Sep 19, 2014

Waiting for the Electricity, by Christina Nichol

Satire is extremely difficult to write well, and Nichol has nailed it with "Waiting for the Electricity," a strong indictment both of post-Soviet "democracies" and American capitalism (as well as Bay Area hippies). Slims Achmed Mashkavili is a maritime lawyer in post-communist Georgia. The electricity works only part of the time and no one has been paid for their jobs in over six months; Slims wants out. So he applies for an entrepreneurial internship in the US. Against all odds, he wins the position and heads to San Francisco for a six week business course and job at a fish packing plant in Oakland. Where all his friends and relatives in Georgia are content to complain vociferously about the lack of electricity, jobs, and money but never make a move to do anything about it, Slims finds that while Americans have everything they desire, they are also lonely and distant, cut off from their families and living in a state of constant fear that they end up on the wrong side of the law. "Why do you follow the law? Why not be free?" Slims (and Nichols) asks. Why can't he drink a beer on the sidewalk? Why can't he herd sheep through the National Parks? Why do Americans put up with all those tasteless ads everywhere?

It's quite a piece of work, to be able to satirize two completely different cultures at once. Nichol pulls it off brilliantly, somehow describing that odd gray area in which most difficult issues lie. Communism destroyed cultures, but at least its citizens had food and electricity and jobs. Post-Soviet democracy is a joke - no money, no jobs, no electricity - but at least families stick together. American consumerism creates a land of harmonious plenty, but we lack perspective and are overly materialistic. None of these systems has it right, but so few people are willing and able to do anything about it. Nichol is a fantastic writer, able to merge her message with some truly wonderful turns of phrase, and I very much look forward to reading her future work.

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