By Edward Nawotka
It’s Labor Day weekend in the United States, the traditional end to the summer. While you’ve without a doubt got several books prepped for the long weekend, a tottering pile of titles on your bedside table, and several of the “big” books of the Fall pre-ordered at Amazon, B&N, or local indie — I’d say push them all aside and clear a few hours for Alina Simone’s You Must Go and Win. Of all the books I read this summer, it was by far the most fun.
Simone’s book is a — there is no better word for it — winning collection of essays chronicles several years of Simone’s adventures trying to make it first as an NGO administrator in Siberia (where she becomes obsessed with Britney Spears) and second, an indie musician in Brooklyn, one who covers the work of an obscure early ’90s Siberian punk rocker named Yanka Dyagileva. Throughout Simone shares stores about her husband and her cats, as well as her immigrant family — a physicist father who was blacklisted by the KGB, and her mother, another intellectual who can’t understand her daughter’s obsession with their former, bleak-as-midwinter Soviet-era hometown of Kharkov, Ukraine.
While the stories and anecdotes she relates are fascinating, quirky and one-of-a-kind, what I remember most is laughing harder than I have with a book in my hand in a long time. Writing “humor” is different than writing “irony,” which is the predominant tone of too many humorous essayists. The difference is the honesty of the impulse: Humor is respectful, it edifies and elucidates, rather than mocks.
In this case, Simone’s book serves as a primer on sleazy music producers, overpriced Williamsburg sublets, Russian taxis, cat ailments, Siberian punks and male strippers, as well as how to persist as an independent artist in the face of extraordinary odds, ineptitude and disinterest. (Hint: It also take a bit of luck — Faber editor Eric Chinski discovered Simone while listening to Pandora).
All I can say is Bravo, bravo. Encore, encore…or whatever it is you do at a punk rock concert in Siberia circa 1991 to express your wonder and delight (throw an empty vodka bottle at the stage, I suppose).