Regular Linda’s Book Bag readers know how much I love to travel. Russia is one of the destinations on my wish list, so when I was approached by Angela Melamud at Inkshares to see if I would like to review Everything is Normal: The Life and Times of a Soviet Kid by Sergey Grechishkin I was so sorry I simply couldn’t fit it in to my reading schedule. However, I was able to ask Sergey to stay in with me to tell me more about it!
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Staying in with Sergey Grechishkin
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag , Sergey. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.
Thank you. The pleasure is entirely mine.
Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
Frankly, it wasn’t hard to choose which of my books to bring this evening. This is my first and only book in English. It’s called Everything is Normal: The Life and Times of a Soviet Kid. It’s both a memoir and a social history book — a light-hearted worm’s-eye-view of the USSR through one Soviet childhood in the 1970s – 1980s. It’ll be released from Inkshares in March. (By the way, that pretty little girl on the cover is me.)
(Oh my goodness. I really did think that was a girl on the cover! Weren’t you cute? I hope you won’t mind me sharing this other photo your publishers, Inkshares, sent me as I think you look more like a boy in it!)
What can we expect from an evening in with Everything is Normal: The Life and Times of a Soviet Kid?
I hope that anyone who is interested in Russia or the Soviet Union will like it.
First, there is a lot of information on the day-to-day middle-class life in the Soviet Union, which was so drastically different from the life in the Western countries at that time. Here is a short quote:
Scarcity meant that running a Soviet household demanded endless improvisation. Our parents didn’t have the slightest clue about modern conveniences like trash bags, wet wipes, paper handkerchiefs, disposable diapers, shaving gel, and tampons (or any other types of female sanitary products). Until the mid-1970s, there wasn’t even such a thing as deodorant. (Just try to imagine rush hour on a crowded public bus in the middle of summer! On second thought, don’t.) There was no such thing as either sunscreen or soothing aloe gel, so when kids came home sunburned, they were smeared with sour cream. The universal solution to minor external abrasions, from skinned knees to hemorrhoids, was marigold ointment.
There were only three kinds of soap: ‘hand soap,’ used for washing people; ‘children’s soap,’ used for washing babies; and ‘household soap,’ used for everything else—cleaning floors, countertops, clothes, and dishes, which of course had to be washed by hand. Household soap was made of brownish-gray lye, and it smelled terrible.
And then there was baking soda. That stuff was practically magic…
(I’m desperate to visit Russia and this vivid writing makes it an even more interesting destination Sergey.)
Second, living oppressed behind the iron curtain, Soviet people developed a very dry and sarcastic sense of humor. I tried to inject it into the book. A lot of early readers found it quite funny.
(I should think you probably needed that sense of humour!)
What else have you brought along and why?
I was agonizing for a while on what to bring — a bottle of vodka, a Kalashnikov machine gun, a piece of household soap? But then settled on this: a Soviet toy from my childhood. I found it in a park when I was three-years-old and it has been with me for the last 44 years.
(With the deprivations you’ve described, Sergey, this little car must have been so special to you.)
Thank you so much for staying in with me to tell me about Everything is Normal: The Life and Times of a Soviet Kid Sergey. I am even more determined to get to Russia one day and it’ll be interesting to see how much has changed since the setting of your book.
Everything is Normal: The Life and Times of a Soviet Kid
Everything is Normal offers a lighthearted worm’s-eye-view of the USSR through the middle-class Soviet childhood of a nerdy boy in the 1970s and ’80s. A relatable journey into the world of the late-days Soviet Union, Everything is Normal is both a memoir and a social history―a reflection on the mundane deprivations and existential terrors of day-to-day life in Leningrad in the decades preceding the collapse of the USSR.
Sergey Grechishkin’s world is strikingly different, largely unknown, and fascinatingly unusual, and yet a world that readers who grew up in the United States or Europe during the same period will partly recognize. This is a tale of friendship, school, and growing up―to read Everything is Normal is to discover the very foreign way of life behind the Iron Curtain, but also to journey back into a shared past.
Everything is Normal: The Life and Times of a Soviet Kid is published by Inkshares and is available for purchase here.
About Sergey Grechishkin
Life’s journey took Sergey Grechishkin from a communal flat in Leningrad, through studies in China and France, and on to top banking jobs in London. Today he splits his time between London and Singapore and juggles his work and three children with teaching, investing into early-stage businesses, and writing. Everything is Normal: The Life and Times of a Soviet Kid is his first book.