LIMONOV by Emmanuel Carrère
<----------- LINKS website "All about Limonov" :
In French (59 pages), English (34), Spanish (10) and Italian (10).
Photos, videos, reports, analysis, etc...
The best review of the book is perhaps this one :
"I'm conflicted on the bio. It's a very good reworking of Limonov's first-person works, but Carrère's "I" is insufferable."
by MATT TAIBBI
I had a typical first experience with famed Russian emigre-turned
auteur-turned neo-fascist revolutionary Edward Limonov: I misunderstood him.
Everybody misunderstands Edward at least once. Usually, they underestimate this slight, bearded man with the mild manners.
knew him in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when he wrote a column for the eXile***, a punk/anarchist English-language paper Mark Ames and I edited in Moscow. (He'd been brought in by Ames,
who was a fan.) Edward back then was the chief of an aesthetically cool but literarily tedious revolutionary rag called Limonka.
He was also the would-be leader of a would-be rightist revolutionary group called the National-Bolsheviki. His few hundred bomber-jacketed followers were known as the "Nats-Bols," which they gleefully pronounced "Nuts-Balls."
I had Edward figured wrong. I thought he was a clown-memoirist who was using real-world stunts to capture the attention of the literary community. But he ended up doing real time for his revolutionary
"acts," which included a real takeover of a military base in Latvia using fake grenades (called, appropriately, "Limonki" in Russian). What was he up to? You could never tell with Edward.
of his books, like the stunning diary of his poverty-stricken youth in Ukraine, Podrostok Savenko (Memoir of a Russian Punk), are full of gorgeously raw, painful, true writing that he
clearly suffered over. Other books he just flat-out mailed in. And in the same way, sometimes he really was a revolutionary, and sometimes he appeared to be playing at it — it was hard to tell.
All of these thoughts came rushing back when I read the new biography of Edward, Limonov, by French author and filmmaker Emmanuel Carrère,
translated by John Lambert.
It's a sweeping account of Edward's unmistakably epic life, from the cruelty and poverty of his youth in Ukraine, to his conquest of the Western literary
scene as an emigre writer in the 1980s, and finally to his return to Russia first as the most minor of rightist revolutionaries, then as a prisoner (locked up in the worst Russian prisons for faux-fomenting real revolution, or really fomenting faux revolution
— it's hard to explain).
The last chapter involves his bizarre reemergence as a mainstream political figure, playing at being a respectable supporter of peaceful change.
Carrere begins by being dazzled by the Limonov of the 80s, a self-styled punk writer who called Johnny Rotten a hero and "didn't think twice about calling Solzhenitsyn an old fart."
He ends up puzzled to see the punk hero sharing a stage with chess champion Garry Kasparov as a titular leader of "Drugaya Rossiya" (Another Russia), a polite, socially acceptable, Orange Revolution-style mainstream
movement that the rhetorically bomb-tossing Edward of the 90s would have dismissed as a pathetic bourgeois affectation.
Carrere wonders: what could Limonov be thinking? "Does it amuse
him," he writes, "the outlaw, the mad dog, to play the virtuous Democrat?" He spends the rest of the book trying to answer the question: is this last part the act? Or was it the earlier part?
Carrere struggles with that theme throughout, and in the end toys with a horrifying surprise conclusion: Limonov is above all else a failure. "Edik" played his cards dramatically right at times (his truly steely, heroic endurance of Russian prison
life made even his harshest critics take note), and very wrong at others. (Fighting and presumably killing with the Serbs in their ethnic massacres of the 90s? Really?)
But in the end,
Limonov did not take over Russia. He became neither the next Lenin (his 90s ambition) or the next Vaclav Havel (his 21st-century ambition), but is instead living out his days in his ultimate version of hell, if one goes by the punked-out ethos of his early
books: approaching his senior years as a respectable quasi-celebrity and defender of virtue, sustained by the comforts of — of all things — family (well, his two children).
Limonov is one of the most amazing people on earth, the author of a few truly great books, a man who's lived a fuller life than any ten of your most interesting friends combined. That would be more than enough, for someone who was only out to do just that.
But for someone who sincerely wanted to rule over hundreds of millions, change the very lines on the map of the world, perhaps die gloriously in battle, and take a seat next to Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky upon his death — not so much.
Deep down, what does Edward want ? We'll never know, and Carrere doesn't pretend to, either. Which makes his book as fascinating as its subject.
Matt Taibbi is the author of The Divide, Griftopia and The
Great report in VANITY FAIR about The eXile :
The unlikely life and sudden death of The Exile, Russia’s angriest newspaper.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
The Bad Boy of Soviet Writers
by RACHEL DONADIO
- October, 29 2014
— Emmanuel Carrère, one of the best known and most inventive French writers, has found a perfect subject in Edward Limonov, the self-described Johnny Rotten of Soviet dissident writers. The result is a picaresque gonzo biography. ...///...///...
“Limonov” is written in a galloping third person and based largely on Mr. Limonov’s semifictionalized memoirs. After all, how would Mr. Carrère know what went through Mr. Limonov’s
mind when he was making love to one of his troubled wives or many girlfriends? Or that he had a kind of nirvana experience while in prison.
Despite the ostensible flaws in his personality, I found Limonov to be an infectious and inspiring character. He is at once adventurous,
hugely passionate, fearless, zipping, heedless, spirited, intelligent with a unfathomable zest for life, and his life story is utterly beguiling, shocking, completely engaging and absolutely informative.
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Portrait of a political punk
The Guardian October, 24 2014
BOOK OF THE WEEK
This is a very peculiar work. Carrère claimed in a recent interview that it was “not a biography” because he didn’t “check facts, or check out
what he [Limonov] actually said”. But this doesn’t make his book a novel; rather, a knowingly inaccurate biography – one which I enjoyed having read more than I actually enjoyed reading.
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THE ARTS FUSE - Boston
The Scotsman - 25 October 25, 2014
by Allan Massie
This is an extraordinary,
fantastic book about an
extraordinary, fantastic life. It's billed as novel, can be read
as a novel and would be a good novel if Eduard Limonov
had never existed.
But he did and still does, and this
is his story assembled and
related by Emmanuel Carrère, French novelist and film-maker, a
bourgeois who, as he says, lives «in a calm country on the
decline where social mobility is limited».
How then to approach the life of a man who
has been a juvenile
delinquent hooligan, an avant-garde poet in Moscow in the
Brehznev years, a bum and then a rich man’s butler in New
York, an admired and scandalous novelist in Paris, a partisan
the Serbs in the Bosnian war, one of the founders of the National
Bolshevik Party in post- Soviet Russia; who campaigned
alongside the chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov in a
presidential election, who has served time in Vladimir Putin’s
new gulag, and who is still going with his small army of devoted
followers; a man who has been married four times and has had
an intensive sex-life, both straight and gay, who is charismatic,
charming when he chooses and yet expresses ideas which
liberal democrats like the author find mostly repellent?
Carrère’s answer is: you write it as a non-fiction novel, in which
everything is true in one sense, and speculative, open to
dissent, in another. You intrude yourself when you feel like it,
with your own memories of the man and your conversations with
him. In doing so, you find yourself offering also a history of
Russia over the 70 years of your hero’s life.
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The straight forward truth is elusive in the life of Russian politician Eduard Limonov, but Emmanuel Carrere’s book is so readable it’s difficult to care.
“Westerners are not our enemies,” said Limonov in
an interview with the Guardian in 2010, “but I have no reason to look for support from them. Europeans are so timid they remind me of sick and elderly people. And Europe is like one big old people’s home. In Russia, fortunately, the people still
have some barbarian spirit.”
It’s difficult to imagine a better subject for a book than the incurably outrageous Russian writer and politician Eduard
Limonov; and impossible to imagine someone better suited to write this book than the ruthlessly intelligent, observant and rebellious French author Emmanuel Carrere. From a semi-delinquent adolescence of switchblade gangs and dull poverty, Limonov (whose name
is a slang term for a type of hand grenade) is now a prominent member of Russia’s small political opposition, leading a party with an absurdly provocative name: the National Bolsheviks.
Along the way he has been a tailor, a poet of the Moscow underground before the fall of communism, the butler to a wealthy businessman in America, a controversial literary star in Paris and a volunteer in the Serbian army. He has been
married numerous times to variously alcoholic, nymphomaniac, and mentally disturbed women as well as having several homosexual relationships: including sleeping with homeless men while down and out in New York City.
In Russia, his party started out consisting mainly of passionately devoted young skinheads in search of a family. One of these members was Zakhar Prilepin, a young writer of exceptional talent
who is now regularly mentioned in the same breath as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. The book Sankya, Prilepin’s semi-fictionalised account of the political actions of the nazbols (members of the National Bolsheviks), revealed
them to be more charismatic hooligans than well-organised militants; however, this did not stop Limonov being arrested on terrorism charges by the Russian government in 2001, while he was in Central Asia.
Carrere expertly handles this improbable wealth of material – knowing exactly when to comment and when to let events speak for themselves – and also includes himself as a character in the book, giving unusual context to
his own perspective. He is clear when he is speculating and always allows for the ambiguity of his subject; however, separating fact and fiction is not always the essential task in a character study of this kind. Limonov is so self-mythologizing it seems unlikely
he could be sure of the facts of his life, even in his private thoughts.
“He sees himself as a hero; you might call him a scumbag: I suspend judgement
on the matter.” Carrere perfectly portrays this complex character, never writing him off as a simple fascist or painting him as a rebellious hero. Limonov is certainly fearless – making most Western ‘cultural rebels’ look about as non-conformist
as accountants. He has an enormous ego and extreme, even virulent, opinions, but what makes him fascinating, and perhaps saves him from becoming a monster, is his absolute devotion to non-conformity for its own sake. The only thing really separating him from
his greatest enemy, Vladimir Putin, is Limonov’s ability to shoot himself in the foot anytime he comes close to being in a position of real power.
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THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS
Biography review: Rediscover a Russian swashbuckler in ‘Limonov’ by Emmanuel Carrère
by DANIEL KALDER
An excerpt. Full text here :
that wild trajectory, Carrère obliterates the usual dreary paradigms through which Westerners perceive Russia. Limonov as he reveals himself in his own books, and as Carrère reveals him here, is a man who has willed himself to crash through historical
and cultural barriers, reinventing himself multiple times in pursuit of his vision of personal glory.
Limonov can be hateful, yet he can also inspire great loyalty; he is without pity, yet capable of profound love; he is a despicable narcissist, yet indisputably fearless and able to inspire courage
by this confounding figure, Carrère remains ambivalent, admitting that at one point he was so disturbed by Limonov’s capacity for vileness that he stopped work on the book for a year. Toward the end, however, Carrère gives us an almost
sympathetic portrait of his hero’s prison years as the best of his life — the moment he was able to test his own heroism and emerge victorious. ...///...///...
Perhaps Carrère’s Limonov does
indeed say something about “everything that’s happened since the end of the Second World War,” but it is something so complex that it cannot be reduced to any pat lesson.
There is no moral here; after all, Limonov himself, as the book makes quite clear, is
not very interested in morality.
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THE TELEGRAPH (London)
fun to read'
Rosamund Bartlett marvels at a French novelist’s exhilarating Life of a scandalous Russian
An excerpt. Full text here :
Carrère has seized on Limonov’s projection of himself as a literary hero (or anti-hero) straight out of the pages of Dostoevsky, Céline or Henry Miller, and run with it. It is a brilliant
ploy. By subtitling his book “a novel” rather than casting it as straightforward biography, and by vividly telling the story of Limonov’s extraordinary life in the present tense, he instantly makes it much more fun to read.
Edward Limonov (PHOTO: AFP / GETTY IMAGES / YURI KADOBNOV)
The ambiguity of the book’s genre is also appropriate, since Carrère’s main sources of information on his subject are Limonov’s own novels. Each one
is devoted to illustrating another chapter in his unruly, transgressive and eventful life, and ultimately there is no knowing how much they can be relied upon. Nevertheless, Carrère’s first-person narration, in which he draws on his own experience
and skill as a film-maker, journalist and novelist, lends his enterprise an air of reassuring authenticity. Admiration for Limonov’s courage and odd integrity is balanced by repudiation of his often unsavoury politics.
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A book about an autobiographical Russian writer takes an unreliable narrator at his word
Limonov adds a new layer of complexity to Carrère’s chosen genre: The nonfiction novel consists largely of paraphrases of its hero’s fictional memoirs, filled out with
potted history and material gathered during a couple of weeks that Carrère spent with Limonov in Russia.
Carrère says that he didn’t check any facts, and that he chose to believe what Limonov says in his books because Limonov has “no
imagination.” But Limonov is a confirmed fantasist, and his books are labeled as fiction.
Much of the humor of Limonov is Limonov’s,
not Carrère’s, as are many of the observations about Limonov’s character—or rather, about the characters of the hero Limonov and the psychopath Limonov, creations of the writer Limonov. As good readers, we should consider Limonov an experimental novel; we can’t be too picky about the facts or assume that Carrère was just being lazy. But why doesn’t Carrère give
Limonov this benefit of the doubt as well? By taking Limonov’s fantasies at face value, Carrère misses an important part of the story.
Limonov wrote the page-turning story of his life, and Carrère, with his stylish paraphrasing, knack for
narrative, and dutiful moral asides, has finally made this story a best seller. In Italy, they’re turning it into a movie; Carrère and Limonov were both hired as consultants.
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(Toronto) October, 27 2014
by José Teodoro
Who is Eduard Limonov? Your answer will vary considerably depending on which phase in his long and sinuous story you’re familiar with and, perhaps, how categorically the umbra of fascism repels you.
Today in Russia, Limonov, still slim, handsome and charismatic at 71, with his Trotskyite beard and spectacles, is a dissident icon whose opposition to Putin loosely aligns him with certain liberal
humanist movements, someone held in such high esteem that Russian Special Forces declared it an honour to arrest him.
Back in the 1980s, Limonov was a swaggering literary
sensation in Paris and New York, where he spent years as an impoverished, sexually omnivorous hustler and the mischievous butler to a billionaire.
But if you read Limonov, Emmanuel Carrère’s captivating biography, you’ll likely find yourself unable to shake the image of Limonov clandestinely taking aim at guests during a UN reception with his employer’s
loaded rifle, becoming bosom buddies and brothers-in-arms with Serbian war criminals, or reaching orgasm while nearly strangling his second wife to death.
And who is
Carrère? It’s come to my attention that he’s still little known outside of his native France, yet he’s one of that country’s most extraordinary writers, author of the deliciously unsettling novel La Moustache, which
Carrère himself later adapted into a very good film. More recently, Carrère’s written a series of books he categorizes as “non-fiction novels”: I Am Alive and You Are Dead, a biography of Philip K. Dick that eloquently
conflates the science-fiction author’s life and work; The Adversary, about the murderer and impostor Jean-Claude Romand; My Life as a Russian Novel, about Carrère’s grandfather, a Russian émigré
who translated for the Germans during the Second World War; and Lives Other Than My Own, which uses Carrère’s peripheral experience of natural disaster as the foundation for a double-biography of two judges and their struggle to
defend the rights of the underprivileged through the manipulation of French credit law.
Each of these fuse crisp, detail-laden reportage with first-person interjection
or confession, never leaving any doubt as to their author’s perspective. They are also riveting, and Limonov, which won the Prix Renaudot upon its publication in France, is their natural successor.
'What he’s got in his head is ghastly, but you’ve got to admire the honesty with which he unloads it’
Radical poet, picaresque
adventurer, punk-rock memoirist, “professional revolutionary” and noble zek: the allure of Limonov as subject for biography is straightforward enough. Of course a writer wants to write about a writer who, to such an extraordinary degree, writes
his life into being, writing always with audacity, always for maximum drama and dynamism, always working to ensure that he’s at the nucleus of the narrative.
is superheroically resourceful, at once fiercely loyal and utterly mercenary, a fearsomely devoted lover, an egomaniacal enigma, a weathercock, a man who had to teach himself to take an interest in others as “part of my program in life.”
It is difficult to determine whether Limonov’s politics are determined by conviction or circumstance, contrarianism and the desire to side with the most unsavoury underdogs —
the less genteel the cause, the more thrilling the victory. How seriously do we take the pictures of Charles Manson and Muammar Gaddafi he once hung over his bed, or his volunteering to fight alongside Radovan Karadžic? Carrère describes the moment
when Limonov is in Belgrade on a book tour, first learns of the plight of the Slavonia and decides then and there to join the fray since, after all, he’s pushing 50 and hasn’t yet been to war. Did it matter which war? Which side?
Carrère wrote Limonov to reckon with the seemingly unbridgeable gaps between his subject’s incarnations.
The writer, who first met Limonov in the ’80s, is transparent about his responses, which alternate between disgust and awe.
Regarding Limonov’s first memoir, Diary
of a Loser: “What he’s got in his head is ghastly, but you’ve got to admire the honesty with which he unloads it: resentment, envy, class hatred, sadistic fantasies, but no hypocrisy, no embarrassment, no excuses.”
The book’s most constant refrain reminds us
that “things are always more complicated than they seem,” which might sound like an apology for the author’s fascination with a fascist, but any life is more complicated than a cursory summation would have it seem.
“His romantic, dangerous life says something,” writes Carrère. “Not just about him, Limonov, not just about Russia, but about everything that’s happened since the end
of the Second World War.” That’s quite a statement, but it’s backed up well, especially in Carrère’s pithily condensed chronicle of the fall of the Soviet Union, and in the way he chronicles the evolution of Limonov’s late
persona in accordance with the deepest collective desires and discontent of the Russian people.
Born in the same month of the siege of Stalingrad, Limonov cannot help
but seem emblematic. He’s one of his country’s most adaptable creations — by his own design, a hero of his time. Carrère does not resolve Limonov’s contradictions; instead, he tells his story with lucidity, insight, dutiful context
and just the right distance.
José Teodoro is a Toronto-based critic and playwright.
22 Novembre 2014
A self-invented man:
the poet and psychopath who is doing his
best to further destabilise Ukraine
In a review of Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère, a one-time poet, now full-blown psychopath, emerges as one of the most controversial characters of contemporary Russia
Limonov, the subject of Emmanuel Carrère’s utterly engrossing biographical ‘novel’, hadn’t invented himself, Carrère would have had to invent him. This is not to say that Limonov, one of the most colourful and controversial
characters to have emerged on the Russian literary and political landscapes in the last half century, is a liar. Quite the contrary.
At any given moment — be he an adolescent hoodlum in the
industrial Ukrainian city of Kharkiv in the 1950s and 1960s, a promising poet in Moscow in the relatively peaceful but stultifying Brezhnev years, a resentful down-and-out-émigré memoirist in punk-era New York, a mercenary with the Serbs at Sarajevo
in the ugliest moments of the Yugoslav wars, or the leader of a pseudo-fascist political party of ‘National Bolsheviks’, hell-bent on restoring Russia’s former glory and willing to serve a stint in prison to prove his resolve — Limonov
is fiercely committed to his role, inhabiting it completely.
But it is very much a role, and one he had selected before he had a name for it, when he was still a young scrapper named Eduard Savenko,
son of a middling KGB colonel, deciding between a life of crime and one of poetry.
As Carrère reports, one of the pivotal moments in his subject’s life occurred at a salon for the underground
poets and artists of Kharkiv, hosted by Limonov’s soon-to-be common-law wife, Anna Rubinstein:
One night, the little group assembled at Anna’s place to play at renaming themselves.
Eduard Savenko [becomes] Ed Limonov, a tribute to his bellicose humour, becauselimon means ‘lemon’, and limonka is slang for a kind of hand grenade. While the others will drop those pseudonyms, he’ll keep his. Even his name he wants to owe
to no one but himself.
From that point on, Limonov was to be Savenko’s nom de plume and nom de guerre; there
was no looking back. There was no more Savenko.
This moment may hold a key to much that is seemingly inexplicable in Limonov’s career — much that may strike the western eye as a
blatant contradiction. Take the rabid nationalist’s philo-Semitism:
There are a lot of things you can hold against Eduard, but not anti-Semitism. It has nothing to do with his moral
elevation, nor with his historical consciousness — like most Russians who perpetuate the memory of their 20 million war dead, he couldn’t care less about the Shoah — but with a sort of snobbery.
For him the fact that your average Russian — and even more your average Ukrainian — is an anti-Semite is the best reason not to be one yourself. Looking askance at Jews is something for blinkered, dull-witted rednecks,
something for a Savenko.
There are indeed a lot of things one can hold against Eduard: he is, in all likelihood, a war criminal, and is currently doing his — thankfully inadequate
— best to foment further destabilisation in the east of Ukraine.
He is a narcissist, perhaps a genuine psychopath. But this intrepid adventurer, this self-invented man of action, this writer
of stirring, provocative, hilarious and often heartbreaking autobiographical ‘novels’, is also a representative figure (dare I say hero?) of our time.
He is an unreconstructed romantic,
embodying the best and, largely, the worst ideals associated with the type. No wonder he fascinates Carrère, who is, for all his talent and achievement, an essentially average man, a bourgeois. Carrère toys with right-wing ideology in youth:
Limonov leads a nationalist party.
Carrère sets off for Java with his ravishing girlfriend in order to avoid military service, and returns to Paris alone, with a bad novel and two crates of
unsellable bathing suits; Limonov sets off for New York from the Soviet Union, knowing he can never return, loses the woman of his dreams, roams the streets, takes on odd and demeaning jobs, makes love to a black man at a playground, and pursues fame as a
writer without ever wavering, until he finally makes it.
Carrère spends a year writing a book about Werner Herzog, has the subject call it ‘bullshit’ to his face, and continues
to interview the man, swallowing his pride and masking his devastation; Limonov never misses an opportunity to bite at the heels of better-regarded poets and authors, like Brodsky and Solzhenitsyn, and punches a British writer in the face for defaming the
Limonov has lived a life so thoroughly informed by romantic ideals that it verges on a parody of those ideals, and Carrère — weaned, like Savenko, on Dumas’s Three
Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo — explores its allure, its bathos, and its frightening consequences.
And this, in turn,
allows Carrère to explore something even more consequential: the resonance, though far from perfect harmony, between Limonov’s peculiar ideology and that of the current Russian administration, as well as his intuitive, deeply felt sense of what
has motivated Russia’s retreat from the West, of the spirit of resentment and revanchism that determines the nation’s stance in the world.
Those interested in understanding the
forces at play in Putin’s Russia and on its periphery can learn a lot from Carrère’s insightful reflections on Limonov’s unlikely but (mostly) true story.
Boris Dralyuk is a specialist in Russian and Polish literature at UCLA
GLOBAL RESPONSE OF EDUARD LIMONOV :
: traduction in French :
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