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Book Review October 16, 2003
 
Zhirik + Vanya 4 Ever
By John Dolan Browse author Email
 
 

I've always had been fascinated with Zhirinovskii. Well, maybe "fascinated" is too much. He's a sleaze even by Duma standards, and that's saying something. But he's very bright, especially for a successful politician. Claims to have written 400 books, which is at the very least an appealingly outrageous lie.

And he's funny. Take his elegant response to persistent rumors that he, leader of an anti-Semitic nationalist party, is actually a Jew: "My mother was a Russian and my father was a lawyer." There's something gallant about that teasing half-rhyme, "Jurist/Jew," which is roughly as close in the original ("yurist/yevrei"). ("My father was a lawyer" is more accurate but doesn't sound as good.)

Zhirinovskii has a genius for overdoing every stance, making you wince with him as he wallows in self-incriminating bombast. He's like Marmeladov with soundbites.

The title of the pamphlet exudes the typical Zhirinovskii tone of off-key, inappropriately sexualized extravagance. In telling Ivan, the paradigmatic Russian everyman, to "wrap up" his soul, Zhirinovskii is playing on the Russian cliche of Ivan as a too-trusting, too-affable lad, prey to every scheming foreigner. But the "wrap up" metaphor is much more literal and sexual than the original notion of opening the soul. It grates, it winces. And that's what Zhirinovskii does best.

Even the photo on the cover of this pamphlet manages to produce the trademark Zhirinovskii grotesquerie. Some LDPR consultant had the bright idea of photographing Zhirinovskii in shirtsleeves in a field of white flowers. Zhirinovskii stands in this field trying to look bucolic and failing badly. He looks more like a man who's about to have a bad attack of hay fever and start shouting at his staff. But he manages to pose in a clearly sexual relationship with these chaste white flowers, tenderly fondling the crotch-high blossom of one plant while another curls flirtatiously over his chest, nibbling his torso. He may not be much at "bucolic," but he sure can do "perverty."

Zhirinovskii's prose quickly strikes the same sexualized, awkward pose.

He begins by calling this pamphlet "the central romance of my life." Granted, "roman" can mean "novel" or "story" as well as "romance" in its narrow contemporary English sense, but Zhirinovskii makes it clear that he means "romance" in all its senses, above all the erotic, by going into the grand apostrophe to Vanya in homoerotic free verse oddly like Whitman's:

"I appeal to you, you simple Russian boy, Vanya. I love you. I love you because you are quiet, gentle, good.

"But Vanya., today our Russia, your great Russia, lies in ruins precisely because you are too good, too quiet and too gentle....

"When I see these lowlifes, these bums, when I see this filth, I want to look at you over and over, at your light hair.

"Nowhere on earth do boys have this wheat-colored hair, nor these clear light-blue eyes."

Jeez, you can get away with a lot if your audience is sexually naive. Whitman had less censorship trouble than the mildest hetero lyricist in Victorian America because the very idea of sex between men simply wasn't on the list of possible sins for his compatriots. (The English were another story. They knew very well what he was talking about.) Zhirinovskii's boy-love lyric is soon mixed with a classic populist appeal to shared grievances. Zhirinovskii states his claim to shared suffering in a series of extremely poetic, romantic anaphora:

"I appeal to you as your grandfather, for I have grandsons growing up.I appeal to you as a husband, for I have a wife, a Russian woman.

"I appeal to you as a son; my mother was a simple Russian woman, may she rest in peace.

"I appeal to you as an uncle, who has many nephews.

"I appeal to you as a brother, who has brothers, older than me and younger.

"I appeal to you as a citizen of Russia...."


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