Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Everything is Normal: Life and Times of a Soviet Kid

Growing up in a country where things are in abundance; scarcity means a short-term problem. But when you grow up in country where everything is controlled and monitored things look scary. "Everything is Normal: Life and Times of a Soviet Kid" by Sergey Grechishkin is a memoir of author's childhood from soviet times. One may read many literature to find out what Soviet Russia / USSR did during 74 years of communism, but how people lived in that era is completely different experience.

Book blurb
This book is both a memoir and a social history. On one hand, it is a light-hearted worm’s-eye-view of the USSR through one middle-class Soviet childhood in the 1970s - 1980s. On the other hand, it is a reflection on the mundane deprivations and existential terrors of day-to-day life in Leningrad in the decades preceding the collapse of the USSR.
The author occupies a peculiar place in the Soviet world. He is the son of a dissident father and also the step-son of a politically favoured Leningrad University professor and Party member. He also occupies a peculiar place in the literal geographic sense- both his home and school are only a few blocks away from the city’s KGB headquarters, where a yet-unknown officer called Vladimir Putin is learning his trade.
His world is a world without flavor. Food is unseasoned. Bananas are a once a year treat. A pack of instant coffee is precious enough to be more useful as a bribe to a Party official than a consumable. Parents on business trips thousands of miles away from home schlep precious and scarce bottles of soda across the Soviet empire for their kids. Everything is bland: TV, radio, books, music, politics - life itself. The author staves away boredom the best he can, with a little help from his friends. They play in the streets of their beautiful city, still resplendent with pre-Revolutionary glory; make their own toys and gadgets; and, when they get older, pass around forbidden novels and books of poetry.
But occasionally, an infinitely more exciting world makes itself briefly known. A piece of foreign bubble gum with a Disney wrapper. A short Yugoslavian cartoon. A smuggled cassette tape with mind-blowing music by someone named Michael Jackson. And these hints of a completely different life introduce small cracks into the author’s all-pervading late-Soviet boredom - cracks that widen and widen, until reality itself shatters, and a brand new world rushes in.
When someone says in a country you don't have to pay taxes; you don't have to pay for schooling or healthcare; you don't have to pay rent; along with there many others things are free or subsidised. But when it comes to things as simple as basic food (rice, potatoes, pastas), cloth there is quota. Standardisation is so strict that throughout country you will find same products, no brands only one version of each product. Choice is limited to whether you want it or not. Country creates things which are necessity, luxury was limited to find a thing in store which others have not seen yet or waiting in queue for a food item and you get it at the end of an hour.

List is endless, Sergey has wonderfully put all his experience in words with touch of sarcasm. Never in this book you find him complaining about rules, and I think that justifies the title "Everything is Normal." Well it was not just about Sergey, but millions of kids in those 74 years been through the same. I sugget don't create an impression that this is a story of miserable child. You feel it bad for them, if compare it with complete freedom you get in your country. Otherwise, author and many of his companions were happy from bottom of their heart. They were as patriotic as any American or other western country man were.

Initial 40 years of India was under socialism influence. India was democratic semi-social country till 1991. India has adopted many things from Russia, including metric measurements units, rationing, public ownership of important sectors. So I was able to relate few things with my or my dad's experiences. The best part was the jokes given in the beginning of each chapter, which author called as Anekdot. Overall it was a really good and informative read.

Talking about ratings.
  1. Pace of the book - Between slow and medium
  2. Cover - 3.5 / 5
  3. Language - 4 / 5 (For any age group)
  4. Content - 4 / 5
  5. Overall - 4 / 5
Book can be found at - InkShare
Review from other readers can be found at GoodReads


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