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20 November 2018

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Lenin Lives Next Door

By Jennifer Eremeeva

“You can't make this stuff up, but it lends itself to embellishment.”

Thus does Eremeeva explain to a friend what her book, this book, will be about. An unabashed, hilarious, gutsy work of creative nonfiction, Lenin Lives Next Door is the triple-distilled product of two decades of Eremeeva's life in Russia.

In the best tradition of expat fiction, the book is filled with deliciously eccentric characters that we know are pseudo-anonymized, but who are also just too bizarre to be entirely made up (with a name like Dragana Galveston, you know it has to be good). Indeed, the pseudonyms are plethoric: even her husband is simply HRH (mostly for Handsome Russian Husband, but the first H occasionally gets other meanings). And all this, like Russian literature's ruse of the “town called N—” makes us feel that her fictions are closer to truth.

A warning: don't pick up this book if you are looking for a romantic paean to the Russian dusha. Instead, this is about how a young woman, cast Russia-ward by her romantic enthrallment with Nicholas and Alexandra, traveled the country, lived as a native, raised a Russo-American family, and turned into a hard-boiled realist (perhaps even a borderline cynic), yet never lost the germ of her original romanticism. Perhaps.

Eremeeva is a fine storyteller (full disclosure, she has previously contributed to RL), and her tales of expat hi-life, cross-cultural confrontations, and run-ins with history make for enjoyable (and often salty and non-PC) reading. If you want to know what it's like to live in Russia for two decades without actually doing it, this is where I'd start.

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: May/June 2014