Confessions Of A Mail Order Madam Today, everyone is remembering Yeltsin as the President of meltdown and poverty in Russia. He not only presided over capital flight but also female flight. The late nineties saw the heyday of the Russian Bride exodus when numbers doubled almost year on year. Well, if all the money in Russia had been laundered abroad, there wasn’t much to keep the girls at home. If you want an insight into how the Russian Bride industry was carried on in those days, a good read is Irina Borisova. LPA Of course, the term «madam’ is unkind and it’s only there to get your attention. True, Irina was a «relationship facilitator’. If she didn’t make madam, it’s because she became too sympathetic and too involved in her clients foibles, fantasies and false hopes. So she wrote about them. This is mostly what her book, «Lonely Place America» is all about. Though the media may speak of sex tours, the average bride hunter was usually a lonely, older man, often socially inept though with good intentions. The men entertained romantic notions, not only about unsuitable women but also about Russia itself, which the reality of either never seemed to penetrate. Such a suitor appears in Irina’s story «Our Friend Larry». Literary agents might use book-jacket phrases like «compelling yet compassionate’ about Irina’s work. Except that Irina’s unique social documentaries have largely gone unnoticed and undistributed. I had the privilege of meeting the literary Irina in St Petersburg last year. Like all Russians making ends meet, Irina has at least three jobs and probably as many sidelines. She rented me an apartment online and turned up as the landlady’s go-between. It was the briefest ever of meetings but reminded me of the Dylan song about Lenny Bruce: «I rode with him In a taxi once It was only a couple of blocks But it seemed like a couple of months’ Irina is one of those people who makes an indelible first impression. It was probably this — and her engaging English — that once persuaded an American entrepeneur to hire her on the spot as the local representative of his introduction agency. In this way, Irina herself entered that illusory world of exotic meetings between hopeful strangers, in locations usually foreign to both parties, where truth becomes suspended. A typical observation is Irina’s story «One May Be, One May Seem». When you talk with foreigners in their language, when with a deliberate amazement you ask again «Oh really?», when with a big smile you energetically nod «Oh yes!» or highly raising your eyebrows you shake your head «Oh no!», when you spread your hands the way you never spread them speaking Russian, then you imagine yourself as another person, as if you were born in another country and your mother’s name were not Zinaida Vassilievna, but, for instance, Grace, and you yourself are not Irina Borisova, but, say, Irene Thomson. When you come to an expensive restaurant in which a whole team of waiters greets you as cordially as if they have really missed you and were tired of waiting for you, when they catch any of your gestures and add wine to your glass, it may seem to you that you are really worth it, you will forget that you came here rather as a wrong person — an interpreter for a client — and will think of yourself so well as never before. When you dream and you are sure that everything will happen, you do not pay attention to annoying trifles of your current life — they seem temporary and non-important. When you have had something significant in your past which cannot be compared with the petty present it will leave its imprint on you forever, a ruined millioniare will never feel as a beggar, a dethroned tsar is still a tsar though he has become a tramp. He may be an elderly and fat accountant, may write erotic letters to his sweetheart and may imagine himself a young lover. She may be a solid lady, mother of adult daughters, and may imagine herself a young girl who has not yet lived and who still dreams about a pure love. One may be a good writer, may write some nonsense interesting only for themselves and never needed for anybody else, one may be a bad writer, may be read by millions and may seem a good one. Old folks only seem to us old, in reality they are the same children wondering why nobody wishes to play with them any more. One may be, one may seem, one may narrow their eyes in a dark room while there is nobody nearby, and one still will not understand their real essence, one will just remember eternal bustle, actions, faults, good luck, maybe a kiss and what is even more silly, well fit pants or tight sandals. One cannot find truth or it is difficult to find it, truth is as the life of Koschey the Deathless in a hare, duck, fish, box, egg, in a needle with a broken eye which one cannot get to. It is possible only to become kinder and not to judge each other strictly, the only thing that phantoms, indistinct spaces, kaleidoscopes such as we are, may in reality do. There are more excerpts from Irina’s stories here. Her book about Perestroika, «Are There Really Pears Like That» was nominated for an Apollon Grigoriev Literary Prize. Hopefully, inbetween her various jobs, she will find time to translate more stories into English.
Monday Irina Borisova’s book arrived from SPB, Ru. I didn’t pick it up until Tuesday and read it that night. Reread the parts I liked and a couple of the stories I was not keen on. It is a keeper. Some of the stories ended too soon and I guess that is the high water mark for reccomendation. I was quite pleased and completely satisfied with my purchase. When I read, I try to determine what it is the writer is trying to tell the reader, through the actions and motivations of the characters, so I can gain some insight into the overall subject matter — Russians and Russian women specifically. Russian women are secretive and complex and are, as of this moment probably above my league. We play checkers, they play chess! American disadvantage I think is twofold. First, high-tech/low touch. High-tech is that we do much less without a chip (somewhere) involved in the process vs. low touch which is merely involvement of human element. Example; ordering in vs. Mama’s home cooking (she put’s some soul into the meal). Secondly, convenience store mentality of instant gratification and throw it away when done. I am old enough to remember when you couldn’t get meat or booze on Sunday so foresight and understanding of the arena you’re playing in is required. Quoted w/permission; Russian Classical Literature. «He has not read Russian classical literature, he was not aware of Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky with their deep penetration into the subtle nuances of human nature.» "...still sits in front of his computer… Sometimes he comes off the screen and looks somewhere either behind the window or inside himself and his glance is full of unexpressed questions. But as he has not read Russian classical literature he still does not know what may comfort him and help him find answers.» There are 38 other gems of wisdom in the book. Were this cinema I’d rate, Problems with Electricity, a solid two thumbs up!
These stories are partly fact, partly fiction, and reveal the tenderness of the human spirit set against the backdrop of a cruel but romantic Saint Petersburg. The ideas for Irina Borisova’s stories are gleaned from the unpredictable experiences in her unusual trade. In her book she is somehow able to capture the flawed humanity of her different characters and reach us with it in a way we can all relate to. Included are touching tales of brave Russian women who hope against all hope for a better life, the well-meaning but often hapless Western men who court them, and the city that brings them together. Borisova’s earthy magic comes from her unique position at the crossroads between two very different cultures. In the place where the romantic chaos of Russia and the naive rationalism of the West collide, she portrays both of them honestly. Her stories are sometimes tragic, sometimes funny, but always ironic. The language of the book, though (mostly) grammatically correct, is structured in ways the Queen never intended, lending it a delightfully foreign quality. One feels as if he is reading a subtitled film. It is English with Russian sentence structure, adding Borisova’s unique stamp to the language. This book is an easy read, with each story being short enough to finish on a bus commute or coffee break. It is recommended for all those who are interested in Russia, dating a partner overseas, or who simply like a good romantic novel.
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