A thrilling page-turner that also happens to be the biography of one of Russia’s most controversial figures
This is how Emmanuel Carrère, the magnetic journalist, novelist, filmmaker, and chameleon, describes his subject: “Limonov is not a fictional character. There. I know him. He has been a young punk in Ukraine, the idol of the Soviet underground; a bum, then a multimillionaire’s butler in Manhattan; a fashionable writer in Paris; a lost soldier in the Balkans; and now, in the fantastic shambles of postcommunism, the elderly but charismatic leader of a party of young desperadoes. He sees himself as a hero; you might call him a scumbag: I suspend my judgment on the matter. It’s a dangerous life, an ambiguous life: a real adventure novel. It is also, I believe, a life that says something. Not just about him, Limonov, not just about Russia, but about all our history since the end of the Second World War.”
So 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.
This deft, timely translation of French writer and filmmaker Carr re's sparkling 2011 biography of Edward Limonov is an enthralling portrait of a man and his times. The subtitle is no exaggeration: Limonov, a prolific and celebrated author, cofounder of Russia's National Bolshevik Party, onetime coleader of the Drugaya Rossiya opposition movement, and current head of Strategy-31 (which organizes protests in Russia aimed at securing the right to peacefully assemble), has led an extraordinary life. Carr re suggests that Limonov's haphazard turns from budding poet, disillusioned migr , New York City butler, and Parisian literary rock star to Russian countercultural maverick, Putin opponent, and political prisoner have been prompted by his drive for adventure and fame. Though his behavior is frequently reprehensible (including his lasting flirtation with authoritarian and fascist figures), Carr re's Limonov never dissolves in a mess of unfathomable contradictions. Instead, he emerges as a mirror through which the vortex of culture and politics in the late-Soviet and New Russian eras is reflected. In this astute, witty account, Limonov has found his ideal biographer. There are few more enjoyable descriptions of Russia today.