Tags: english


Edward J. Brown // "The Nation", Vol. 245 Issue 9, 26 september 1987



Once again, Edward Limonov, the powerful and problematic Soviet émigré writer, has offered up a piece of self-proclaimed autobiographical fiction about his life «in freedom.» And once again, he has employed every device of obscenity and scatology at his command to undermine both the pieties of American life and the approved public image of the Soviet émigré. In 1979, Limonov’s It's Me, Eddie outraged many of his fellow exiles, who found it slanderous and pornographic. One prominent critic declared, «If freedom means the freedom to write that book, then I am against freedom.» Others, however, expressed their support for the book and declared its author one of the most important of the writers to have left the Soviet Union in the so-called third wave and almost the only one to articulate in his fiction a certain experience of exile.

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via José

Punishment as a Crime? Perspectives on Prison Experience in Russian Culture / Edited by Julie Hansen and Andrei Rogachevskii
// Uppsala: «Uppsala University», 2014, paperback, 195 p., ISBN 978-91-554-9064-5

Andrei Rogatchevski

Punishment as a Crime?

Perspectives on Prison Experience in Russian Culture

Edited by Julie Hansen and Andrei Rogachevskii

дополнительная информация здесь

Paul E. Richardson // "Russian Life", january/february 2015



A review of two books on megalomaniacal personalities, The Baron's Cloak, by Willard Sunderland, and Limonov by Emmanuel Carrere.

by Emmanuel Carrère

From the outside, the life and adventures of an audacious, charismatic personality like Eduard Limonov – radical, poet, drifter, National-Bolshevik – seems attractive, interesting, intriguing. And even if people don’t agree with his politics (few do), “they like his fiery personality, they admire his talent and audacity...”

Born on the Volga just days before the German surrender at Stalingrad, Limonov was the son of a Chekist, and at various points in his colorful life: a street punk, a radical underground poet, an émigré, a lionized writer, a notorious fighter alongside heinous Serbs, and a jailed faux revolutionary. Today he is a more or less tolerated radical oppositionist. He has lived 10 lives in the space most people reserve for one, yet has never attained the power and notoriety that he sought. He wanted to be a soldier or lead a revolution. Instead, he was merely a colorful sideshow.

Limonov’s life has unfolded alongside the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of the authoritarian petrostate that is modern Russia. His life is in part a reflection of that narrow, tortured reality, but even more so it is an echo of our world more generally, of our modern obsession with celebrity and power, charisma and audacity, even if it is in pursuit of bankrupt ideas.

Carrère, a gifted writer and journalist, seeks to find out what Limonov’s world looks like from the inside, what this larger than life character thinks of the world and his place in it. Indeed, Carrère calls his work a novel, because he repeatedly tries to imagine himself inside Limonov’s head, to speculate what he must have been thinking at the time. Working from memoirs, interviews and direct access to Limonov, he delivers a fascinating biography. The book is as interesting for how well it is written and told as it is for the bizarre, seemingly fictional character it chronicles.

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Sophie Pinkham // «Bookforum», december/january 2015



A book about an autobiographical Russian writer takes an unreliable narrator at his word.

The French writer Emmanuel Carrère wrote several novels before finding his home in the more ambiguous genre of novelistic nonfiction. His work often explores the perils of self-invention and the fraught relationship between fact and fiction. The Adversary (2000), for example, tells the story of a mediocre man who was so desperate to please that he created a fictitious life for himself. When his lies started to unravel, he killed his family so they wouldn’t be disappointed in him. Eduard Limonov, the subject of Carrère’s newly translated «pseudo-biography», Limonov, is a different kind of fabulist: the hero of his own adventure story. As a boy, Carrère loved the novels of Alexandre Dumas and Jules Verne. In Limonov, a delinquent turned underground poet turned opposition politician, he found a man who managed to make his life as exciting as d’Artagnan’s—if much more sordid.

Limonov was born in 1943 in Dzerzhinsk, Russia, and grew up in Kharkiv, in what is now Ukraine. He saw the wreckage of war, but also the glow of Soviet victory. His mother was cruel and his father was pathetic; early on, he decided that it was best to look like a person who was ready to kill. As a teenager, he fell in with a band of hooligans. They invited him to lose his virginity via gang rape, but he declined.

He read voraciously, and, like Carrère, he was fond of Dumas and Verne. When he started writing poetry, he was pleased to find that people liked it—even his hooligan friends. (In the Soviet Union, a love of crime was compatible with a love of verse.) He fell in with Kharkiv’s literary crowd. Never afraid to attract attention, he wore crushed-velvet pants and steel-tipped shoes that made sparks on the pavement. Restless and vain, he moved quickly through the layers of the Soviet underground.

Life wasn’t easy, but he didn’t blame that on the Soviet Union. He had no patience for dissidents who whined about political oppression. To him they were just weak, too stupid to work the system. Or they were hypocrites: Wasn’t revolutionary martyrdom just another way to get famous? What mattered was power, and the Soviet Union had a lot of it.

In Moscow, Limonov fell passionately in love with a beautiful young woman named Tanya. The new couple soon emigrated to New York; Tanya wanted to be a model, and Limonov wanted to be famous. They lived in a fleabag apartment until Tanya ran off with a French photographer, leaving Limonov to weep, drink, masturbate, and have sex with homeless men. («I lay there smiling and thought about how I must have been the only Russian poet who had ever been smart enough to fuck a black man in a New York vacant lot», the narrator remarks in It’s Me, Eddie, one of Limonov’s many «fictional memoirs».) Eventually Limonov got a job as a rich man’s butler. He liked to take girls back to the mansion and do filthy things to them in the master’s bed; that was his version of class warfare. But his American friends were unwilling to entertain his fantasies about revolutionary terrorism, and in America, he had concluded, writers had it even worse than they did in the Soviet Union. He moved to Paris. French intellectuals were amused by his violently ironic posturing, his toasts to Stalin, and his mockery of Solzhenitsyn. He published two memoir-novels that made him a minor star.

When perestroika came, Limonov wasn’t pleased. The Soviet legend was the legend of his childhood, after all, and what replaced it was a miserable neoliberalism. Also, his fame in France had plateaued, and he was running out of material for his fictional memoirs. It was time for a new chapter, with higher stakes. He went to Sarajevo in support of the Bosnian Serbs, allowing himself to be filmed firing a machine gun over the city, standing next to a man who would later be indicted for war crimes. This made him more famous, and that was good. It also made him a pariah in the Western publishing world, but he didn’t mind.

He moved back to Russia and founded the National Bolshevik Party along with the self-described fascist Aleksandr Dugin, a proponent of «Eurasianism» (which is rapidly gaining popularity in today’s Russia). Half Warhol’s Factory, half guerrilla hideaway, the National Bolshevik headquarters became a hangout for black-clad, marginalized youth, punk irony bleeding into bloodthirsty nationalism. After a camping trip that was supposedly the beginning of a ludicrous plot to establish a «second Russia» in northern Kazakhstan (which prefigured Russia’s recent, very real plan to establish a «new Russia» in Eastern Ukraine), Limonov was sent to prison, where he served two years. This made a fine addition to his résumé—call it his Monte Cristo period. He became a significant figure in the ragtag Russian opposition, in which the only real requirement was to hate Putin. His fame peaked when he liberalized his agenda, at least on paper, and became part of a short-lived coalition that included Gary Kasparov.

This is Limonov’s life as described by Carrère. Limonov adds a new layer of complexity to Carrère’s chosen genre: The nonfiction novel consists largely of paraphrases of its hero’s fictional memoirs, filled out with potted history and material gathered during a couple of weeks that Carrère spent with Limonov in Russia. Carrère says that he didn’t check any facts (this is clear: For example, Limonov’s second wife’s name was Elena, not Tanya), and that he chose to believe what Limonov says in his books because Limonov has «no imagination». But Limonov is a confirmed fantasist, and his books are labeled as fiction. In His Butler’s Story, another of Limonov’s memoir-novels, the narrator, Edward, describes months spent sunbathing in Central Park in his underwear, improving his English by reading The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. It’s Me, Eddie shows a pleasing sense of irony about the narrator’s grandiose self-image and corresponding self-pity. Eddie-baby is a melodramatic antihero, passionate and charismatic and amoral, capable of drinking a liter of vodka without ill effects, of maintaining an erection for hours at a time. He is very much a literary character. Much of the humor of Limonov is Limonov’s, not Carrère’s, as are many of the observations about Limonov’s character—or rather, about the characters of the hero Limonov and the psychopath Limonov, creations of the writer Limonov. As good readers, we should consider Limonov an experimental novel; we can’t be too picky about the facts or assume that Carrère was just being lazy. But why doesn’t Carrère give Limonov this benefit of the doubt as well? By taking Limonov’s fantasies at face value, Carrère misses an important part of the story.

Carrère plays up what is sympathetic and pathetic, stripping away Limonov’s bravado and aggression. He admires Limonov for his bravery, originality, and resilience. While being careful to acknowledge the discomfort that Western readers will likely feel at some of Limonov’s more dubious adventures, Carrère struggles to convince us that in his heart Limonov is a pretty good guy. He argues that Limonov’s lack of imagination, and the fact that his literary career was based entirely on writing about himself, compelled him to do increasingly ridiculous and, in many cases, deeply immoral things, like shoot at Sarajevo. Limonov ends with Carrère’s rueful acknowledgment that he’s disappointed that his hero has turned out to be something of a loser, poor and alone in a half-furnished apartment. «A shitty life», Limonov himself tells Carrère. But it isn’t such a sad end after all. Limonov wrote the page-turning story of his life, and Carrère, with his stylish paraphrasing, knack for narrative, and dutiful moral asides, has finally made this story a best seller. In Italy, they’re turning it into a movie; Carrère and Limonov were both hired as consultants.

Carrère describes Limonov as a person with «a realistic appreciation of reality». This seems like a crazy thing to say about a quasi-fascist megalomaniac, but by the standards of Russian politics today it’s almost reasonable. The current war with Ukraine is literally Limonov’s dream come true: He’s been talking about recapturing Crimea since the ’90s. Many of the rebel leaders in Eastern Ukraine seem to have taken a page from Limonov’s book: Igor Girkin, the former «minister of defense» of the Donetsk People’s Republic, a far-right Russian nationalist who also fought with the Bosnian Serbs in the ’90s, is an avid war reenactor who loves to dress up. Like Limonov, the rebels are big Stalin fans, and they creak through the sunflower fields in antique tanks. One senior commander in the rebel forces is the author of a number of nationalist sci-fi novels. This summer, he told a reporter, «I fell right into the middle of my books... Every day, enough happens for a novel». When pressed, he identified his native country as «the matrix» (like in the movie) or the Soviet Union. Forget realpolitik: This is a war of fantasists. But the corpses are real.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta // "The Indian Express", 27 december 2014

India Economic Summit 2009

Top of the Shelf


Staying with the problem of evil, the French writers Emmanuel Carrere’s book Limonov is ostensibly a novelistic biography of a minor gangster/politician in Russia. But the book is a sombre and irreverent take on the psychological contradictions of 20th century history: its oscillation between murderous utopias and thuggish cynicism. It is also a challenge to liberal moral psychology: Why do characters like Vladimir Putin seem a lot more attractive to people, while well-meaning liberals seem so untrustworthy? A profound question indeed.


James Everest // "Review31", 29 november 2014



Emmanuel Carrère’s novel Limonov was first published in French in 2011. Recently (and impeccably) translated by John Lambert, it has had an oddly muted reception. In the London Review of Books, Gary Indiana quoted the term «pseudo-biography» that appears on the book’s US dust-jacket, before sliding smoothly towards the judgement that «Limonov’s real life, as it happens, is particularly resistant to the kind of heroic narrative Carrère wishes to mould it into». In the Guardian, Julian Barnes complained that the author had shown insufficient restraint in plundering his subject’s self-aggrandising memoirs; he ended up with the claim that Limonov would have been more successful if it had been written not by Carrère but his mother, the historian Hélène Carrère d’Encausse.

Of course, Eduard Limonov does actually exist. His scandalous, riotous life is real and – after 71 tumultuous years – ongoing. But judging a novel against the content of a Wikipedia page is a bit like judging a painting against a photograph. Fiction has long sought ways of conjuring the effect of reality and using a real person as one’s protagonist is hardly tearing up the rule-book. It does not follow, as Barnes suggested, that the book «isn’t remotely a novel». Who cares whether it reflects the actual details of the actual person’s life, so long as the outcome is interesting – which Limonov certainly is.

The tale opens in 2006. Carrère is in Moscow, attending a ceremony in commemoration of the Dubrovka Theatre fiasco (where innocent hostages were gassed alongside their Chechen captors by Russian security forces in 2002). In the crowd, he recognises a face familiar from the French literary scene of the 1980s. After a couple of secret meetings with the man, who is now a prominent figure in the Russian democratic opposition, the literary die has been cast: «His romantic, dangerous life says something. Not just about him, Limonov, not just about Russia, but about everything that’s happened since the end of the Second World War».

The main body of the book charts this singular life. There are memorable scenes: the young provincial thug on the prowl; the haunted underground poet slashing his wrists outside his girlfriend’s Moscow flat; the émigré tramp having gay sex in Central Park. But the book is not just about Limonov. The prologue introduces another character: Emmanuel Carrère. This character was born and lives in Paris. The son of a historian and a senior executive, he writes books and screenplays and has dreams of acquiring a holiday home in Greece. «From a geographical and a sociocultural point of view», the Carrère-narrator interjects, «you can’t say life has taken me very far from my roots».

It seems fair to say that most of the novel’s readers will feel more akin to the character of Carrère than to Limonov, at least in so far as they will be similarly seduced by the latter’s picaresque life story. Limonov has done things that you never have, and probably never will. Any reader who identifies with the authorial voice, however, would be well advised not to take it totally at face value.

Take this example. In New York, Limonov dates the housekeeper of a millionaire, Steven, who goes on to employ him as a butler. First, there is a scene related from the American’s perspective, in which he tells his household about a local boy’s death from leukaemia: «Jenny [the housekeeper] burst into tears. Eduard, who was in the kitchen as usual, didn’t cry but also seemed moved in his stoic, military way». This is set against the version of events as they appear in Limonov’s memoir: «Let the rich boy die. I’ll be glad even. What the hell, why must I pretend that I’m moved, that I sympathize, that I’m sorry. I’m not moved, I don’t sympathize, and I’m not sorry!»

At this point, the authorial voice pictures Steven reading the passage that we have just read: «What an asshole! Steven thinks, and I think the same thing, and no doubt you do too, reader». He continues: «But I also think that if anything could have been done to save the little boy, especially if that something was hard or dangerous, Eduard would have been the first to attempt it, and he would have given it everything he had». I sometimes think that I am too trusting of untrustworthy narrators, but – after this prismatic section – even I found myself questioning Carrère’s conclusion.

Limonov’s autobiographical accounts of his time in the US capital are picked up by a French publisher, and for a short time he becomes what he always wanted to be: a succès de scandale. This chapter of the book – not, I think, coincidentally – opens with a lengthy description of the life at that point of the character Emmanuel Carrère, replete with lovesickness, failed literary ambitions and a comically catastrophic business venture. When at last we turn to the book’s protagonist, the contrast is evident: Limonov is a star, whose provocative scorn for ruling pieties are «just what we wanted in an era and milieu that, having put both political fervor and the inanity of the pseudohippies behind it, now swore by nothing but cynicism, disillusionment, and a kind of icy good cheer».

There follows a turning point, in the novel and in recent world history: the end of the Cold War. Limonov’s reaction – he is horrified – is presented as a curiosity: how bizarre that this «sexy, sly, funny guy» should mourn the fall of a catatonically repressive state apparatus. Even worse, it soon turns out that he has been fighting in the Balkans, alongside the Serbs, which – for Carrère – is a bit like «siding with the Nazis or the genocidal Hutus». But Limonov’s attitude in fact seems pretty consistent. His motto could well be that of L’Idiot international, the polemical newspaper for which he wrote while in Paris, which proclaimed itself «against everyone who was for something, and for everyone who was against something». The confusion that reigns in this part of the novel is not his; it is that of the narratorial voice and, by extension, that of us, his readers. The problem is this: attack some ruling pieties and you are a hero; attack others and you are a disgrace.

I can imagine Limonov reading this and smiling: yes, the Russian renegade reveals the hypocrisy of bourgeois, educated losers, exactly the kind of people who are likely to read a new novel translated from the French. But I do not think that the focus of the book is our failure to see our attraction to a provocative narcissism through to its logical conclusions. I think it is that very attraction.

While waiting for his first meeting with his protagonist, Carrère offers a reflective remark: «I think to myself that my story is getting off to a good start: hideouts, clandestine movements, what could be more romantic? Only I have a hard time deciding between two versions of this romanticism – is it the romance of the terrorist cell or the resistance network?» For me, the significant aspect of this comment is not the decision – hero or a villain? – but the fact that both options involve romanticism. Throughout, the narratorial voice draws on cultural figures, many of them drawn from Limonov’s presentation of himself. Here, the choice is glossed as «Carlos the Jackal or Jean Moulin?» The obvious question to ask is which of these roles best suits Limonov. But the deeper question, the one that the book really probes, is this: what is it that makes us think of these figures as comparably «romantic»?

Reviews of Limonov have accused the author of naivety, of being swept off his feet by his subject’s melodramatic persona. This is certainly true of Carrère the character, but I am not so sure it is true of Carrère the writer. In my take, the book says less about Limonov and more about readers like you and me, who are struck by the seductive glamour of a rebellious posture, but do not think properly about what this rebelliousness stands for.

IT'S ME, THE HERO! (a screenplay by Srđan Dragojević & Moma Mrdakovič, 1996)


a screenplay by Srđan Dragojević & Moma Mrdakovič
It's Me, the Hero!
// New York: «Moma Momcilo Mrdakovič», 1996, paperback, 109 p.

«It's Me, the Hero!» (1996) (New York, «Moma Momcilo Mrdakovič», screenplay) is the screenplay and not a book. It was based on the book "It's Me Eddie" written by Edward Limonov. People were selling illegal copies of it by Internet for many years.

If you talk to Limonov please say hello from me.

ALSO try to do bibliography also in English. It would be great help for people interested in E.L..


Momcilo "Moma" Mrdakovic


P. T. Smith // "Music & Literature", 2 december 2014



Limonov, the latest in Emmanuel Carrère’s run of novelistic nonfiction, is a wonderful, weird journey. Translated by John Lambert, this biography of Eduard (Eddie) Limonov, a wild Russian, combines the excitement of a thriller with the deep moral questioning of a French philosopher. Its lengthy subtitle—“The Outrageous Adventures of the Radical Soviet Poet Who Became a Bum in New York, a Sensation in France, and a Political Antihero in Russia”—is simultaneously hyperbole and understatement. Limonov is an utterly fascinating figure: a violent, unstable bastard, he’s also charming, loyal, and loving. People who enthusiastically agree with him one minute are appalled by his opinions the next. But he’s “someone who didn’t leave people in the lurch, who took care of them if they were sick or unhappy, even if he didn’t have anything good to say about them.” Minus the memory loss and the intoxication, his life resembles the Russian drinking binge zapoi, described by Carrère as “serious business”:

Zapoi means going several days without sobering up, roaming from one place to another, getting on trains without knowing where they're headed, telling your most intimate secrets to people you meet by chance, forgetting everything you've said and done: a sort of voyage.

The voyage opens at the funeral of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006. Limonov appears in the distance, dramatically lit as in a film. There follows a flashback, to Carrère’s personal interactions with the man, which segues to the time after the funeral and the author’s musings on who Limonov is in Russia now. Finally, there’s the dive into the full breadth of the man’s life. Carrère uses pacing and shots redolent of film to entice the reader and to accentuate the novelistic dimension of this supposed work of nonfiction.

Limonov is a contradiction, a mishmash of expectations and identities—in short, he’s Russian. There is the Limonov Carrère met and admired in France in the 80s: a talented writer, a “sexy, sly, funny guy, a cross between a sailor on leave and a rock star.” Then, the Limonov who emerges after the Soviet Union’s collapse. His friends realize that his railing against Gorbachov was never simply the dark joke they thought it was; this man mourned the fall. Later, fighting for the Serbs in the fractured Balkans, Limonov becomes the enemy. He ends in Russia, leading the National Bolshevik Party. It churns the guts of his old friends in Paris: men marching with shaved heads, dressed in black. Their salute is “half-Nazi (raised arm), half-Communist (balled fist).” Yet when Carrère meets him in 2006-7, he finds another Limonov. This man has become a hero of democracy. He speaks out against Putin. He mourns those civilians gassed to death in the Moscow theater hostage crisis. Through his changes-his stint of homelessness and his time as a butler for a rich New Yorker—Limonov breaches a sense of continuous self.

Carrère’s mission goes far beyond a straightforward arrangement of the facts of Limonov’s life. Carrère wants to expose every corner of his subject, seeking understanding, leaving room for both love and disgust. His shifting perspective becomes ours too, as does his empathy. The authors interrupts his Limonov novel to insert himself, his own life, his own qualms. In a Paris Review interview, he is clear: “I prefer to take responsibility for my own mistakes than take on your reality. I don’t acknowledge the right to speak in your place.” Instead, he creates another reality, his own Limonov, one that nevertheless overlaps with the original. A Limonov to go along with Eddie Limonov.

Carrère’s sources are numerous and unclear. They seem to include interviews with Limonov while relying heavily on and Limonov’s writings about himself. That Limonov’s books—It’s Me, Eddie or His Butler’s Story—themselves are a blend of fiction and biography is passed over quickly and quietly. Instead, Carrère refers to Limonov’s prodigious-and supposedly accurate-memories. When we trust Carrère, we’re asked to trust Limonov—not just his facts but his fictions. Yet other sources, various conversations, go unspecified, only hinted at. When Carrère mentions a tertiary character’s thoughts about Limonov, it’s unsettling. He could have interviewed someone else, it could be another other source we don’t know about, it could be part of the fiction of Limonov’s writings. Or it could be entirely the creation of Carrère. There is palpable tension in this style: we want answers but can’t have them. Certainty would interrupt the aesthetic, placing a barrier between Limonov and us.

Amidst all these complications, Carrère starts at the beginning. A man and a woman meet, and a child is soon born. The details of facts matter less than the quality of vividness, of fidelity to an imaginative ideal. The knife carried by a teenaged Limonov was the length of “the breastbone to the heart, which means his switchblade can kill.” It becomes clear that privacy will not exist in Carrère's depiction of life. Limonov can’t encountered if parts remain hidden. We read of how he lost his virginity. Determined to take the sex he wants, he is willing to rape, to kill a rival. Instead, the sex is given freely: it is quick and disappointing. This first lover takes the time to explain his youthful sexual inadequacy to him.

Though Limonov is a deeply intimate portrait of one man, it is also a history of Russia. Limonov’s father worked for the secret police, and this is the foundation of the son’s politics. There is pride, respect for authority, as well as shame and embarrassment that his old man had to take orders. Limonov sees those leaders who are beholden to no one and envisions himself becoming one. He searches among gangsters and workers, finding only dead ends. After a suicide attempt, a doctor points him toward the literary crowd. Joining them, he leaves his birth name—Savenko—behind. In 1967, at twenty-five, outgrowing his home city, he moves to Moscow. With his older lover, Anna, he lives the life of a poet and a rebel. These two identities will shift in their shades, but they will endure.

Limonov is a rebel on the side of nobody but himself. He loathes Solzhenitsyn and “admiration paid to [Brodsky] is stolen from him.” In small instances and life-changing events, Limonov’s insecurity and pride drive his writing, politics, and pursuit of women. He leaves Anna, his first serious relationship, who is slipping into mental illness. He finds twenty-year-old Tanya, who provokes a fight between Limonov’s competing desires: he wants to be the glorified bum. He wants to live counter to the rich, resentful of money's glamour. He wants punk élan, despising the wealthy yet finding himself continually in their company. Tanya, who is set to marry a rich man, aspires to be a model. When they arrive in America in 1975, she hopes to pose for Vogue. Of his time as a butler Limonov’s writing makes clear how deeply he resents the role, though one imagines he’d have a butler if he had the chance. When we see him in contemporary Russia, he almost does. Out of prison, scorned by the government, he has followers; among them are armed men, thugs, bodyguards.

Limonov’s American exile provides the excuse for a dramatized refresher course in Soviet history. Carrère recreates the events that lead to civilians being allowed to emigrate. Free to go, never to return, they leave, believing glory lies ahead. The departure allows Carrère to do a Dostoyevsky impression. There are tears, fits, and kisses, begging, praise, and dramatic physical gestures, including Anna throwing herself at Tanya's feet. Carrère doesn’t hesitate to let novelistic pacing have the upper hand, when appropriate.

Novelistic nonfiction: the term hedges a definite stance. It is a mischaracterization, an inadequate wave of the hands. The term has been applied to other writers—Erik Larson and Simon Winchester, among others—but Carrère’s project is different. They use the structure of fiction and create a character’s consciousness to get their reader closer to facts. The appeal is history but something less dry than an unimagined recounting. They promise that what you are learning completely is always factually true. They aren’t interpreted as fiction. They are practical, and enrich your knowledge. Carrère withholds that promise. The men of Limonov and The Adversary aren’t brought to life in order to educate his readers in history.

Carrère places high ethical demand on himself. He calls the absence of Truman Capote in In Cold Blood “morally hideous,” and by putting himself in his books, questioning the act of his writing, he takes greater responsibility for what he writes about, and the liberties he takes.

In American literary culture, there’s been much resistance to similar liberties. It seems that every year there is a repeat of James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces: the falsities behind a memoir come to light and there’s an outraged readership, an ashamed author. Part of the outrage is that the authors promise a single, factual truth. They don’t accept from the beginning how easily that is lost. There still remains a hope for a cleanly drawn and impenetrable line between fiction and nonfiction. This desire is a reason so many books are published with that little tag “a novel” on the cover.

What is so bewildering about this reluctance is that in many ways, people have accepted that we do indeed live in a world of layered realities. In literature, with the success of post-modernism, readers are accustomed to protagonists sharing a name with their authors, to facts of fiction matching up with facts of biography. That friction is one that readers embrace, the confusion of fiction towards concrete reality. Its risks, the tensions of wondering what is authorial confession secreted within the imaginative are a form of play, and we’re accustomed to it. Even further back, there’s Daniel Defoe, who guised his fiction under nonfiction to bring respectability to it, “The Editor believes the thing to be a just History of Fact; neither is there any Appearance of Fiction in it.” All of this moves in the opposite direction as Limonov, and none do it so casually and comfortably.

Carrère moves a “History of Fact” closer to fiction in order to lend it legitimacy and life, while also making the use of biography, and autobiography, in fiction more than a postmodernist game. If a reader is told that something is fiction, then an author can add as much nonfiction as they like, and it’s not objectionable, only exciting. The other way around though, is the source of trouble, and so often our culture wants the proper label in literature before accepting it.

Carrère acts as corrective to both. The American literary world could be freed from the shackles of one reality in nonfiction, and when multiplicity is accepted, it can be so truth is sought, rather than spectacle. As part of contemporary life, this tenuousness of reality is something that can be terrifying. In Carrère's early novel The Mustache, fear wins completely. A man has worn a mustache for years. Then he shaves it, and everyone he knows insists he’s never had one. At first, he believes it’s a prank orchestrated by his wife. She refuses to back down, the discrepancies mount, his reality against hers, his sanity dissolves, and horror sets in. The protagonist’s attempts to reach certainty with logic lead only to more traps. Reality may be shifting against the protagonist, he may being going insane, she may be the mad one, pushing a joke well past its limits, but it doesn’t matter; the result is the same: a man defeated. With Limonov, Carrère also sees biographical gaps multiply. But there is no defeat, and Limonov, still strong, reaches his hoped-for destiny. The gaps in his lives are like The Mustache’s gaps in reality but they are opportunities, not traps.

As Limonov relocates from Moscow to New York to Paris to Sarajevo, he changes appearance, just as his fortunes ride a wave of highs and lows. In the New York of the late seventies, Tanya and Limonov struggle. Porno theatres are places of romance. One émigré he knows lives in a room full of dog shit—he doesn't own a dog. In this place he writes all day, never sharing it, fearing his neighbors spying on him, as if he still lived in the USSR. The more absurd, the truer to life. It’s in this New York that Limonov hits a new bottom. Tanya sleeps around, he nearly kills her, and she leaves him. Devastated by love turned toxic, his writing dries up. Success seems unattainable. Out of this vicious circle, a focal point emerges: getting fucked in the ass.

That wasn’t meant to be simply crude. It leads to the spirit of the book: excess tied with intimate sentimentality. One of Limonov’s constants is to be inconstant, to make sudden decisions clearly and forcefully. Limonov’s solution is simply stated, but deeply complicated: “He needs to be Tanya to replace Tanya.” His solution is rational and effective: he penetrates himself with a candle while masturbating, and the scene is graphic, but poetic. Following this, a gay Russian introduces him to a “wealthy and elegant” older man. Both end the night embarrassed. This is for the best: there would be less soul in something unoriginal like being the young boyfriend in the bedroom of a rich man. But through the experiences afterwards he is reborn. He happily collects his welfare checks, barely scraping by. Limonov identifies as a homosexual, but “it’s more a style he’s adopted.” It’s artifice, or it’s sincere: it’s both. More importantly, he’s writing again, quickly and consistently, and soon has a book on his hands—It’s Me, Eddie.

The New York period is but one of many; their common denominator is that Limonov wants his life to be like The Count of Monte Cristo, where even his miserable experiences must have beauty. Later, in 2001, when Limonov is in Russian prison, Carrère shows us a strong hero who “took pleasure in every moment.” But novelistic nonfiction has a constriction that fiction does not: Carrère cannot create his own plots, he can only conform to a given outline. Carrère must ignore the restraint of fiction that advises “your hero can hit rock bottom once, it’s even recommended, but a second time is one too many.” When Limonov plunges down again and again, Carrère is obliged to follow him. And yet Limonov does practically live the adventure genre, though liberated from the banality of plot. Biography becomes a jungle gym, Carrère swinging from bar to bar, propelled by Limonov's nonstop zapoi.

Limonov keeps writing about his life. After New York, he finds a publisher in France, and moves again. It’s his most successful period working as an author. In a post-punk milieu, his Soviet aesthetic is more than welcome. From there, it’s on to the ’90s Balkans and the adventure that is the life of a soldier. It’s a chance to believe in a cause, but also revel in the brutality of warfare; then, a return to Russia to launch the bizarre fascist-democratic protest movement. On and on, the shifts in plot continue. But since this is an adventure narrative, we should be wary of further spoilers.

As the narrative wraps up, Carrère ponders what it all adds up to. He must end the biography of an open-ended life. He seeks a conclusion that defines a man and asks others: is Limonov a good man? Even as he questions, Carrère seems to think the telling of a life is enough, the act meaningful. The author of Limonov aligns himself with the one conviction everyone holds about Limonov:

You’ve got to say one thing for this fascist: he only likes, and has only ever liked, the underdogs. The skinny against the fat, the poor against the rich, the self-confessed assholes—who are rare—against the legion of the virtuous. And no matter how erratic his trajectory might seem, it’s coherent in that he has always, absolutely always, been on their side.

In Limonov, Carrère found a subject screaming for an exploration in nonfiction liberated from the restraints we normally put on it. His is a nonfictional life stranger than fiction, mostly through his own efforts. He recreates himself as necessary, and that a person is capable of this is a familiar postmodernist idea, but that embraces it so confidently, and with his gut instead of his mind, so it is less a philosophy and more a way of life. Carrère takes hold of this life. He carries Limonov further, creating a unified narrative Limonov. No one could be blamed if they dreamt of the same thing. A story of ourselves that brings to life a new self, full of beauty and blemishes, highs and lows, but which isn’t beholden to literal reality. Without resorting to lies, which can come back and ruin us, this possibility holds dear another true self. Postmodernism open the world to uncertainty and the multiplicity of the self, of reality, but Carrère wants to add realism, wants to ground us again, without denying what we’ve been exposed to. In this version of writing and life, what we discover is thrilling and honest.

Daniel Kalder // «The Dallas Morning News», 5 december 2014



Biography review: Rediscover a Russian swashbuckler in «Limonov» by Emmanuel Carrère.

In 1974, poet and dandy Edward Limonov left the Soviet Union to live in the United States. The bisexual, bespectacled son of a secret policeman was fond of the Ramones, fascinated by revolutionary violence, and, in his own words, a Russian punk — the antithesis of the bearded sage Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who went into exile at the same time.

This punk wrote some scandalous memoirs and became a literary celebrity in France. Then Limonov’s life changed direction radically: After fighting for the Serb side in Bosnia in the early 1990s, he returned to Russia, where he formed the neofascist National Bolshevik party, acting as a creepy, silver-haired Pied Piper figure to gangs of alienated youths. Led by Limonov, these «Natsbols» marched through Russian cities chanting «Stalin, Beria, Gulag!» while waving a flag identical to that of the Nazis — only the swastika had been swapped for a black hammer and sickle.

Limonov’s literary friends were horrified, and his books went out of print in the West. So the French author Emmanuel Carrère was naturally quite astonished when he visited Moscow in 2007 and discovered that Limonov had become a highly respected politician who, alongside chess maestro Garry Kasparov, was one of the leaders of the anti-Putin opposition movement.

Limonov had even managed to spend a couple of years in Vladimir Putin’s prisons, where he had written some new books, one of which, The Book of Water, had (deservedly, in my opinion) won much acclaim and a prestigious literary prize.

That is a brief account of the career of Limonov the man. Meanwhile Limonov the book, which has just been published in English translation, is an attempt by Carrère to come to terms with the meaning of this «romantic, dangerous life», which he states «says something. Not just about him, Limonov, not just about Russia, but about everything that’s happened since the end of the Second World War».

Limonov is not a standard biography but rather what Carrère calls a «nonfiction novel». Rather than track down Limonov’s friends and relatives to find out what the author «really said», Carrère relies instead on the version of his life as Limonov has told it in his memoirs, mixing in stories from Carrère’s own life, historical observations and cultural critiques.

The result is a fascinating hybrid of confession, analysis and even page-turner as Carrère follows Limonov from the suburbs of Kharkov in Soviet Ukraine, to the demimonde of the Moscow artistic underground, to New York welfare hotels, war, imprisonment and his late-career resurrection.

By tracing that wild trajectory, Carrère obliterates the usual dreary paradigms through which Westerners perceive Russia. Limonov as he reveals himself in his own books, and as Carrère reveals him here, is a man who has willed himself to crash through historical and cultural barriers, reinventing himself multiple times in pursuit of his vision of personal glory. Limonov can be hateful, yet he can also inspire great loyalty; he is without pity, yet capable of profound love; he is a despicable narcissist, yet indisputably fearless and able to inspire courage in others.

Confronted by this confounding figure, Carrère remains ambivalent, admitting that at one point he was so disturbed by Limonov’s capacity for vileness that he stopped work on the book for a year. Toward the end, however, Carrère gives us an almost sympathetic portrait of his hero’s prison years as the best of his life — the moment he was able to test his own heroism and emerge victorious.

After that, however, it’s all downhill. Finally respectable, Limonov marries a beautiful Russian actress and rails against Putin, but the actress abandons him, and at the end of the book Limonov is old, marginalized and seemingly disenchanted by his own life.

Perhaps Carrère’s Limonov does indeed say something about «everything that’s happened since the end of the Second World War», but it is something so complex that it cannot be reduced to any pat lesson.

There is no moral here; after all, Limonov himself, as the book makes quite clear, is not very interested in morality.

Marcus Tanner // "The Independent", 3 december 2014



I have a bone to pick with Eduard Limonov. Back in the 1990s, while covering the Serbian siege of Sarajevo, we heard of a strange Russian «poet» who had joined the Serbs up in the hills, blasting away at the city below with a machine gun. There is Limonov, listening reverently to the Bosnian Serb boss, Radovan Karadzic, as the latter blathers away about «the Turks» — a pejorative Serbian term for Bosnian Muslims — before excusing himself to chat with his wife and leaving Limonov behind a machine gun. Bang, bang!

Like most people, I had since forgotten about Limonov, who enjoyed 15 minutes of fame as the author of some racy novels about the Soviet Union before disappearing from view, at least in the West. Emmanuel Carrère did not forget. Convinced that Limonov's life story has a heroic quality to it, he has reproduced it in fine detail. Carrère describes his book as a novel, which enables him to be inside Limonov's head as well as outside it, sitting in judgment. This confusion over who is telling this story and over whether what we are reading is «true», actually adds to its energy.

Limonov certainly took life by the scruff of the neck. Brought up in eastern Ukraine at the fag end of the Soviet era, armed only with «a knife and a cock», he crashed his way into literary circles in the provinces before hightailing it to Moscow where he made enough of a nuisance of himself for the Soviet authorities to bundle him out of the country. He landed in America. The fickle New Yorkers petted him for a while, but lost interest, after which Limonov sank into the gutter, eventually taking a job he detested as a butler. Turning these bitter experiences into words, he compiled a couple of semi-autobiographical novels that a French publisher picked up, after which he hopped over to Paris and briefly became a literary star there.

The problem with this book is that the most interesting part of the story ends there. A total egotist, Limonov could only write about himself, which is why, after «It's me, Eddie» and the various follow-ups, the writing career stalled. Meanwhile, the totalitarian mindset came ever more to the fore. He went to Bosnia to blast away at the Muslims and was promptly dropped by the Parisians — who like to be shocked, but not shocked like that.

Carrère tries hard to present Limonov as a modern knight errant, a bright meteor in our dull, grey universe. I wasn't persuaded. Interestingly, when he meets his hero towards the end of the book, Limonov assures him that he has led «a shitty life». For once, Limonov was right.