While I don’t thing it’s hard for a book to change your life, enhancing it in some way, I do think it’s rare for one to completely alter your future and put you on a different path than you had intended. This latter type of book ultimately causes you to take a risk that increases the likelihood of an earlier death. Books that have done it for me include Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynmann, Walden, and A Death In Brazil. They instilled enough curiosity and provided enough motivation to quit my job and hit the road for South America. My book A Dead Bat In Paraguay has also done this for a handful of guys, too, sending them to third world swamps of disease that are less safe than their pleasant suburban cubicle. Malaria, anyone? It’s possible that some men may have their life expectancies shortened thanks to me. Cool.
It looks like I may have to add a new book to my list: The Exile: Sex, Drugs, And Libel In The New Russia.
I have a close Russian friend who would tell me stories about the motherland, but besides mentioning the occasional vacation to Moscow, he hasn’t ever given much detail about what goes on inside the country. I was always curious yet never motivated to visit. Then I read The Exile.
The book is centered around Mark Ames, a self-described loser from California who goes to Moscow to get away from America. He’s soon joined by Matt Taibbi, who you may know from his recent articles in The Rolling Stone. For nearly a decade they go on to publish the most controversial newspaper that post-Communist Russia has ever seen.
The story begins with Mark Ames and his 9-month ordeal with butt scabies in the “European Care House,” where he mooched off his foreign girlfriend and her mom. Afterwards, he leveraged his stepfather’s death from a brain tumor to land a shitty job in Moscow, eventually winding up as a personal assistant for a smelly Pakistani mogul. After a gig with an English rag called Living Here, he started up his own paper called The Exile with the help of a shady Russian investor.
Drug use is featured very prominently in the book (the launch of The Exile involved bountiful supplies of methamphetamine to meet deadlines). The authors prefer heroin, speed, and cocaine to alcohol or marijuana, and even go so far as to detail sociological reasons why speed was more likely to take off in Estonia than Russia, for example. In fact, most of the newspaper was written under some type of substance (the graphic designer drank one beer for all 24 pages of the publication, passing out at his desk upon completion). I’m not big into drugs, but some passages made me want to score some smack and inject it directly into my veins for the hell of it.
The expatriate mentality is a tough thing to explain easily. Any affluent or even middle-class American who renounces the good life of sushi delivery and 50-channel cable television to relocate permanently to some third-world hole usually has to be motivated by a highly destructive personality defect. Either that, or something about home creates psychological demons that in turn create the urge for radical escape.
While Ames was working as a slave for the Pakistani, Taibbi played professional basketball in Mongolia. He returned to the States for surgery and then jetted off to Moscow to work as a writer. Ames steals him from Living Here and the synergy that results takes us on a wild ride through Moscow’s corrupt government, the two-faced expat community, and the techno club scene full of teenage girls who were eager to copulate with Americans. Of course I couldn’t get enough talk about Russian girls, with my favorite part of the book being when they describe ladies night at the Duck Bar. It was dubbed “rape camp” by the expats, a place where “you got laid even if you didn’t want to.” Rivers of puke, massive brawls, police raids, and sex on tables were the norm. “The Duck changed people,” they said.
Included are dozens of full-length Exile articles to give perspective on the stories, which are just as fun to read as the main text. This is one of those books you didn’t want to end, so I made sure to read all the articles to prolong the pleasure.
Of course Russia is better off now, but I decided that I must (eventually) visit a country where “even the policewomen are hot.” Fuck places like Prague, a safe destination with cheesy, Western-owned businesses that’ll remind me of Buenos Aires (Ames describes how Czech women are far inferior to Russian women, anyway). To top it all off, Ames hates American women. In the chapter titled “The White God Factor,” he shreds them so bad I don’t advise any American girl to read the book unless they want to be put on suicide watch. Quotes like this only put a smile on my face:
All American women, and practically all the European women, are socially and sexually devasted by Russia. They’re at a massive disadvantage for the first time in their lives. They didn’t expect it at all. None of us did. We all came here expecting to skim the top, showing the poor savages how to work, eat, dress… But things started to happen to us. We—the expat men and women—veered off in wildly different directions, on to nonintersection planes.
Expat women like my old girlfriend get hit with a double-whammy of shit luck in Moscow: First, they’re physically outclassed by the Russian girls; and secondly, the Russian men are slouched, pasty, unkempt, and, in most Western women’s eyes, the ugliest men in Europe. And yet… even the Russian men don’t want expat women. Which leaves—exactly no one wanting expat women. That’s right: no one.
Just a couple weeks ago I was at a coffee shop when a tall Russian woman walked in. She was just barely cute, and could stand to lose a couple pounds, but she had on a sexy red dress and four inch high heels. Her makeup and hair were immaculately done, and it was only two in the afternoon. Even though there were hotter American girls in the coffee shop along with her, she made them invisible and almost worthless. She was the only girl that entire day that I’d work for in order to lay, and it was no surprise that the American man who came out to meet her (internet date, I suppose) couldn’t contain his excitement. He wore a cheesy grin as if to say, “I don’t believe my luck!” Hell, I felt lucky just to witness her, like a zoologist catching two endangered animals mating in the wild without having to use binoculars.
American women have been raised to believe that traditional qualities of femininity—appearing as though you are trying to please the man by caking on makeup, wearing tight short skirts that show off your legs, speaking in a high voice, giggling, and deferring to his desires—as well as characteristics usually used to describe sluts—high heels, heavy perfume, sleeping with a man on the first night without demanding he use a condom—are not only atavistic and repugnant but, ultimately, unsuccessful tactics in the competition for Mr. Right.
Ames and Taibbi paint a portrait of Russia being the last known wild west, where death or dismemberment is a real concern. I know things have changed since the book was published in 2000, but as long as I avoid uber-rich Moscow, I think I can capture some of what they experienced over a decade ago. The fact that they make a place like Brazil seem like Disneyland on family fun day means I have no choice but to visit, sooner than later. I highly recommend The Exile, one of those rare books that makes me want to be a part of the story. After you read the book, check out theVanity Fair exposé that acts as the epilogue.