Neko is back again with another book review for you all! Exciting times I know. I just finished a cool book about growing up behind the Iron Curtain during the 70’s and 80’s. This title was given to me in exchange for an honest review, which does contain SPOILERS! Let’s check this out!
Title: Everything is Normal: The Life and Times of a Soviet Kid
Author: Sergey Grechishkin
Goodreads Synopsis: This book is both a memoir and a social history. On one hand, it is a light-hearted worm’s-eye-view of the USSR through one middle-class Soviet childhood in the 1970s – 1980s. On the other hand, it is a reflection on the mundane deprivations and existential terrors of day-to-day life in Leningrad in the decades preceding the collapse of the USSR.
The author occupies a peculiar place in the Soviet world. He is the son of a dissident father and also the step-son of a politically favored Leningrad University professor and Party member. He also occupies a peculiar place in the literal geographic sense- both his home and school are only a few blocks away from the city’s KGB headquarters, where a yet-unknown officer called Vladimir Putin is learning his trade.
His world is a world without flavor. Food is unseasoned. Bananas are a once a year treat. A pack of instant coffee is precious enough to be more useful as a bribe to a Party official than a consumable. Parents on business trips thousands of miles away from home schlep precious and scarce bottles of soda across the Soviet empire for their kids. Everything is bland: TV, radio, books, music, politics – life itself. The author staves away boredom the best he can, with a little help from his friends. They play in the streets of their beautiful city, still resplendent with pre-Revolutionary glory; make their own toys and gadgets; and, when they get older, pass around forbidden novels and books of poetry.
But occasionally, an infinitely more exciting world makes itself briefly known. A piece of foreign bubble gum with a Disney wrapper. A short Yugoslavian cartoon. A smuggled cassette tape with mind-blowing music by someone named Michael Jackson. And these hints of a completely different life introduce small cracks into the author’s all-pervading late-Soviet boredom – cracks that widen and widen, until reality itself shatters, and a brand new world rushes in.
My Thoughts: Okay, this was a hard review to write because there is just so much to the book I don’t even know where to start or how to make this review cohesive… Sorry everyone! But I really did enjoy it and if you are at all interested in foreign cultures give this book a try! It will be worth your time I promise!!
On with the review: I was pleasantly surprised with this book. I figured it would be interesting and educational, after all the extent of my knowledge of Russia begins and ends with Syrian Dwarf hamsters, but I did not think it would be funny! As the title suggests, this is a memoir of the author mixed with a history book, and boy howdy does Sergey Grechishkin know his Russian history! Grechishkin is incredibly knowledgeable about the Mother Country and candid in his narration; he throws in the good, the bad, and the general attitude of the country towards change and other nations. I really appreciate that his honesty when talking about his family, their thoughts, the government’s decisions, the land, his schooling, and perceptions of evil Americans (this cracks me up! Go watch an American movie in the 80’s and 10 to 1 the bad guy will be Russian, it’s funny to see this reversed!). Actually, reading about how corrupt and horrible America was believed to be was one of my favorite parts because Grechishkin doesn’t just say we are bad, he tells us the reasons behind why people thought we were. What can I say? I like honesty, even when it shows others in a bad light.
The book covers Grechishkin from his earliest memories of a toy alligator eating his pacifier (I’ll have to remember that one if I ever have kids) to graduating high school and beginning college, however he does throw in information from about the mid 1800’s all the way up to Trump becoming president, like I said memoir/history book! It’s actually shocking how much info is packed into 305 pages, school outings, vacations, shopping, growing pains, how to have fun, different areas, the Olympics, the black market, everything is covered! It’s pretty awesome and eye opening for someone who has never really been out of her own country before.
Another of my favorite aspects to the book was the anecdotes that proceeded each chapter! Most of these were hilarious, though there were a couple I didn’t understand, yay for colloquialisms! Each chapter is titled letting reader’s know the general idea of what will be read and the anecdotes are like a highlight of what is to come. For instance the chapter about education is headed by a child telling his parent about how the principal asked if he had any siblings. The boy tells him no, and the principal responds with “thank God” or something similar, from this it is a good guess that kids should behave themselves but a reminder that there will always be that one munchkin who just can’t help themselves. Trust me it was funny.
Back to being a memoir and history book, have you ever sat down with an uncle or grandparent and asked them about life way back when? That’s the way this book reads. It is vivid and mesmerizing, almost like watching a film instead of reading a book. And the way Grechishkin writes draws the reader in and makes it feel personal, we could be sitting down talking for how chummy the author is. It’s pretty awesome!
Again sorry this review is so strange and disjointed, this book is packed with information. I highly recommend it!
So have any of you guys read Everything is Normal? What did you think? Know of any other books that are memoir/history? Share in the comments!!