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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Good Life Elsewhere

Vladimir Lorchenkov

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To purchase The Good Life Elsewhere

Title: The Good Life Elsewhere
Author: Vladimir Lorchenkov
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 197 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: The Good Life Elsewhere - US
The Good Life Elsewhere - UK
The Good Life Elsewhere - Canada
The Good Life Elsewhere - India
Des 1001 façons de quitter la Moldavie - France
  • Russian title: Все там будем
  • Translated by Ross Ufberg

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Our Assessment:

B+ : very enjoyably comic, but with a black and bleak edge

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 17/2/2014 .
TLS . 28/5/2014 James Womack
Wall St. Journal . 11/4/2014 Sam Sacks

  From the Reviews:
  • "The result is a simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking tale, in which location becomes just as much a character as the people who populate it. Lorchenkov and translator Ufberg bring the myth of Sisyphus to its modern setting in this moving Moldovan satire." - Publishers Weekly

  • "The Good Life Elsewhere is far more than just a series of comic vignettes: it manages to walk a fine line between tragedy and farce, giving a picture of a country in which the driving motor for people’s actions, even their most ridiculous ones, is anger and despair. (...) Ross Ufberg’s translation is solid (.....) Lorchenkov, a Moldovan who writes in Russian, manages an impressive array of voices and styles" - James Womack, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Mr. Lorchenkov's farce may not tell us much about life within Moldova, but it entertainingly illuminates the oft-forgotten country's national neuroses." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Moldova is the last European splinter of the former Soviet Union, a not-so-small country (bigger than either Belgium or Albania, for example) land-locked between Romania and (what is now still) Ukraine that is, by practically every measure, the poorest in Europe. While the official (and most widely-spoken) language is 'Moldovan' (essentially Romanian), Vladimir Lorchenkov doesn't even write in the local language -- he writes in Russian (reaching a much larger audience) --; nevertheless, The Good Life Elsewhere is an entirely Moldovan tale.
       For almost all the Moldovans in The Good Life Elsewhere, the dream is of a life elsewhere -- specifically in Italy. The novel opens in 1993, with a bus-load of villagers from Larga having been driven for days (or rather, stealthily, nights) to reach the promised land -- but both here and later that promised land of Italy and the possibility of earning enough to live in at least some comfort proves surprisingly elusive. The Good Life Elsewhere is a novel in which everyone is looking for a better life elsewhere -- right down to the country's president, with his ambitions of opening a pizzeria someday in Italy (he is not an inspiring national leader: "Moldova is doomed. So to hell with it !").
       Some do make it to Italy, apparently -- 200,000 are there already, and among them is the wife of the local priest, Father Paisii, who had already headed there in 1989. But, after sending money back home for a while, she found the good life in Italy suited her better without those ties to the homeland and she abandoned her family. The others in Larga might not exactly see her as a shining example, but they all yearn for the same opportunities, and even Father Paisii comes to crusade for emigration (though in his case he literally launches a(n epic-scale) crusade -- two of them, actually -- though with about as much success as all the other harebrained schemes the locals come up).
       The Italian consulate (in Romania -- the Moldovans don't get one of their own) reviews visa requests from Romanians, but those from Moldovans are automatically denied -- even if they're from government delegations: the Italians have their fill with the two-hundred-thousand Moldovans already there, and don't want to risk any more coming in ((correctly) certain that if they get there they'll stay). So the people of Larga come up with creative ways of trying to make it to Italy, from paying traffickers to take them to considerably more adventurous approaches. Things tend not to work out well -- indeed, though comic, The Good Life Elsewhere veers strongly towards some very black humor at times, and the tragic deaths do pile up along the way.
       Some aren't even certain this Italy exists -- it certainly seems almost entirely unreachable. The Good Life Elsewhere is a bit episodic, describing the fates of various groups and individuals as they try to escape their lives in Moldova. Some, surprisingly, find some happiness -- one scheme is to form a sports-team that can then compete abroad, including in Italy, an unlikely plan (especially considering the team-sport they embrace) that works out differently than expected. More often, tragedy results (in once case also in the form of a child who does make it abroad -- but whose tainted success is too much for her father to take). Lorchenkov's far-fetched ideas -- which include said crusades, flying tractors, and other unlikely contraptions and escape-schemes -- are quite inspired and funny, but also give the novel a bit of a rambling feel, allowing only for character-sketches rather than full character-development. Still, Lorchenkov does most of this very, very well, making for an entertaining read.
       The Good Life Elsewhere revels in absurdity, right down to the over-the-top satisfying end, the people of Larga, who have always been adrift, finally simultaneously spectacularly both completely abandoned by the motherland and freed. Lorchenkov's novel is reminiscent of Soviet-style satire, but also offers different spins on that traditional (and well-worn) approach in describing new and changed conditions.
       Good -- though occasionally also very dark -- absurdist fun, by a talented writer.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 March 2014

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The Good Life Elsewhere: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Russian-writing Moldovan author Vladimir Lorchenkov (Владимир Владимирович Лорченков) was born in 1979.

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