Synopses & Reviews
In 2009, musician Franz Nicolay left his job in the Hold Steady, aka the worlds 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 Ulaanbataar 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 post-Communist 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.
Musician Nicolay who has performed around the world with indie bands including the Hold Steady the World/Inferno Friendship Society and Guignol in addition to teaching music at Bard College in New York attempts to merge literature politics travel and punk rock into something bigger than its parts. And he succeeds to a degree in this account of a six month tour in 2012 that began and ended in Kiev with runs through Turkey Russia Bulgaria Yugoslavia and Romania among others. The book often veers into rote tour diary entries despite Nicolay’s best attempts to integrate perspective into the account by bringing in other voices—notable authors such as Christopher Hitchens experts who have written about his current location etc.—to help tell the backstory of the places he visits. He adds a layer of depth by exploring the ways music specifically punk music inspire and unite the local populace. Though he’s clearly researched his destinations there’s no real arc to the narrative and as a result Nicolay’s journey gets to be repetitious for the reader. (Aug.) " Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."
"A pleasing romp: punk in attitude but literary in execution and a fine work of armchair travel for those unwilling to strap on an accordion on the streets of Rostov for themselves." Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Franz Nicolay is a New York musician who has played with myriad acts including the Hold Steady, Against Me!, and the Dresden Dolls and was a founding member of the composer/performer collective Anti-Social Music. Dying Scene recently named him #1 of Punks 10 Best Accordion Players.” He teaches at Bard College and this is his first book.