The Humorless Ladies of Border Control

The Humorless Ladies of Border Control

2016 Staff Favorite

Brilliantly rendered exploration of contemporary provincial Russia and former Soviet states, through the eyes of a Slavic lit-loving, accordian-playing, constantly-touring, insanely articulate punk. Filled with histories of places you’ve never heard of, portraits of cities and people on the other side of the shreds of the Iron Curtain, and guaranteed to send you hunting down obscure Soviet-era anarchopunk.


In 2009, musician Franz Nicolay left his job in the Hold Steady, aka the world's greatest bar band. Over the next five years, he crossed the world with a guitar in one hand, a banjo in the other, and an accordion on his back, playing the anarcho-leftist squats and DIY spaces of the punk rock diaspora. He meets Polish artists nostalgic for their revolutionary days, Mongolian neo-Nazis in full SS regalia, and a gay expat in Ulaanbaatar who needs an armed escort between his home and his job. The Russian punk scene is thrust onto the international stage with the furor surrounding the arrest of the group Pussy Riot, and Ukrainians find themselves in the midst of a revolution and then a full-blown war.>

While engaging with the works of literary predecessors from Rebecca West to Chekhov and the nineteenth-century French aristocrat the Marquis de Custine, Nicolay explores the past and future of punk rock culture in the postcommunist world in the kind of book a punk rock Paul Theroux might have written, with a humor reminiscent of Gary Shteyngart. An audacious debut from a vivid new voice, The Humorless Ladies of Border Control is an unforgettable, funny, and sharply drawn depiction of surprisingly robust hidden spaces tucked within faraway lands.

Publication Date: 
August 2, 2016

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