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Book Review October 16, 2003
 
Zhirik + Vanya 4 Ever
By John Dolan Browse author Email
 
Page 2 of 4
 
Of course, "as a citizen of Russia" marks the point at which Zhirinovskii returns to explicitly political rhetoric. But even this is delivered in grand Whitmanesque periods derived from Old Testament Jeremaiad:

"Vanya, it's bitter to me, very bitter, to see you, my boy, whose grandfathers and fathers created this great state; you, whose people went into space; today going to slaughter in the Caucasus like a sheep.

"The knife is at your throat! An ordinary kitchen knife. Or some kind of hunting knife. These beasts are cutting the Russian soldier's throat!"

He's a good poet, Zhirinovskii, when he bothers -- as he does in the first two or three pages of this pamphlet. He picks the right detail. Here it's that knife. First he goes out of his way to emphasize the humiliation in the Russian soldier being slaughtered with an ordinary kitchen knife. Then he switches suddenly to imply it's an alien, Caucasian, outlandish knife of some sort. He turns the helpless Russian soldier into a literal sheep sacrificed in some bloodsoaked Muslim rite -- a halal casualty. It also evokes the gruesome videos of Russian hostages getting beheaded by Chechen kidnappers in the period before the Second Chechen War.

Poor Vanya moves quickly through Zhirinovskii's wild sketches of various horrible fates: dying of fake vodka or enduring the shame of having his daughter, sister or wife passed from one lecherous foreigner to another, then watching helplessly as his country's assets are sold or simply stolen.

Zhirinovskii then makes the crucial promise, in one of many all-caps key assertions: "WE WILL MAKE THEM PAY FOR EVERYTHING."

You're thinking rivers of blood, but he's coy about that, at least here: "We will not take up the Kalashnikov. We will press a button, an Internet button, an audit button...."

I expected some plan of action to follow this invocation of righteous anger. But Zhirinovskii's next section is an autobiographical sketched called "A Boy was Born..." I remember Zhirinovskii doing something very similar in a TV commercial. Standing at the window of his childhood apartment, he leans against the glass and sighs, "Mama would cry...Mama was always crying."

Zhirinovskii presents himself as a permanently unhappy boy and man. I have to say, I liked that. It made for a nice change--a depressive politician who cites Dostoevskii and Tolstoy to prove that he had a right to be miserably unhappy as a child.

Little Zhirik (or did they call him "Zhidik"?) did not play well with others: "Children rarely like each other," he declares. He's a Russian child in Almaty, growing up among Central Asians and learning his Russian nationalism the hard way. In this version of his life, Zhirinovskii completely omits his "jurist" father. (For good reason, as we'll see when he gets to the Jewish Question.) In this version, he has no father at all: "Ah, Vanya, it's a heavy burden to be fatherless." Zhirinovskii has dropped his diction markedly for this confession. No more grand anaphoric series; this is more like a half-drunken monologue. But he's very good at keeping the self-pity modulated. After all, a Russian boy born in 1946 was very likely to be fatherless. In Podrostok Savyenko, Limonov recounts his shame at NOT being fatherless -- being, rather, the only boy in his building whose father had committed the morally dubious act of surviving the war. It's as modest a claim to woe as, say, being a child of divorce in contemporary America.

So Zhirinovskii's careful not to overdo it. In fact, he's after bigger game, quickly shifting from his actual, absent father to Stalin as "father of the nation," and the contending claims of Rurik and Nikolai II to national paternity.

All harmless enough, I thought, if rather dull.

And then, very suddenly, he veers suddenly to a savage, stupid screech that contaminates the whole text, a paranoiac diatribe against -- you guessed it--the Jews. I shouldn't've been shocked, but I was. It was just plain gross.


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