A few issues back, in a review of Afghan-istan: The Hidden War by journalist Artyom Borovik, I asked readers if they knew of any Russian soldiers' first-person accounts of the Afghan war. Nobody did. In fact, the only responses I got were from readers hoping I'd heard something new.
But then I got a remarkable email letter from one Vladislav Tamarov, who wanted me to know that he had written just such a book. Tamarov's account of his career as writer of war memoir is worth quoting at some length:
"Hello, My name is Vladislav Tamarov . I am an author of " Afghanistan : a Russian Solder,s Story ", What is a reprint of " Afghanistan : Soviet Vietnam ".The rison why I am sending you this e-mail is simple. I served in Soviet Airborne Special Forces , in Afghanistan .621 days of war. 217 days in combat missions . During the war I was stupid enough, to take pictures ( I was professional photographer before I was drafted). When I returned home , I found my own shrink - writing . But in USSR I get in troubles for telling the truth about the war in Afghanistan , and with help from Vietnam Veterans of America , I moved to US . In 1992 my book was published . But then , only few people cared about this conflict , and in 1993 my publisher stopped the tour , and in 1994 my book was "DEAD ". Until September 11 I was working in PIZZA!!! "
Tamarov's command of English prose may have been imperfect, but I liked his story -- liked, above all, the raw literary ego and outrage sizzling in that all-caps, three-exclamation mark "PIZZA!" -- You were working in PIZZA, Vladislav Evgenievich? Surely not pizza! Anything but pizza!
I liked too the fact that Tamarov didn't bother to conceal the fact that September 11 was good news for him. If only a few others would admit as much. If only Bill Bennett, whose foul pamphlet Why We Fight... is full of the same delight at the morally cleansing effect of the WTC attacks, would come clean and admit that September 11 was the best thing that ever happened to him. If only the Republican National Committee would admit that they cried for joy when the towers collapsed, their worries at rigging the reelection of a beady-eyed moron suddenly vaporised like superheated concrete.
As Tamarov explains excitedly, his abortive literary career popped up again the minute the towers went down: "...everybody was telling me , that I have to forget about my book, and be like everybody else ! Then , you understand what happened: In few days every single copy available, was sold . In few weeks , I had to choose between 2 publishes to reprint my book : Ten speed press ( they small, but promised to put reprint on the shelves within 2 weeks ); ore " Penguin " ( big , more money ,a lot more). I was stupid to trust my agent to go with TEN SPEED ( only 3 month later I found out ,that he was friend with the owner for 30 years )."
Now that's a story that brings back memories. You see, Ten Speed Press is a Berkeley outfit. I remember the plaque marking the birth of Ten Speed press on Bancroft Avenue, just across from UCB. What Ten Speed did to this innocent Blue Beret is a classic Berkeley story: "All the promises was broken , I spend more money than I made ( publisher decided not to pay my expenses, what is against the contract )."
Dear old Berkeley! If only someone would apply the Atta urban renewal scheme to a nice central spot in downtown Berkeley -- say the intersection of Bancroft and Telegraph! Forty years of grime, conceit and foamed coffee going up in a cloud of jet-napalm!
Nah, never happen; nobody can overcome the denim-and-suede mafiya of Berkeley. But this crazy Russian paratrooper ends his letter with a promise to try: "BUT this time I am not going to let my book die!!! I am ready to fight for it !!! PS : This is a fight of my life now ! I am not going to let some rich ,lazy , lying bustard to get away with murdering my book ! I guess , he never steeled from Airborne Soldier before ! Are you ready to help ? Are you ready for a ride ???"