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Paperback I Was a Potato Oligarch: Travels and Travails in the New Russia Book

ISBN: 1857885090

ISBN13: 9781857885095

I Was a Potato Oligarch: Travels and Travails in the New Russia

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Format: Paperback

Condition: Very Good

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Book Overview

In this eye-wateringly funny account from John Mole, readers will experience "the real Russia" firsthand. Beginning with a risky business venture inspired by British fast food, Mole attempts to submerge himself in Russian culture--but often finds himself in the middle of a fiasco instead.

Customer Reviews

2 ratings

Being at Home

One learns more about John Mole in this book rather than about new Russia. His venture (adventures) in international business deals are fraught, funny and fragile with a little something of the old and new Russia revealed on the way. Mole has a keen eye for the ridiculous, and he uses the particular to emphasise the general, mostly to send it up, but also for ironic purposes. At the time there was a proposal to impeach President Yeltsin and there was protest from various political factions in Red Square; Mole wanders around in the action. Incidentally he notices and reveals to the reader that the temporary toilets in the Square permit a good view of the users in their toilet. Mole stops to observe and takes mental note of the homogenous nature of the underwear and the dramatic licence taken in international news reporting. "That was not the first or the last time that I found it hard to match media stories with what actually goes on in Russia. The only incontrovertible fact I can report is that the knickers on both sides were the same shades of pink and beige." (p117) Gladly he includes himself in this mix, otherwise these tales would be entirely patronising. The self-deprecation takes the edge off it - just. The theme of 'home': not feeling at home, being reminded of home, yet wanting to be 'at home', and noticing the homeless and being invited into people's homes are points of personal reference. "Yefrem's work gave him an extensive vocabulary that he practised on me. He lay in wait, and when he saw me beetling across the courtyard in the morning and trudging back in the evening, he popped up to greet me. 'Can't by me love.' 'Hello, Yefrem.' 'Fook Livairpool.' 'Good thinking, Yefrem.' 'Make lyorve and vore.' 'I'll do my best.' He was a graffiti audiobook for the visually impaired. Why did he recite his phrases to me? Partly to improve his pronunciation. I gave up correcting him because he only repeated the same mistakes over and over again. Partly out of hospitality, to make me feel at home. Partly because he was drunk or crackers or both. At a rough estimate the are about 50,000 bomzhi in Moscow and 4 million in Russia. Bomzhi is an acronym for "without fixed place of residence'." (p75) Waxing lyrical on mushrooms, or 'greebi' (Russian), Mole is at his best, and reveals wonderful tidbits of Russian culture and history, and his musing brings his experience living there alive: "Greebi are a way of life... When Pushkin or Tolstoy wanted to show a character was a true Russian he had them prefer mushrooms to fancy foreign food. ... Mushrooms signify nature and vitality and hope for the future. For the exiled Nabokov, mushrooming is a symbol of his lost Motherland. Lenin is reputed to have been a keen mushroomer. ... When I got excited about some hare-brained idea, Misha shut me up with 'If mushrooms grew in your mouth, it wouldn't be a mouth but a kitchen garden.' My favourite, when we had to arselick some apparatch

A modern fable

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. (Reviewed in Russian Life)
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