In 2009, musician Franz Nicolay left his job in the Hold Steady, aka “the world’s 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.
“The book would be much like what Paul Theroux might write if he played the musical saw, lived on beer and borscht, and had a sense of humor…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
“Adds a layer of depth by exploring the ways music, specifically punk music, inspire and unite the local populace.” – Publishers Weekly
“Paul Theroux meets Lester Bangs” – Omnivoracious/The Amazon Book Review
“Franz Nicolay has always been the kind of musician who can sound like he’s roaming the world in the course of a single song. In this amazing road tale he captures how it feels for a wandering artist, scrounging in the underground punk scenes of Russia and the Balkans—sleepless nights and shaky trains, strong beer and unsavory companions–watching history turn inside out.” – Rob Sheffield (“Love Is A Mixtape,” Rolling Stone)
“If there isn’t already a shelf for Classic Punk Literature, we need to build it and stock it with Franz Nicolay. Part low-budget tour diary and part Slavic history lesson, this book is a love letter to the punk vie boheme; a delicious and hilarious borscht stew of untold histories, literary references, beautiful strangers and backstage vodka.” – Amanda Palmer(musician, “The Art of Asking”)
“Funny and wistful, The Humorless Ladies of Border Control is an engrossing romp that casts fresh eyes on Old World cultures rich in paradox. Franz Nicolay taps into the current cultural zeitgeist in the best travelogue tradition, with vivid scenes capturing the absurdities of daily life in the context of history and a deft reading of some of the most important cultural figures. –Gregory Feifer, NYTimes best-selling author of Russians: The People Behind the Power
“A truly remarkable book. On the surface, it’s a tour diary of shows around the wilder reaches of Eastern Europe and Russia, which would be interesting in itself. In actual fact, however, Franz has written a profound and perceptive travelogue in the vein of Paul Theroux or Rebecca West; like them, he teaches you about the places he visits, about the people he meets, about a forgotten but fascinating corner of world culture, and ultimately, about himself.” – Frank Turner (musician, “The Road Beneath My Feet”)