I've been pretty much immersed in kidlit this winter. Oh, and The Orenda - the thought-provoking, discussion-starting novel that was recently named winner of Canada Reads 2014. Time for a little levity. Time for a little martinis and mayhem. Time for Lenin Lives Next Door.
Leprosy tests, the Babushka Squad, cloud-chasers, and animal prints with deep décolletage? Were it not for my own Russian experiences, coupled with assurances from the author herself, I would have thought that the antics in Lenin Lives Next Door were indeed fabricated. But, as Ms. Eremeeva so succinctly puts it, "No one can make this shit up."
As a librarian, I struggled with how to classify this book: a work of fiction as the author states, or a creative rendering of her own experiences over the past two decades that she has lived as an American expat in Moscow? What I didn't struggle with, were her astute observations and wry commentary. If the title of the book wasn't intriguing enough, the first few pages had me totally hooked. The dream of a young girl to visit the land of troikas and samovars, onion domes and "sepia-skinned grand duchesses." At this point, the story could very easily have been written by my own devushka, Daughter1 - a young girl falling madly in love with Imperial Russia. A young girl who grew up dreaming about visiting the world's largest country, and didn't let anything stand in her way.
Don't be mistaken by thinking that Lenin is only for those who devoured Massie's Nicholas and Alexandra, or Tolstoy's Anna Karenina; for those who learned to speak the Russian language, and studied it's long history and rich literature at university. No, no, no. This may have been what led the author to Russia, but what she writes about is the enigma that she discovered once supplanted there. And Ms. Eremeeva writes it in her own hilarious fashion, the style that she has honed on her popular blog Russia Lite. Lenin is a collection of independent ramblings from a self-professed "people-watcher." She gives the reader the inside scoop on life in Moscow. From the discussions that I had during the Winter Olympics, with Canadians who had never been to Russia, this information is sorely lacking. Even our own educated media, while covering the Sochi Games, were heard to make such comments as, "the people are actually very welcoming - I'm not sure if they are forced to be." (As an aside, I think if I were paid to cover the Olympic games, I would have done a lot of research, and wouldn't assume that what I found in a fabricated resort town was indicative of a whole country that happens to be twice the size of Canada).
I discovered Russia Lite (and her companion blog The Moscovore ) when Daughter1 was living out her own expat experiences in Russia's capitol. In fact, I consider myself one of Jennifer's "friends in cyberspace" whom she mentions in her Acknowledgements. Many of the vignettes in Lenin were first created on the blog. The "Why I Hate Dachas" post translates into the "Dachaphobia" chapter in the book. Both versions are laugh-out-loud funny. She also happens to have an excellent grasp on Russian history and international current affairs which she weaves into her narratives. The affect is that this is a person with whom you can envision having a fun and intellectual conversation.
While sipping lattés at the Starbucks on The Arbat, or martinis at Café Pushkin, you could ask the author, because "no one ever, ever, does" about the title. How did she come up with Lenin Lives Next Door? Or, you could read the book. The answer could only happen in Russia.
Eremeeva, Jennifer. Lenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow. Amherst, Mass.: Small batch Books, 2014. 285p.
Genre: Creative Non-fiction