What was this book about? To be honest the title didn’t tell me much – I Was a Potato Oligarch. Was it like being a Burger King? I knew what an Oligarch was…er, well, OK, looked it up and it’s one of a small number of individuals that run a state. So where does the humble spud come into this?
Our author and hero is John Mole, who has the idea that money could be made from fast food. It’s a popular trend in Russia and he was assured that he would be able to set up a company to sell filled baked potatoes, and would soon be reaping the benefits. Sounds simple, huh? If it had been that easy this book would only have been a pamphlet and not the funny story that it has turned out to be.
This writer has had extensive experience of dealing with people from the former eastern bloc countries and I personally would not touch a business partnership with a 10ft Volga boat pole. But John seems to be a man who will have a go at almost anything and at least he has a great book as reward for his adventure. And what an adventure!
We could be generous and describe the ordinary Russian as…um, ..unique. They have a particular perspective that has been born of hardship and indoctrination. John seems to have been a gift to so many of the more scheming sorts, and he was very naive. A kind-hearted chap, he buys a postcard from a beautiful woman on the street. She says she is a teacher and is looking after her invalid mother. He buys a map from her and then she offers to spend the night with him. That’s one of the sadder encounters, but most of the book is densely seeded with chuckles.
“…A big-boned, middle-aged woman in an ankle-length black leather coat and a Cossack fur hat, angular face and lidded black eyes and purple lips and a single eyebrow from ear to ear, a villain from a Marvel comic.” …She was the doctor! Get the picture?
This is one of the most amusing travel books around. You don’t have to know any ex-soviets to appreciate the hilarious corners that John paints himself into …but if you have known any you will appreciate that John isn’t exaggerating! A real good read!
I Was a Potato Oligarch
Author: John Mole
Published by: Nicholas Brealey Publishing
Travel book review by Chrissie Walker © 2018