Review: Have Personality Disorder, Will Rule Russia

Have Personality Disorder, Will Rule Russia is the slim companion book to Jennifer Eremeeva’s memoir Lenin Lives Next Door. When writing Lenin Lives, Eremeeva worried that readers wouldn’t be familiar with numerous historical references she dropped throughout the book. So she compiled notes on Russian history, which eventually became so numerous that she turned them into Have Personality Disorder. As hinted in the preface, it’s meant to be like the CliffsNotes of Russian history, covering all the bases needed to understand Lenin Lives and the grand sweep of Russian history.

It’s not every day that I must open a review with a disclaimer. Not mine, but Eremeeva’s:

I make no claims to be anything more than an enthusiastic amateur historian and eyewitness to events in Russia for the past twenty years. This work is not intended to be a comprehensive history of Russia nor a work of scholarly research, and it should not be read as such. (Loc 123)

All righty then. Should I review this as a personal passion project or pedagogical effort? Or neither one nor the other but some synthesis of both? I’ll figure out how to circumvent this disclaimer somehow.

Not much can be said about Have Personality Disorder, Will Rule Russia except that it’s definitely Lenin Lives Lite. It has the same strengths and weaknesses as its parent book, the only difference being that Have Personality Disorder is much shorter. Let’s address the positives first. Stylistically speaking, the history guide retains the readability and lively, witty writing style of the original. Eremeeva is enthusiastic about sharing her passion for Russian history with readers and it shows. Her familiar brand of humor also graces each page, and some jokes actually score. But also present is Eremeeva’s off-putting sarcasm:

This is a significant event for all kinds of reasons, but primarily because it is the first and last time anyone in the Russian government ever admitted to being at fault. (calling of the Varangians, Loc 190)

And condescension toward Russians’ interpretations of their history:

When you suffer from general backwardness, it’s nice to be able to blame your lack of achievement on external forces. Sort of like, “I could have gone to Harvard if my ninth-grade geometry teacher hadn’t hated me.” (Russia under Mongol rule, Loc 224)

(True to Columbia form. But you didn’t hear that from me.)

While the author’s sarcasm and condescension had a place in her original, personal, expat memoir¹, in a history lesson they simply make her seem judgmental. If one is trying to be educational, such comments as the above are counterproductive and end up alienating some readers – some learners – who come only for the factual information and not the author’s opinion.

Have Personality Disorder’s handling of history can also be categorized as “lite”. And that’s not just because this Kindle book is merely 135 pages. It’s superficial even for self-identified “CliffsNotes”. To the extent the book has a central thesis, it’s that Russia has had more than its fair share of aggressive, larger-than-life, alpha male leaders, and that Russia seems to progress only under their often heavy-handed rule. Eremeeva dedicates a chapter to each ruler..or at least each ruler who fits the thesis easily. Leaders not “exciting” or “alpha male” enough are glossed over in a few sentences. Important events occurring between or under the leaders who did make the cut – the Time of Troubles, Sputnik, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, to name a few – are mentioned only in passing. Because of Have Personality Disorder’s insistence on painting the big picture of Russian history, it presents few new facts. (However, I’m glad that, despite its brevity, the book managed to squeeze in the trope that the West represents all things enlightened and desirable while Russia is backwards and Asiatic² (Loc 362 and 441)!)

Never fear though; what the book lacks in substance the author makes up for in self-insertion and opinion. Eremeeva’s tone becomes more sympathetic when covering the monarchy, which is unsurprising given her tsarstruck background:

Peter and Catherine’s daughter, the empress Elizabeth, was very much daddy’s girl. Attractive and accomplished, she inherited her parents’ earthly appreciation of the pleasures of the flesh, and like her father, she managed to be thoroughly European in her tastes while remaining uniquely Russian in her soul…Elizabeth steered Russia competently through the next twenty years with skill and grace, choosing wise advisors and taking an active hand in the labyrinthine European diplomacy of the day… (Loc 394)

Compare that to coverage of Ivan III…

As the eldest son of the Moscow grand prince, he was the sole heir to the riches and the power base built up by his ancestor Ivan Moneybags, thanks to the Muscovite tradition of primogeniture […] Ivan III further consolidated Moscow’s power by making all the other Russian princes of the cities surrounding Moscow subordinate to his supreme rule. Ivan III’s model of ruling Russia can still be seen at work today during televised meetings of appointed regional governors and the prime minister or president of Russia (Loc 256)

…or of the Soviets, who “can always be counted on to screw things up”…

…And refer to my commentary in the “style” part of this review.

Several interjections from Eremeeva, HRH (representing the Russian POV, usually shown to be wrong), and her daughter Velvet pull the reader away from the history lesson. Here, Eremeeva’s self-insertion doesn’t necessarily enhance your understanding of Russian history – it merely demonstrates she was in the country during the ’80s and ’90s when things were happening and had/has far-reaching connections within the expat community. Forget discussing the precipitous decline in living standards for the average Russian during the nineties; we’ve got more important things to learn about – like how the author and her husband nearly got separated!

Well-written but underdeveloped, Have Personality Disorder, Will Rule Russia fulfills its primary function (tie-in to Lenin Lives Next Door), but doesn’t aspire to be much more than that. While I can’t say it’s as haphazard or blatantly political as Russia: Putin’s Playground, nor can I say it’s the right place to start for a reader curious about Russian history. There’s just not enough of it! For readers interested in a more solid grounding, I’d recommend Russian History: A Very Short Introduction by Geoffrey Hosking – only 176 pages, but packed tight with useful information and pictures. And thankfully featuring much less sarcasm.

★ ★

Have Personality Disorder, Will Rule Russia: An Iconoclastic History by a Recovering Russophile by Jennifer Eremeeva. Pub. 2015. Kindle edition, 135 pages. ASIN: B015HN9E5Q


Notes

  1. In no way am I condoning them!
  2. See Sergey Armeyskov’s site for more on that.

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6 comments

  1. I haven’t read this book but judging by your review I can say the following. 1) Russia’s (ultra)liberals are obsessed with a Mongol Yoke (e.g., Novodvorskaya, Akunin).This tradition dates back to Pyotr Chaadayev & his “Philosophical Letters” (1826-31). And the likes of Dugin also like to talk about the Yoke for different reasons, promoting their brand of neo-Eurasianism (meh!). 2) On the Soviet question – it’s a very complicated topic, but to put it simple I reject both Stalinism lite as well as the idea that the Soviet period, which was so much more than Stalin, was 100% bad (but make no mistake – it doesn’t mean I endorse communism of any kind). Late Soviet years were actually more or less bearable. It was a ‘milquetoast totalitarianism’. 3) To be fair – Mrs. Eremeeva states that she’s not a real historian. So the problem is that when some ‘serious works’ are no better than this one in terms of analysis.

    Liked by 2 people

        • “I usually use it meaning the post-Andropov era.”

          So, to quote from your original comment – “It was a ‘milquetoast totalitarianism’” (c) – i.e. you call the Perestroika era “more or less bearable”.

          For one, the term you are searching for is not “milquetoast totalitarianism”. There is no need to bring the “totalitarianism” at all here, even if you are trying to say that it’s some sort of “watered down version” of it, if you don’t want to draw the attention to the totalitarianism in the first place. It’s the same tactic used to this day by the Free and Independent Western Media ™, when they add (unnecessary, but out of ideological reasons) obligatory “Former USSR” or “ex-KGB”, to trigger in their auditory “correct” response.

          Second – the term you are searching for is the “authoritarism”. It very broad catch-up term. And for the most time of humanity’s history it did live under this or that form of authoritarsim – so you can’t say that its “unnatural” or “unbearable” by us.

          Thirdly – it was precisely the Perestroika (or, as you say – post-Andropov times) when the life in the USSR started to unravel and the quality of life for the general population also began to drop.

          Finally – I’m by no means a fan of Dugin, but I think he is totally misunderstood and by now he is not a real (un influential to boot) person, but rather a projection of various biases held by the people both in Russia and abroad. It’s all too easy to label him “Russian fascist” and feel smug in the following bashing of this strawman. The fact is – Dugin is not a fascist. Neither is he some sort of insane Mongol-worshipper. What most people don’t learn about his ideology (or prefer to ignore) is that, according to him all “civilizations” are equal – be the one of the Germans, Russians or Sub-Saharan bushmen. This flies against the instincts of those who created this Dugin-strawman – liberals don’t like it because they are convinced of the superiority of the Western [Anglo-Saxon] civilization and do want to remodel the world in accordance to that, while the vanilla fascists and Alt-Right despise the notion that puny untermenchen can be valued equally with their chosen Superior Race (which, once again, proves, that there is not that much difference between the so-called liberals and the fascists).

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  2. You are triggered by the term totalitarianism. Authoritarianism – again, a pretty mild one, is what we have today in the Russian Federation.

    The main reason for the collapse of the USSR was not some CIA plot (I’m not saying they weren’t trying to bring the Soviets down), but the fact that nobody really believed in communism – both the ‘elites’ and the masses. It was an ideological collapse before the real one. And, of course, it was treason.

    Dugin is a discourse monger trying to sell his ‘theory’ in the West (not that it’s a bad thing). And just for the record – he’s catering to the Alt Right. It looks like you are reading your own views into his.

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    • “You are triggered by the term totalitarianism.”

      Dear Sergey! I’ve always enjoyed reading your blogposts, whether they were discussing Russian perception in the West and the core reasons behind the Russophobia, or whether you were doing some of your “cultural” pieces. But most of all I appreciated your blog for attempt to introduce a Russo-centric narrative into the “mainstream” Russia-watching community, consisting, mostly, of the Westerner Anglophonics, who are/were people of various level of opinionation, ignorance and bias.

      I repeat – I really liked your blog, and still think that the articles published there are worthy of reference even years after their initial publication.

      Unfortunately, it seems that in the years since you’ve become yet another “Zapadnik”, rather divorced of the here and now of your own country. Some of these “Zapadniks” are vanilla kreakls, who are having коворкинги in the nearest лофт and хакерспейс, replete with the consumption of conspicuous amounts of митболы and смузи in the «Жан-Жак», while discussing the latest тренды of the Western Civilization – while utilizing the slang terms copy-pasted into the Russian. These are so-called “Left”, aka the part of Russian “Zapadniki” who decided to devote themselves to the cargo-cult worshipping Western mainstream “Leftists” and their agenda – SJWs, multi-culturalism, rabid liberalism, applied libertarianism, etc.

      And then there is (seemingly) a different group of Russian “Zapadniki”, who are equally divorced from the life of their own country, who are equally keen to pepper their speech with terms and slang borrowed from the foreign culture and who discuss issues and concerns that have really little to do with the country they live in. Both them and “Жан-Жак” regulars use the word “триггер” in their speech – albeit in sarcastic way. This doesn’t change the fact that on basic level both of them are no different.

      Dear Sergey! I wasn’t “triggered”. I’m not demanding some sort of the “safe space”, and I’m not accusing you of “micro-aggression”. What – you were literally burning from inside, like a child, who just learned new words and wants to impress the adults – just like you are burning from inside due to your proselyte zeal of some Pepe’s catechumen? Okay – go ahead! Pronounce these meaningless (for a Russian) words! Won’t change the fact that you, in your zeal, are either not understanding, or projecting. Because, really – not everyone who is disagreeing with you is “triggered”.

      Having established that – are you see convinced that “Perestroika” of all time periods was the most “good” for the Soviet Citizens to live in?

      Next – to have a meaningful conversation, we must come to the terms and their meanings. So define authoritarianism. After all – you are saying that we live under one (“mild”) in Russia. This word had been abused for so long, that, in truly 1984 fashion, people nowadays are using it without really thinking.

      The main reason for the collapse of the USSR was not some CIA plot (I’m not saying they weren’t trying to bring the Soviets down), but the fact that nobody really believed in communism – both the ‘elites’ and the masses. It was an ideological collapse before the real one. And, of course, it was treason.

      I’m not arguing against that – I’m agreeing wholeheartedly. I’m even going to name the precise date when this “bomb” was planted beneath the foundation of the USSR – the infamous XX Party Congress and Khruschev’s speech.

      “Dugin is a discourse monger trying to sell his ‘theory’ in the West (not that it’s a bad thing). And just for the record – he’s catering to the Alt Right. It looks like you are reading your own views into his.”

      As I said – I’m not a fan of Dugin, and I, personally, do not subscribe to his views. But I will need some proof before believing that he:

      a) Tries to “sell” his discourse to the West of all places
      b) That he “caters” to the Alt-Right.

      Like

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