Wry memoir from an Eastern European indie-rock sensation.
A significant strength of this literary debut from singer Simone—whose second full-length original album will be released this fall—is her prose style, which is vibrant, taut and humorous. Born in Ukraine, she emigrated with her family to Massachusetts in the waning days of Soviet rule, after her professor father ran afoul of the KGB. The author amusingly portrays this experience as having transformed her family into caustic Kafkaesque eccentrics. The young Simone’s response was to retreat into bohemian creativity. One chapter documents the bittersweet review of artsy VHS tapes she made with a teenage pal who went on to fame in the Dresden Dolls. The author married young and pursued a career making independent folk-rock that, for a number of years, seemed cursed. After a particularly futile and creepy audition, she writes, “There is a certain peace that comes with the realization you aren’t ruining anyone’s life but your own.” Yet, over time, Simone managed to build an enthusiastic, cultish audience, bolstered in 2008 with her release of an album honoring Yanka Dyagileva, a Russian folk-punk performer who’d died mysteriously. The most provocative and engaging chapters document the author’s wanderlust. In addition to touring the country, playing her music in run-down venues, she traveled on multiple occasions to Siberia, her remote hometown and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. At points, she departs on spiritual tangents, as when she discusses her obsessive research on the Skoptsy, an obscure 19th-century Russian sect that practiced castration—she found this a good conversational topic for discouraging nightclub suitors. The chapters that focus on her travails as a Brooklyn-based aspiring musician are both less interesting and more familiar than Simone seems to perceive. The author skillfully captures the forlorn waiting-to-be-famous existence of young creative people, yet these passages become somewhat self-indulgent and unsurprising.Sure to prove popular with 20-something hipsters, just as her music seems poised for wider exposure.