Lenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis and Mayhem in Moscow is an amazing book – fascinating, witty, extremely entertaining and very personal. But what is most important – this book is not a black & white view at Russia. I have met hundreds of expats, living in Russia in the last 20 years. Some hate Russia, some love it. Jennifer lives here for so long, she is practically an insider, but she still has an unbiased, exploratory point of view! This book is a must read for everyone, who is curious about Russia!
Jennifer is from Massachusetts, and she has lived in Russia for 21 years. She is married to the HRH (Handsome Russian Husband) and they are raising a daughter. She worked in the travel, marketing, and banking sectors but then decided to start writing. The book is called Lenin Lives Next Door because Jennifer is fascinated by a mysterious building next-door to her apartment where they look after Lenin’s embalmed corpse:
“I assumed they touched up the body makeup and maybe pumped something into him to keep him going for another three months, and I reeled at the idea that this was all taking place across the courtyard. I yearned to take a casserole over and try to make friends, but of course that kind of thing is not encouraged in Russia. So I contented myself with spying on them, which is very much encouraged in Russia…Living next door to Lenin provided me with a very tangible link to Russian history, and that somehow kept everything in perspective.”
Jennifer really wanted to move to Russia, but once she did move, she found a lot of things here unusual or weird. In this book she talks about nearly all aspects of life in Moscow – traffic jams, weather, politics of corporate survival, expat book clubs, fancy restaurants, crazy long holidays and Russian passion for “dachas” (country houses), “banya” (sauna), mayonnaise and mushroom picking.
Unlike many expats, Jennifer does not live in a bubble, she speaks perfect Russian and interacts a lot with locals. She gives her opinion of the Soviet-style Red directors, who rule their companies from their enormous-sized office desks, made of expensive polished wood: “Senior Red Directors have nothing on their large desks, except large malachite and bronze double-headed eagles and banks of old-fashioned, cream-colored rotary phones with no dials or buttons. You note with interest the complete absence of any IT equipment in the office: no computers, no monitors, no keyboards.”
Jennifer is brave enough even to engage in conversation with old babushkas, “who almost always think kids are inadequately clad, and they are not afraid to march right up to you and tell you all about your pathetic parenting skills”:
“A wizened old babushka in an ancient fur-trimmed coat and an itchy woolen scarf pushed her whiskery face between us. “Woman,” she shrieked, “woman, your child is completely underdressed for our Russian winter.”
Jennifer finds many other aspects of life in Russia hilarious and writes about them with the sharp sense of humor:
“I looked up zakuski in the Larousse Gastronomique recently and let out a big belly laugh when I discovered that it was translated as “hors d’oeuvres.” Hors d’oeuvres to me conjure up something light, possibly frothy, a tidbit cleverly nestled in layers of pate feuilletee: something to whet the appetite. Zakuski is designed more to bludgeon than to whet.”
“Valentina Andrievna tells anyone willing to listen that (her daughter-in-law) Sasha the wife is a slattern, a bad mother, and a terrible cook who is driving golden boy Sasha the Husband to financial ruin. Sasha the Wife tells everyone that Valentina Andrievna is a harpy.”
“The master bedroom was immense. The walls were papered in very busy gold-relief paper, and the windows were smothered in complex layers of drapery: bright red velvet with gold tassels, lace sheers, and a shimmering layer of gold base cloth. In the middle of the room was an enormous round bed covered in a red sateen quilt and something stitched together from a lot of white fur pelts. Like the windows, the bed was festooned with red-and-gold velvet curtains. These were gathered at the top into a canopy topped with a gold crown.
“Where do you find round bedsheets?” I wondered aloud.
“Amsterdam,” Jesus said matter-of-factly.”
“One cold winter afternoon I waited to collect Velvet from the school bus at a Plexiglass shelter; I huddled against a merciless combination of snow and sleet while my frozen earphone buds crackled…”
© 2016 Tatiana Golubeva. All rights reserved.