THE HUMORLESS LADIES OF BORDER CONTROL by Franz Nicolay

THE HUMORLESS LADIES OF BORDER CONTROL

Touring the Punk Underground from Belgrade to Ulaanbaatar
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Want to see the seamy side of a country? Go on tour as a rock musician.

Nicolay, a multi-instrumentalist and founder of a Brooklyn collective called Anti-Social Music, combines a number of interests and skills, all serving him well in his effort to épater la bourgeoisie and see the unusual parts of little-visited nations: he is not only a master of such things as the electric banjo and the accordion, but also a self-described Slavophile and “enthusiast of Balkan music since an encounter with a bootleg cassette of the Bulgarian clarinetist Ivo Papasov.” A knowing reader of Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941), his copy of which was stolen in comparatively safe France, Nicolay conjures up all manner of scruffy types: the promoter who swears he’s getting out of the business after trying to rob his moneymakers (“Can I PayPal you the money?” he pleads on getting caught in the act); a “stocky, ham-fisted, forty-five-year-old veterinarian” with a bent for weird conspiracy theories; a Romanian soundman who “played cajón, of all things, with the opening act, alongside an acoustic guitarist and a singer in a Wasted Youth T-shirt.” Such figures lend themselves to lampooning and rough stereotyping, but Nicolay is mostly sympathetic and gentle; he likes the DIY spirit of the post-communist frontier, clearly, and doesn’t mind a little bad food. In the end, the book would be much like what Paul Theroux might write if he played the musical saw, lived on beer and borscht, and had a sense of humor—more humor than the KGB officials, at any rate, who classified Kiss and AC/DC as punk rock and therefore suspect of aiding and comforting young Soviets of a “contrarian bent.”

A pleasing romp: punk in attitude but literary in execution and a fine work of armchair travel for those unwilling to strap on an accordion on the streets of Rostov for themselves.

Pub Date: Aug. 2nd, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-62097-179-6
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: New Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2016




SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

FictionA WEREWOLF PROBLEM IN CENTRAL RUSSIA by Victor Pelevin
by Victor Pelevin
NonfictionWORDS WILL BREAK CEMENT by Masha Gessen
by Masha Gessen
NonfictionI DREAMED I WAS A VERY CLEAN TRAMP by Richard Hell
by Richard Hell