There are a lot of stereotypes about Russia: Cold winters (hell, all months), lots of vodka, pretty blonde girls, blockhead thugs, elderly babushkas and a general attitude of indifference and scorn unto many, especially foreigners.
English Teacher X does little to expel these notions, thankfully. Otherwise this memoir would have been nowhere near as entertaining.
Welcome to Vodkaberg
As the sequel To Travel Hopelessly, we find English Teacher X has settled down in a city just up the river from Desolationgrad. Although which city he’s in can easily be deduced, I will stick with the affectionate name of Vodkaberg.
How did ETX get here? Well, first I suggest you read the first book in the trilogy, but ETX also explains his logic in a conversation he had in Turkey:
“Ah,” he said. “All Russian women are prostitutes.”
I think that was the first time I ever considered going to Russia to work.
Can’t argue with that!
Unlike in To Travel Hopelessly, ETX is not constantly moving from city to city. He has planted his flag in Vodkaberg, tempted by pretty blondes and plentiful alcohol. This means that throughout the book we are able to see some of the same characters, as well as the same city. The former of which always provides entertainment. In fact, the book would’ve not nearly been the same without the likes of Pterodactyl Girl and her mother, Dark Angel, the Goose, Uncle Cool, and his ‘ol pal Slappy.
A Changing Russia
In each chapter ETX starts out with an overview of Russia, it’s economy, crime rate etc. At first I thought he was being facetious including these statistics, but as the book goes on it becomes clear that ETX witnessed the changing of Russia firsthand.
In the 1990’s Russia was a mess. Its economy was in tatters, barely functioning, run by an incompetent drunk Boris Yeltsin and was being sucked dry by Oligarchs and Western corporations. When Putin stepped in in 2000, things changed. With help from rising commodity prices and rule of law, Russia was able to slowly develop into a modern nation with luxuries such as sushi and vodka that wasn’t made with poison.
As someone who studies Russia closely, this fascinates me, although at the same time I’m disappointed that I missed out on the Golden Era of Russian pussy of the 90’s and early 2000’s—granted I was born in ’91. The ease and frequency at which ETX was able to bed women, or get handjobs in nightclubs, is both amusing and disappointing, knowing that ‘Poosy Paradise’ in provincial Russia has passed us by.
Though perhaps that’s not a bad thig…
Be Careful What You Wish For
In the latter half of the book, things begin to change. ETX’s status as a foreigner doesn’t seem to get him as far. His income, in dollars, has less purchasing power than it used to. On top of that, Russia is experiencing a powerful wave of nationalism which not only puts Russians first, but castigates foreigners and oftentimes puts them in harms way. ETX and his buddies occasionally get harassed by blockhead neo-nazi types.
And as an English Teacher, ETX feels like he needs a change. He spends his thirties in Russia, hitting the big 4-0. Surrounded by other teachers who still can’t get enough booze, or friends who are abused by their Russian wives, ETX needs out.
If those things weren’t bad enough, the hookups that ETX was having start getting old and repetitive. Well, at least to him and some readers. I kept getting entertained by them throughout:
Next I remember her naked again, giving her two fingers from behind as she writhed and moaned, pushing her beautiful shapely young ass up into my face. I did something very unhygienic.
Of the three books in this trilogy, this was definitely my favorite. His writing gets better as these books go on, and although the final installment has better written prose, I still found Vodkaberg much more entertaining. Additionally, if you read the first installment, he is regularly hopping from place to place. While I like reading about different cities it seemed a bit disjointed, whereas this book took place entirely in the city of ‘Vodkaberg’.
Some critics of the book would say that ETX is too cynical at times. While I agree somewhat, he clearly has the intention of letting guys know that even paradise can get old. This is a powerful lesson to heed, but at the same time he doesn’t do a good job of turning guys off to travel with the bevy of sex and boozing. Case in point: I’ll be going to the Motherland soon.
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