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A most disturbing read

Limonov jacketTo be honest, I spent much of my time reading this biography with interpolations and explanations by the author, wondering what on earth I was doing, as Eduard Limonov, writer, manipulator and sometime leader of the banned National Bolshevik party, most often comes across as a brutal, narcissistic thug, a proto-fascist, and a man devoid of pity, fellow-feeling or compassion. At times, reading accounts of Limonov’s chosen early life, as a petty hoodlum in Ukraine, and later as a bum and shocking, Genet-ish, Henry Miller-ish writer of degradation in New York and Paris, with his overweening desire to be ‘someone’ whatever the cost, either to himself or anyone else, felt a little like rooting around salaciously in degradation, overwhelmed by half horrified, half fascinated prurience.

Limonov, born Savenko, adopted the name, as a play upon the sourness and clarity of the lemon, but it is also a Russian word for ‘grenade’, so indicated his propensity for violence, and to shatter complacency and the status quo.


French writer and film-maker Emmanuel Carrère, himself of part Russian descent, (his maternal grandfather was a White Russian émigré) is/was clearly both fascinated and repelled by Limonov. His rationale for writing this hybrid of biography AND autobiography is his belief that here is a man, in Limonov, through whom one can understand not just one man, but the whole history of Russia from the Second World War to the present day, and that the complexities, the darkness, degradation and brutality and yes, the light, and the mysticism within Limonov are in some way indicative of this complex country. And indeed, he suggests further that the confusion and complexity of Limonov’s nature and history also shows something about ‘’all our history since the end of World War II’’

What kept me reading was an appeal, by Carrère, to the reader, part way through the book, laying out a tenet from a Buddhist sutra :

A man who judges himself superior, inferior, or even equal to another does not understand reality.

and Carrère goes on to say

this idea….is the pinnacle of wisdom, and that one life isn’t enough to adopt it, digest it, and absorb it so that it ceases to be an idea and instead conditions at every moment our way of looking and acting. For me, writing this book is a strange way of attempting to do just that

This is an often horrible, depressing, distressing read, and yet, at times there is a kind Emmanuel_Carrère_2of dignity and honour in Limonov which Carrère makes the reader see…particularly in the account of his time in prison, as an avowed critic of Putin, where he seemed to win the respect of fellow prisoners and guards.

This is not in any way an easy or a comfortable read; yet I can’t do other than recommend it.

I received this as a review copy from Amazon Vine UK

Limonov Amazon UK
Limonov Amazon USA