Moldovan villagers hatch outrageous plans to escape to Italy.
Country Focus: Moldova
The Good Life Elsewhere
By Vladimir Lorchenkov
Translated by Ross Ufberg
Originally published in Russian as Vse tam budem, 2008.
My edition: New Vessel Press, 2014
About the author: Lorchenkov, a journalist by trade, has published twelve novels, including a sequel to The Good Life Elsewhere called Tabor Leaves. He lives in Chisinau, Moldova’s capital, but plans to emigrate to Canada because “I do not want to see [my children] growing up in a country where tuberculosis is as familiar a disease as the sniffles, and where a pack of stray dogs can tear a person apart on the main street.”*
Jobs and cash are hard to come to by in Moldova, so the impoverished inhabitants of one small town dream of easier lives in Italy. The Italian authorities routinely deny all Moldovan visa requests, so any would-be émigrés must sneak in. The Good Life Elsewhere details Serafim Botezatu’s and his fellow villagers’ absurd attempts to make it to their promised land: paying 4,000 euros apiece to a “tourism agency” to bus them under cover of darkness to Rome; taking up the sport of curling (even though they don’t have an ice rink) in hopes of being invited to compete in Italy; building a plane out of tractor parts to fly over the Italian border; drumming up participants for the “First Holy Crusade of Eastern Orthodox Religions” to march into Italy; and constructing a submarine out of tractor and bicycle parts to pedal underwater until reaching Italy’s Mediterranean coast.
Yes, The Good Life Elsewhere would make one heck of a Monty Python movie. Black humor abounds. Lorchenkov ends almost all of the book’s short and amusing chapters with a dark or silly twist, which makes the novel a quick and entertaining read. The outrageous ending doesn’t disappoint.
Before the story ends, Lorchenkov does slip in a brief moment of ernestness when one of the villagers challenges the Italy-or-bust crowd to channel all of their creative energies toward improving Moldova rather than leaving it. “Italy—the real Italy—is in ourselves!” he cries. He’s promptly tortured and killed.
The desire to stay in one’s homeland and work for its betterment it too often clash with the need for safety and work. Until those basic needs are supplied by their governments, people around the world—including Lorchenkov himself—will seek the good life elsewhere.
“We’re gonna make it to Italy. Everything’ll change,” said Serafim. “There’ll be no more Moldovan mud in our lives, no more terrible poverty hanging over our heads like a scab on a bald tramp’s noggin. No more of this interminable, hellish work, which makes you want to howl louder than a dog on the doorstep of a penny-pinching priest. […] “Serafim went on: “And Italians aren’t as sneaky, rude, mean and lazy as we Moldovans are. They aren’t such knuckledragging knuckleheads. They even dress differently. Their clothes are just like their country. Happy and festive! The people are beautiful. They all sing Italy’s praises, because that’s what to sing about. Not like Moldova, which asks you for love, but is less of a motherland then a step-motherland!”
*Michelle Johnson. (March 18, 2014) A conversation with Vladimir Lorchenkov. World Literature Today. Retrieved from http://www.worldliteraturetoday.org/conversation-vladimir-lorchenkov#.VRIzR_nF-Yw