we were still getting to know…

I can definitely tell, Limonov was lucky that it was Carrére who wrote this account of him- no one else could have quite done such a brilliant job. Carrére simply pulls you in, he knows how to deliver this story, he knows what to include, the important bits. The bits that make it all authentic and let the reader travel to those places in these times, to feel and witness.

I wish I had the book in English, there’s quite a few quotes I would like to share, alas my copy is in Estonian. I bought the thing new and I read it into a literal cabbage. I consumed it. And, no, I never really delved into history of everything that Soviet was, but after reading the book, a few episodes, glimpses from the past, have fallen into place. The totally out of nowhere spats with Russian dudes outside a bar – I now know what they meant when they said what they said. Honestly, I feel lucky it only ever came to harsh words. The ‘with the face of an angel’ neonazi who couldn’t have been more polite and gentlemanly, young and naïve at the same time, explaining his viewpoints… I was a young(er) listener back then too, this idea of a great, big ‘machine’ behind his very being was unknown to me. I’m not nostalgic, I’m not singing praises, I’m just saying that JFC, I wish I would have been smarter back then, I wish I would have known more of the things of the world. Anyway, perhaps this is another reason I have enjoyed this book, it has taught me something, it has somewhat made relatable that which I never could have drawn parallels to before. In a sense, I have a better understanding, I guess.

So, would I recommend this book? Fuck yes. But do be warned, shit gets pretty ugly in places. It’s dirty and unfeeling and yet full of emotion (hey, anger and fear and disgust are emotions, too). But you know what – this is how it was. This, was a life, uncensored.