LIMONOV by Emmanuel Carrère

Look at the other pages of this website (130 including 34 in English)

        HERE, THE FIRST PAGE (in English) :

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 <----------- LINKS website "All about Limonov" : 

In French (59 pages), English (34), Spanish (10) and Italian (10).

Photos, videos, reports, analysis, etc... 

The best review of the book is perhaps this one : 

"I'm conflicted on the bio. It's a very good reworking of Limonov's first-person works, but Carrère's "I" is insufferable." 

                           Mark Ames 

Matt Taibbi  

Who Is 'Limonov'? Not Even His Biographer Really Knows 



I had a typical first experience with famed Russian emigre-turned auteur-turned neo-fascist revolutionary Edward Limonov: I misunderstood him.

Everybody misunderstands Edward at least once. Usually, they underestimate this slight, bearded man with the mild manners.


I knew him in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when he wrote a column for the eXile***, a punk/anarchist English-language paper Mark Ames and I edited in Moscow. (He'd been brought in by Ames, who was a fan.) Edward back then was the chief of an aesthetically cool but literarily tedious revolutionary rag called Limonka.


He was also the would-be leader of a would-be rightist revolutionary group called the National-Bolsheviki. His few hundred bomber-jacketed followers were known as the "Nats-Bols," which they gleefully pronounced "Nuts-Balls."


I had Edward figured wrong. I thought he was a clown-memoirist who was using real-world stunts to capture the attention of the literary community. But he ended up doing real time for his revolutionary "acts," which included a real takeover of a military base in Latvia using fake grenades (called, appropriately, "Limonki" in Russian). What was he up to? You could never tell with Edward.


Some of his books, like the stunning diary of his poverty-stricken youth in Ukraine, Podrostok Savenko (Memoir of a Russian Punk), are full of gorgeously raw, painful, true writing that he clearly suffered over. Other books he just flat-out mailed in. And in the same way, sometimes he really was a revolutionary, and sometimes he appeared to be playing at it — it was hard to tell.


All of these thoughts came rushing back when I read the new biography of Edward, Limonov, by French author and filmmaker Emmanuel Carrère, translated by John Lambert.


It's a sweeping account of Edward's unmistakably epic life, from the cruelty and poverty of his youth in Ukraine, to his conquest of the Western literary scene as an emigre writer in the 1980s, and finally to his return to Russia first as the most minor of rightist revolutionaries, then as a prisoner (locked up in the worst Russian prisons for faux-fomenting real revolution, or really fomenting faux revolution — it's hard to explain).

The last chapter involves his bizarre reemergence as a mainstream political figure, playing at being a respectable supporter of peaceful change.


Carrere begins by being dazzled by the Limonov of the 80s, a self-styled punk writer who called Johnny Rotten a hero and "didn't think twice about calling Solzhenitsyn an old fart."


He ends up puzzled to see the punk hero sharing a stage with chess champion Garry Kasparov as a titular leader of "Drugaya Rossiya" (Another Russia), a polite, socially acceptable, Orange Revolution-style mainstream movement that the rhetorically bomb-tossing Edward of the 90s would have dismissed as a pathetic bourgeois affectation.


Carrere wonders: what could Limonov be thinking? "Does it amuse him," he writes, "the outlaw, the mad dog, to play the virtuous Democrat?" He spends the rest of the book trying to answer the question: is this last part the act? Or was it the earlier part?


Carrere struggles with that theme throughout, and in the end toys with a horrifying surprise conclusion: Limonov is above all else a failure. "Edik" played his cards dramatically right at times (his truly steely, heroic endurance of Russian prison life made even his harshest critics take note), and very wrong at others. (Fighting and presumably killing with the Serbs in their ethnic massacres of the 90s? Really?)


But in the end, Limonov did not take over Russia. He became neither the next Lenin (his 90s ambition) or the next Vaclav Havel (his 21st-century ambition), but is instead living out his days in his ultimate version of hell, if one goes by the punked-out ethos of his early books: approaching his senior years as a respectable quasi-celebrity and defender of virtue, sustained by the comforts of — of all things — family (well, his two children).


Edward Limonov is one of the most amazing people on earth, the author of a few truly great books, a man who's lived a fuller life than any ten of your most interesting friends combined. That would be more than enough, for someone who was only out to do just that. But for someone who sincerely wanted to rule over hundreds of millions, change the very lines on the map of the world, perhaps die gloriously in battle, and take a seat next to Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky upon his death — not so much.


Deep down, what does Edward want ? We'll never know, and Carrere doesn't pretend to, either. Which makes his book as fascinating as its subject.

                                                                             Matt Taibbi


    Matt Taibbi is the author of The Divide, Griftopia and The Great Derangement. 


 Great report in VANITY FAIR about The eXile  

The unlikely life and sudden death of The Exile, Russia’s angriest newspaper. 


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               THE NEW YORK TIMES 


       The Bad Boy of Soviet Writers


  by RACHEL DONADIO  -  October, 29 2014 

PARIS — Emmanuel Carrère, one of the best known and most inventive French writers, has found a perfect subject in Edward Limonov, the self-described Johnny Rotten of Soviet dissident writers. The result is a picaresque gonzo biography. ...///...///...

“Limonov” is written in a galloping third person and based largely on Mr. Limonov’s semifictionalized memoirs. After all, how would Mr. Carrère know what went through Mr. Limonov’s mind when he was making love to one of his troubled wives or many girlfriends? Or that he had a kind of nirvana experience while in prison.

 “I made no fact-checking,” Mr. Carrère said. “If I am wrong, I don’t care. I know, it’s not very American.

Excerpt. Full text of The New York Times review :

             The Washington Post.  


by Michael Dirda

                 An excerpt. Full text here :

 One man in his time plays many parts, and Eduard Limonov — now in his 70s — isn’t off the stage yet. Whatever you think of his actions and beliefs, Limonov has lived faithfully by the rule of “no hypocrisy, no embarrassment, no excuses.” It’s been a spectacular roller coaster life, and Emmanuel Carrère has turned it into an equally spectacular book.

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Portrait of a political punk

Julian Barnes


 The Guardian   October, 24  2014

                                        BOOK OF THE WEEK




                                          An excerpt.

 This is a very peculiar work. Carrère claimed in a recent interview that it was “not a biography” because he didn’t “check facts, or check out what he [Limonov] actually said”. But this doesn’t make his book a novel; rather, a knowingly inaccurate biography – one which I enjoyed having read more than I actually enjoyed reading.


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A great review in the excellent  BOOKISH RAMBLINGS.

Only an extract. See full text here :

 Despite the ostensible flaws in his personality, I found Limonov to be an infectious and inspiring character. He is at once adventurous, hugely passionate, fearless, zipping, heedless, spirited, intelligent with a unfathomable zest for life, and his life story is utterly beguiling, shocking, completely engaging and absolutely informative.

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                       THE ARTS FUSE    -    Boston


A compelling chronicle of the life of the notorious Russian writer and political activist Eduard Limonov.

 By  John Taylor

                                     An excerpt. Full text here :

However, while offering little more than a refresher course on Eastern European and especially Russian history, such passages do contextualize Limonov’s involvement with the National Bolshevik Party and show how this “hideous fascist leading a militia of skinheads,” as Carrère ironizes with respect to the writer’s reputation in France, could end up joining forces, at least for anti-Putin demonstrations, with Yelena Bonner (the widow of Andrei Sakharov), Gary Kasparov’s Drugaya Rossiya Party, and human rights activists.

Carrère demonstrates that Russian political culture is much more complicated than it looks. This is a particularly troubling part of that “something” that he pins down.

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                                   The Scotsman - 25 October 25, 2014

by Allan Massie 

This is an extraordinary, fantastic book about an

extraordinary, fantastic life. It's billed as novel, can be read

as a novel and would be a good novel if Eduard Limonov

had never existed.

But he did and still does, and this is his story assembled and

related by Emmanuel Carrère, French novelist and film-maker, a

bourgeois who, as he says, lives «in a calm country on the

decline where social mobility is limited».

How then to approach the life of a man who has been a juvenile

delinquent hooligan, an avant-garde poet in Moscow in the

Brehznev years, a bum and then a rich man’s butler in New

York, an admired and scandalous novelist in Paris, a partisan of

the Serbs in the Bosnian war, one of the founders of the National

Bolshevik Party in post- Soviet Russia; who campaigned

alongside the chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov in a

presidential election, who has served time in Vladimir Putin’s

new gulag, and who is still going with his small army of devoted

followers; a man who has been married four times and has had

an intensive sex-life, both straight and gay, who is charismatic,

and charming when he chooses and yet expresses ideas which

liberal democrats like the author find mostly repellent?

Carrère’s answer is: you write it as a non-fiction novel, in which

everything is true in one sense, and speculative, open to

dissent, in another. You intrude yourself when you feel like it,

with your own memories of the man and your conversations with

him. In doing so, you find yourself offering also a history of

Russia over the 70 years of your hero’s life.

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Published on 24th April 2016 



The straight forward truth is elusive in the life of Russian politician Eduard Limonov, but Emmanuel Carrere’s book is so readable it’s difficult to care.

“Westerners are not our enemies,” said Limonov in an interview with the Guardian in 2010, “but I have no reason to look for support from them. Europeans are so timid they remind me of sick and elderly people. And Europe is like one big old people’s home. In Russia, fortunately, the people still have some barbarian spirit.”

It’s difficult to imagine a better subject for a book than the incurably outrageous Russian writer and politician Eduard Limonov; and impossible to imagine someone better suited to write this book than the ruthlessly intelligent, observant and rebellious French author Emmanuel Carrere. From a semi-delinquent adolescence of switchblade gangs and dull poverty, Limonov (whose name is a slang term for a type of hand grenade) is now a prominent member of Russia’s small political opposition, leading a party with an absurdly provocative name: the National Bolsheviks.

Along the way he has been a tailor, a poet of the Moscow underground before the fall of communism, the butler to a wealthy businessman in America, a controversial literary star in Paris and a volunteer in the Serbian army. He has been married numerous times to variously alcoholic, nymphomaniac, and mentally disturbed women as well as having several homosexual relationships: including sleeping with homeless men while down and out in New York City.

In Russia, his party started out consisting mainly of passionately devoted young skinheads in search of a family. One of these members was Zakhar Prilepin, a young writer of exceptional talent who is now regularly mentioned in the same breath as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. The book Sankya, Prilepin’s semi-fictionalised account of the political actions of the nazbols (members of the National Bolsheviks), revealed them to be more charismatic hooligans than well-organised militants; however, this did not stop Limonov being arrested on terrorism charges by the Russian government in 2001, while he was in Central Asia.

Carrere expertly handles this improbable wealth of material – knowing exactly when to comment and when to let events speak for themselves – and also includes himself as a character in the book, giving unusual context to his own perspective. He is clear when he is speculating and always allows for the ambiguity of his subject; however, separating fact and fiction is not always the essential task in a character study of this kind. Limonov is so self-mythologizing it seems unlikely he could be sure of the facts of his life, even in his private thoughts.

“He sees himself as a hero; you might call him a scumbag: I suspend judgement on the matter.” Carrere perfectly portrays this complex character, never writing him off as a simple fascist or painting him as a rebellious hero. Limonov is certainly fearless – making most Western ‘cultural rebels’ look about as non-conformist as accountants. He has an enormous ego and extreme, even virulent, opinions, but what makes him fascinating, and perhaps saves him from becoming a monster, is his absolute devotion to non-conformity for its own sake. The only thing really separating him from his greatest enemy, Vladimir Putin, is Limonov’s ability to shoot himself in the foot anytime he comes close to being in a position of real power.

                                                               Xavier Masson-Leach


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Biography review: Rediscover a Russian swashbuckler in ‘Limonov’ by Emmanuel Carrère


                                       An excerpt. Full text here :

 By tracing that wild trajectory, Carrère obliterates the usual dreary paradigms through which Westerners perceive Russia. Limonov as he reveals himself in his own books, and as Carrère reveals him here, is a man who has willed himself to crash through historical and cultural barriers, reinventing himself multiple times in pursuit of his vision of personal glory.

Limonov can be hateful, yet he can also inspire great loyalty; he is without pity, yet capable of profound love; he is a despicable narcissist, yet indisputably fearless and able to inspire courage in others.

Confronted by this confounding figure, Carrère remains ambivalent, admitting that at one point he was so disturbed by Limonov’s capacity for vileness that he stopped work on the book for a year. Toward the end, however, Carrère gives us an almost sympathetic portrait of his hero’s prison years as the best of his life — the moment he was able to test his own heroism and emerge victorious. ...///...///...

Perhaps Carrère’s Limonov does indeed say something about “everything that’s happened since the end of the Second World War,” but it is something so complex that it cannot be reduced to any pat lesson.

There is no moral here; after all, Limonov himself, as the book makes quite clear, is not very interested in morality. 

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            THE TELEGRAPH   (London)

'Brilliantly fun to read'

Rosamund Bartlett marvels at a French novelist’s exhilarating Life of a scandalous Russian renegade

Eduard Limonov, leader of the ultra-left Nationalist Bolshevik Party (NBP), greeting party members during a congress in Moscow, 2004 Photo: DENIS SINYAKOV/AFP/Getty Images

  An excerpt. Full text here :

Limonov has never stopped pillaging his life as material for the books he continues to write, in which he is always the protagonist, and it is entirely typical that the last page in the 2002 account he published of his political life ends with the words “A scene from a classic novel”.

Carrère has seized on Limonov’s projection of himself as a literary hero (or anti-hero) straight out of the pages of Dostoevsky, Céline or Henry Miller, and run with it. It is a brilliant ploy. By subtitling his book “a novel” rather than casting it as straightforward biography, and by vividly telling the story of Limonov’s extraordinary life in the present tense, he instantly makes it much more fun to read.


The ambiguity of the book’s genre is also appropriate, since Carrère’s main sources of information on his subject are Limonov’s own novels. Each one is devoted to illustrating another chapter in his unruly, transgressive and eventful life, and ultimately there is no knowing how much they can be relied upon. Nevertheless, Carrère’s first-person narration, in which he draws on his own experience and skill as a film-maker, journalist and novelist, lends his enterprise an air of reassuring authenticity. Admiration for Limonov’s courage and odd integrity is balanced by repudiation of his often unsavoury politics.

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Eastern Promises

A book about an autobiographical Russian writer takes an unreliable narrator at his word


 Limonov adds a new layer of complexity to Carrère’s chosen genre: The nonfiction novel consists largely of paraphrases of its hero’s fictional memoirs, filled out with potted history and material gathered during a couple of weeks that Carrère spent with Limonov in Russia.

Carrère says that he didn’t check any facts, and that he chose to believe what Limonov says in his books because Limonov has “no imagination.” But Limonov is a confirmed fantasist, and his books are labeled as fiction.


  Much of the humor of Limonov is Limonov’s, not Carrère’s, as are many of the observations about Limonov’s character—or rather, about the characters of the hero Limonov and the psychopath Limonov, creations of the writer Limonov. As good readers, we should consider Limonov an experimental novel; we can’t be too picky about the facts or assume that Carrère was just being lazy. But why doesn’t Carrère give Limonov this benefit of the doubt as well? By taking Limonov’s fantasies at face value, Carrère misses an important part of the story.


Limonov wrote the page-turning story of his life, and Carrère, with his stylish paraphrasing, knack for narrative, and dutiful moral asides, has finally made this story a best seller. In Italy, they’re turning it into a movie; Carrère and Limonov were both hired as consultants.

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National Post (Toronto) October, 27   2014

by José Teodoro 

Who is Eduard Limonov? Your answer will vary considerably depending on which phase in his long and sinuous story you’re familiar with and, perhaps, how categorically the umbra of fascism repels you.


Today in Russia, Limonov, still slim, handsome and charismatic at 71, with his Trotskyite beard and spectacles, is a dissident icon whose opposition to Putin loosely aligns him with certain liberal humanist movements, someone held in such high esteem that Russian Special Forces declared it an honour to arrest him.


Back in the 1980s, Limonov was a swaggering literary sensation in Paris and New York, where he spent years as an impoverished, sexually omnivorous hustler and the mischievous butler to a billionaire.


But if you read Limonov, Emmanuel Carrère’s captivating biography, you’ll likely find yourself unable to shake the image of Limonov clandestinely taking aim at guests during a UN reception with his employer’s loaded rifle, becoming bosom buddies and brothers-in-arms with Serbian war criminals, or reaching orgasm while nearly strangling his second wife to death.


And who is Carrère? It’s come to my attention that he’s still little known outside of his native France, yet he’s one of that country’s most extraordinary writers, author of the deliciously unsettling novel La Moustache, which Carrère himself later adapted into a very good film. More recently, Carrère’s written a series of books he categorizes as “non-fiction novels”: I Am Alive and You Are Dead, a biography of Philip K. Dick that eloquently conflates the science-fiction author’s life and work; The Adversary, about the murderer and impostor Jean-Claude Romand; My Life as a Russian Novel, about Carrère’s grandfather, a Russian émigré who translated for the Germans during the Second World War; and Lives Other Than My Own, which uses Carrère’s peripheral experience of natural disaster as the foundation for a double-biography of two judges and their struggle to defend the rights of the underprivileged through the manipulation of French credit law.


Each of these fuse crisp,  detail-laden reportage with first-person interjection or confession, never leaving any doubt as to their author’s perspective. They are also riveting, and Limonov, which won the Prix Renaudot upon its publication in France, is their natural successor.

'What he’s got in his head is ghastly, but you’ve got to admire the honesty with which he unloads it’


Radical poet, picaresque adventurer, punk-rock memoirist, “professional revolutionary” and noble zek: the allure of Limonov as subject for biography is straightforward enough. Of course a writer wants to write about a writer who, to such an extraordinary degree, writes his life into being, writing always with audacity, always for maximum drama and dynamism, always working to ensure that he’s at the nucleus of the narrative.


Limonov is superheroically resourceful, at once fiercely loyal and utterly mercenary, a fearsomely devoted lover, an egomaniacal enigma, a weathercock, a man who had to teach himself to take an interest in others as “part of my program in life.”


It is difficult to determine whether Limonov’s politics are determined by conviction or circumstance, contrarianism and the desire to side with the most unsavoury underdogs — the less genteel the cause, the more thrilling the victory. How seriously do we take the pictures of Charles Manson and Muammar Gaddafi he once hung over his bed, or his volunteering to fight alongside Radovan Karadžic? Carrère describes the moment when Limonov is in Belgrade on a book tour, first learns of the plight of the Slavonia and decides then and there to join the fray since, after all, he’s pushing 50 and hasn’t yet been to war. Did it matter which war? Which side?

Carrère wrote Limonov to reckon with the seemingly unbridgeable gaps between his subject’s incarnations. The writer, who first met Limonov in the ’80s, is transparent about his responses, which alternate between disgust and awe.


Regarding Limonov’s first memoir, Diary of a Loser: “What he’s got in his head is ghastly, but you’ve got to admire the honesty with which he unloads it: resentment, envy, class hatred, sadistic fantasies, but no hypocrisy, no embarrassment, no excuses.”

The book’s most constant refrain reminds us that “things are always more complicated than they seem,” which might sound like an apology for the author’s fascination with a fascist, but any life is more complicated than a cursory summation would have it seem.


“His romantic, dangerous life says something,” writes Carrère. “Not just about him, Limonov, not just about Russia, but about everything that’s happened since the end of the Second World War.” That’s quite a statement, but it’s backed up well, especially in Carrère’s pithily condensed chronicle of the fall of the Soviet Union, and in the way he chronicles the evolution of Limonov’s late persona in accordance with the deepest collective desires and discontent of the Russian people.


Born in the same month of the siege of Stalingrad, Limonov cannot help but seem emblematic. He’s one of his country’s most adaptable creations — by his own design, a hero of his time. Carrère does not resolve Limonov’s contradictions; instead, he tells his story with lucidity, insight, dutiful context and just the right distance.

                                                                           José Teodoro

José Teodoro is a Toronto-based critic and playwright.

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                    The Spectator  

22 Novembre 2014


A self-invented man:

the poet and psychopath who is doing his

best to further destabilise Ukraine


In a review of Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère, a one-time poet, now full-blown psychopath, emerges as one of the most controversial characters of contemporary Russia

 22 November 2014

Limonov: A Novel Emmanuel Carrère (translated by John Lambert)

Allen Lane, pp.340, £20, ISBN: 9781846148200

If Eduard Limonov, the subject of Emmanuel Carrère’s utterly engrossing biographical ‘novel’, hadn’t invented himself, Carrère would have had to invent him. This is not to say that Limonov, one of the most colourful and controversial characters to have emerged on the Russian literary and political landscapes in the last half century, is a liar. Quite the contrary.

At any given moment — be he an adolescent hoodlum in the industrial Ukrainian city of Kharkiv in the 1950s and 1960s, a promising poet in Moscow in the relatively peaceful but stultifying Brezhnev years, a resentful down-and-out-émigré memoirist in punk-era New York, a mercenary with the Serbs at Sarajevo in the ugliest moments of the Yugoslav wars, or the leader of a pseudo-fascist political party of ‘National Bolsheviks’, hell-bent on restoring Russia’s former glory and willing to serve a stint in prison to prove his resolve — Limonov is fiercely committed to his role, inhabiting it completely.

But it is very much a role, and one he had selected before he had a name for it, when he was still a young scrapper named Eduard Savenko, son of a middling KGB colonel, deciding between a life of crime and one of poetry.

As Carrère reports, one of the pivotal moments in his subject’s life occurred at a salon for the underground poets and artists of Kharkiv, hosted by Limonov’s soon-to-be common-law wife, Anna Rubinstein:

From that point on, Limonov was to be Savenko’s nom de plume and nom de guerre; there was no looking back. There was no more Savenko.

 This moment may hold a key to much that is seemingly inexplicable in Limonov’s career — much that may strike the western eye as a blatant contradiction. Take the rabid nationalist’s philo-Semitism:

 There are a lot of things you can hold against Eduard, but not anti-Semitism. It has nothing to do with his moral elevation, nor with his historical consciousness — like most Russians who perpetuate the memory of their 20 million war dead, he couldn’t care less about the Shoah — but with a sort of snobbery.

For him the fact that your average Russian — and even more your average Ukrainian — is an anti-Semite is the best reason not to be one yourself. Looking askance at Jews is something for blinkered, dull-witted rednecks, something for a Savenko.

 There are indeed a lot of things one can hold against Eduard: he is, in all likelihood, a war criminal, and is currently doing his — thankfully inadequate — best to foment further destabilisation in the east of Ukraine.

He is a narcissist, perhaps a genuine psychopath. But this intrepid adventurer, this self-invented man of action, this writer of stirring, provocative, hilarious and often heartbreaking autobiographical ‘novels’, is also a representative figure (dare I say hero?) of our time.

 He is an unreconstructed romantic, embodying the best and, largely, the worst ideals associated with the type. No wonder he fascinates Carrère, who is, for all his talent and achievement, an essentially average man, a bourgeois. Carrère toys with right-wing ideology in youth: Limonov leads a nationalist party.

Carrère sets off for Java with his ravishing girlfriend in order to avoid military service, and returns to Paris alone, with a bad novel and two crates of unsellable bathing suits; Limonov sets off for New York from the Soviet Union, knowing he can never return, loses the woman of his dreams, roams the streets, takes on odd and demeaning jobs, makes love to a black man at a playground, and pursues fame as a writer without ever wavering, until he finally makes it.

Carrère spends a year writing a book about Werner Herzog, has the subject call it ‘bullshit’ to his face, and continues to interview the man, swallowing his pride and masking his devastation; Limonov never misses an opportunity to bite at the heels of better-regarded poets and authors, like Brodsky and Solzhenitsyn, and punches a British writer in the face for defaming the Soviet Union.

 Limonov has lived a life so thoroughly informed by romantic ideals that it verges on a parody of those ideals, and Carrère — weaned, like Savenko, on Dumas’s Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo — explores its allure, its bathos, and its frightening consequences.

 And this, in turn, allows Carrère to explore something even more consequential: the resonance, though far from perfect harmony, between Limonov’s peculiar ideology and that of the current Russian administration, as well as his intuitive, deeply felt sense of what has motivated Russia’s retreat from the West, of the spirit of resentment and revanchism that determines the nation’s stance in the world.

 Those interested in understanding the forces at play in Putin’s Russia and on its periphery can learn a lot from Carrère’s insightful reflections on Limonov’s unlikely but (mostly) true story.

                                                                                 Boris Dralyuk

Boris Dralyuk is a specialist in Russian and Polish literature at UCLA 




Limonov's response : traduction in French :



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