«Limonov» by Emmanuel Carrère
A look at the extraordinary, controversial life of Russian poet Eduard Limonov, and an insight into a modern-day Russia far removed from what we percieve.
Back in the USSR – when there was nothing better to do – poets were like rock stars. In provincial Russia, a gangster-obsessed Eduard Savenko made his name with public poetry readings. A Johnny Rotten without a Malcolm McLaren, Savenko willed himself into existence as Eduard Limonov, Russian punk. After a stint as an amateur tailor living illegally in Moscow, Limonov persuaded the Soviet authorities to boot him to New York, where like all good poets he starved and went a little (more) crazy.
Limonov crosses novel with biography. Carrère is star-struck at Limonov’s life. A self-admitted upper class Parisian with a sheltered life and a White Russian background, Limonov is Carrère’s bit of rough. What results is an insight into a Russia that is almost never reported in Britain. Carrère is brilliant at showing why many Russians still revere figures like Stalin, along with explaining how brutal and disturbing the 1990s liberal ‘shock therapy’ was for ordinary Russians.
Limonov did not get on in New York, but a scandalous novel based on his adventures became a best-seller in France. He was off again. Disgusted with the West’s smug anti-Soviet dissidents, Limonov returned home when communism collapsed. He founded a new political party, the National Bolsheviks. Its emblem swapped the swastika for a hammer and sickle in the Nazi flag. Turbulence followed. And continues.
‘Boys and girls will be taught to shoot grenade launchers, to jump from helicopters, to besiege villages and cities, to skin sheep and pigs, to cook good hot food and to write poetry… Many types of people will have to disappear,’ he once wrote about a reformed Russia. Limonov reminds anti-Putin activists there’s more to Russian dissidence than Pussy Riot.
Better the devil you know?
«Geographical», #2, fabruary 2015