As Good as it Gets: reviewing Vladimir Lorchenkov’s The Good Life Elsewhere3 min read
“Here you are! Italy, our Italy” begins Moldovan writer Vladimir Lorchenko’s novel The Good Life Elsewhere. In his novel, Lorchenkov offers a darkly satirical tale of poverty and struggle, of innovation and hope — and of Italy. At the centre of this story are the inhabitants of the fictional town of Larga — an impoverished village somewhere in Moldova, where people keep a dwindling and simple existence — mostly dreaming of a future flipping pizzas and cleaning toilets on a piazza somewhere in Italy.
A fast-paced and relatively short novel, Lorchenkov skilfully balances the tragicomical trials and errors of main character, Serfamin Botezatu, and his countrymen, as they, time and time again, try to cross the borders (be it by land, air or sea) of what proves to be an impenetrable fortress called the European Union.
The Good Life Elsewhere is a dark but highly entertaining read. At times, the plot takes such absurd turns that I found myself laughing out loud while reading, such as when a group of Largans decide to form a curling team and train to be good enough for the Olympic games so that they can escape Moldova forever. In this tale, Moldovans as a group are mocked and so filled with self-hatred that even the President plots to fake his own death to escape and be “reborn” within the EU.
While some might view Lorchenkov’s writing as condescending, seeing his depictions of Moldova as stigmatising his fellow citizens and one of Europe’s most impoverished nations, a subtle and interesting theme that runs through this novel is reappearing perceptions of the Other and belonging both within and between nations.
Through his writing, the author suggests that while Moldova is a European country, it clearly does not belong in the EU. When Serafim and his friend Vasily try to enter the coast of Italy in a homemade submarine in one of their many attempts to escape Moldova, they are blasted out of the water by the Italian foreign Coast Guard. Without further investigation, the Coast Guard subsequently claims this event as a victory over Islamist terrorists trying to infiltrate the EU.
On their way back to Larga following this failed attempt, they are imprisoned by a Moldovan security guard who has set up his own private prison “in spirit of private initiative, part of the general trend towards alignment with the European Union”. In reality, he uses this prison to incarcerate Roma people and others who can’t pay for themselves or identify their national belonging — including Serafim and Vasily, who lost everything outside of the coast of Italy. This episode is a perfect example of how Lorchenkov uses fiction to poke fun at Moldova’s endemic problems with corruption and how the country treats its Roma population, but also a satirical critique of what kind of organization the EU has become. In the end, you find yourself thinking that if the fictional characters of Moldova spent half as much time trying to fix their own country as they do on trying to leave it, the good life would come to Moldova, and there would be no need for “elsewhere”.
Overall, I find Lorchenkov’s writing extremely entertaining and thought-provoking. At present, while he has written a dozen other novels, The Good Life Elsewhere is the only one that has been translated to English. In the future, I hope that this will change as the world is really in need of writers like Lochenkov to put Moldovan fiction on the map.
Book details: Lorchenkov, Vladimir The Good Life Elsewhere, New Vessle Press. It is available to buy here.