Everything is Normal: Life and Times of a Soviet Kid claims to be both a memoir and a social history, telling about the youth of author Sergey Grechishkin during the 70s and the 80s in the Soviet Union. In short, thematic chapters, he takes us through Soviet society as experienced by a child.
First things first: I learned so incredibly much from this book. At school I learned a bit about Russia in history, but not that much about the experiences of normal people. And when I took a class in Russian literature at university it mostly focused on censorship. However, normal people and children, just trying to live their lives, didn’t have to deal with those problems as much as with other problems. The book accurately describes mundane things such as standing in line for who-knows-what, which televisionshows children watched and what Soviet kids spent their money on. With a lot of humor, Grechishkin shows us all his daily troubles, and because it’s about his experiences as a kid, politics didn’t have that much to do with it. He doesn’t focus on the ideological reasons for certain laws, but on the consequences it had on Soviet childhood. This new perspective feels very refreshing.
Although the relaxed tone of the book and the short chapters make it easy to read, it does keep feeling like a history book. Grechishkin hardly uses any dialogue and the whole text feels almost like the transcript of an interview. The chapters are slightly thematic but there’s a lot of repetition and quite some overlap. The book is slightly chronological, but sometimes it feels like it could be more structured, to prevent constant references to other periods.
Even though the author tells us about his childhood, it’s almost all about his experiences. He barely discusses what he felt and thought. This makes it hard to form an emotional connection with the main character. A more fluid, literary style, with more dialogue and internal thought would have made it easier to identify with Sergey as a child (and it would have made the story stronger).
Although these problems with the style make the book less “literary”, I still did enjoy it. It was a very fun way to learn more about the Soviet Union. So if you’re feeling a bit non-fiction-y, and don’t care about style too much, it’s a great way to brush up on social history. You can order your copy of Everything is Normal here.