A sporadically funny book by stand-up comedian and world traveler Murray.
Unlucky in love and ready to expand her horizons, the author decided to travel through the former Soviet Union to see what she could see and maybe meet a nice guy. “If you’re interested in a brief history,” she writes of the setting of her quest, “I highly recommend Wikipedia, but the condensed version is basically: communism, Stalin, is Anastasia still alive but living in New Jersey?” Sadly, the jokes don’t get much better—but then, as she writes candidly, “mediocre jokes are always a great way to get out of giving an honest response to a question that’s complicated and difficult to answer.” Murray’s travels took her into some interesting and little-visited corners of the former Soviet empire—e.g., Belarus, where she finds positive things to say about the generally unloved city of Minsk, where, at least, people police up their cigarette butts even as their fearless leader mourns the collapse of communism. Sagely, she writes of a Belarusian man she’s met, “as long as [Belarusian dictator] Lukashenko keeps trying to bring back the past, people like Zhenya won’t have a future.” Along the way, she turns in some smart if glancing observations on the places she visited: Chernobyl, she writes, has been set-designed to emphasize the general bad vibes attendant in a nuclear catastrophe, while Samarkand is “like Disneyland,” its famed old corner rebuilt for the tourist trade. Too frequently, such settings are just set pieces for snark. Of the ritual orchestration of an Uzbek wedding, Murray tosses off the aside that “certainly a lot of people get nervous on their wedding days, even Brooklyn couples who’ve been living together for over a decade and already have three children.” One wonders what a sardonic traveler like P.J. O’Rourke might have made of the same ingredients.
There are some fine moments on these pages, but too often the narrative is forced—a shame given the intrinsic promise of the setup.