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15 November 2018

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I Was A Potato Oligarch

John Mole's romp through Russian capitalism.

As a rule, I do not review books which replace their capital R’s with Russian Ya’s. I find it to be a rather reliable predictor (along with, say,matryoshkas) that hokiness lies between the covers.

Thankfully, I forgot that rule for a moment and picked up John Mole’s memoir of his years working to set up a fast food chain in Russia. Laced with a refreshingly dry and self-deprecating wit, it is chock full of the sort of odd characters and unbelievable events that make a story worth telling.

Mole mostly keeps the story from getting too personal, and his relaxed style becomes welcoming, once it grows on you. Admittedly, there is too much “proverb-dropping,” as well as several forced attempts to wittily encapsulate cultural differences. But this is offset by Mole’s willingness to disclose the fullness of his naivete.

In the end, when he sticks to his principals and chucks the whole project rather than make a Faustian deal, he is rewarded from an unexpected quarter, tying the story up in almost fabular fashion, reminding that success usually comes through a mixture of bull-headed persistence and cosmic luck.

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: Nov/Dec 2008