Publishers Weekly

You Must Go and Win: Essays
Alina Simone. Faber & Faber, $14 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-86547-915-9

Singer-songwriter Simone dissects her Russian roots, her convoluted path toward religion, and what it means to be an artist, in this razor-sharp debut essay collection. Born in Kharkov, Ukraine, in 1974 Simone moved to Massachusetts with her parents (her father was blacklisted by the KGB) as an infant and grew up loving to sing. But the road to indie rock stardom is a bumpy one, from trying to find a producer on Craigslist in “Gloom-Deflecting Mailman Warrior Gods” to being so close to getting your album distributed, then hearing that all the money’s been stolen, in “Down and Out on Hope Street.” Working for a nonprofit that ran a teaching program in Russia, Simone’s own past and her musical inspirations soon merged around the figure of Siberian punk rocker Yanka Dyagileva, who died young in 1991 and whose songs Simone covered in a 2008 album. In “I Wanted Unicorns,” she recounts a Russian trip where she not only sees Dyagileva’s grave but is baptized by a renegade priest named Punk Monk. Throughout all of this, she struggles to figure out how to make a life–and a living–from making music. Simone ably juggles the philosophical and the comical, her genuine enthusiasm for arcane subject matter as contagious as the fleas in her long ago apartment. (June)

Reviewed on: 03/28/2011