The Road to Riches

04 March 2005 |

What's it like to be a New Russian? According to the first book by "one of them," it's all about contract killings, cheating husbands and dyed poodles.

By Anna Malpas




If one husband gets mown down by a contract killer, and the next runs off with a blonde, what's a girl to do? For socialite and entrepreneur Oksana Robski, the answer was to write a novel about life and death on Moscow's elite Rublyovskoye Shosse.




The book's chic white cover promises the "first novel written by 'one of them,'" and Robski, a resident of the Moscow region's most prestigious residential area, says that her novel "Casual" is based on personal experience. "I put in some authorial embellishments, and of course there were some things I didn't mention. But it's autobiographical," she said, sipping juice at a pizzeria last Friday.

The buzz around "Casual" started before the novel came out last month. Sergei Chliyants, producer of the 2003 hit film "Boomer," bought the movie rights before the book was printed, and shooting is due to start in several months. Meanwhile, the book -- which has benefited from a heavy marketing campaign that includes advertising in the Moscow metro -- has sold out its initial print run of 30,000, Robski said.

"I honestly didn't try to achieve anything. I did it absolutely for myself, and the fact that the book has had such success is very pleasant and unexpected for me," she added.

The novel tells the story of a wealthy woman who finds out that her husband has been unfaithful, only to be further surprised when he is shot by a hired killer. She then sets up a business, helps her husband's pregnant mistress and finds new love. While the identities of people in the novel differ somewhat from their real-life counterparts, the disclaimer at the beginning of the book -- which states that all the book's characters and events are purely fictional -- seems to be stretching the truth.

Robski's second husband, a businessman, was shot dead in the entranceway of his house, she said calmly. The only difference is that the novel is set in 2004, while the real-life events happened in the late 1990s. The author later remarried, but she came across her third husband "in a restaurant with a blonde" -- an episode that also appears in the book.

The book's title reflects the fact that it describes the everyday, or "casual," Robski said. "Even murder in those days was 'casual.' Everything that happens isn't out of the ordinary. It's just life, that's all."

It took only a month to polish off the novel, Robski admitted. The writing came easily to her, although she had previously worked in some very different spheres. These included running a chain of Oriental furniture stores, managing a female bodyguard agency and even launching a store that sold uniforms for domestic staff. These experiences are also reflected in the novel.

The book is aimed at female readers, and the title recalls one-word-title blockbusters like Jackie Collins' "Lucky." But readers looking for love and passion will be disappointed. "It's an autobiographical book," Robski said. "What do you expect, that a person's husband gets killed and she's going to have sex from morning to evening?"

Social climbers, however, will have a field day. The author lists the places to be seen in Moscow, ranging from the Cabaret nightclub to the Veranda U Dachi restaurant in the elite residential district of Zhukovka. "If I write that [the heroine] goes to a restaurant, why not write which one, if the book is autobiographical?" Robski asked. She compared her style to that of "American Psycho" author Bret Easton Ellis, who also uses "brands, brands, brands."

There are also some intriguing details about the world of Russia's wealthy. The heroine has a live-in masseuse from Donetsk, Ukraine, and one of the heroine's friends dyes her dog to match her dresses. "Well, we dyed a poodle once ourselves," Robski said. "Isn't it beautiful if a poodle suddenly becomes pink?"

Russian readers will enjoy the book in different ways, she admitted. People in "Yekaterinburg or somewhere else" may read the novel as if it were "about aliens," she said. But she hopes that the less-privileged will learn to be more tolerant of the wealthy.

"I'd like it if the people who don't know how the characters in my book live saw them in a more humane and better way," she said. Also, Robski doesn't feel that such readers will envy the jet-setting lifestyle of her book's characters. "Maybe they don't live on Rublyovskoye Shosse because they don't need that," she said. "They really don't want that very much."

The author has already finished a second novel. Her next book will not be autobiographical, she said, and it will have "some sex and lots of romance." Robski has also written the script for the movie version of "Casual" -- she originally studied to be a screenwriter and director -- and will possibly star as herself in the film.

"Casual," by Oksana Robski, is published by Rosmen.

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