Blakely, Alexander J. 1969-
BLAKELY, Alexander J. 1969-
PERSONAL: Born August 20, 1969, in Minneapolis, MN; son of Richard (an engineer and entrepreneur) and Patricia (a vice president of marketing and entrepreneur) Blakely; married Natalya Potapova (a homemaker), October 28, 1996; children: Maximilian Alexander. Education: Swarthmore College, B.A. (economics), 1992. Hobbies and other interests: Overseas economic development.
CAREER: Entrepreneur and writer. KASSI (Commercial Association of Siberians), Novosibirsk, Russia, president, 1992-96; Foundation for U.S./Russian Economic Cooperation, Seattle, WA, trade analyst, 1997-98; Russian Far East Update, Seattle, assistant editor, 1998-99; KnowNow, Inc., Seattle and Mountain View, CA; director of operations and sales, 2000—.
Siberia Bound: Chasing the American Dream onRussia's Wild Frontier (memoir), Sourcebooks (Naperville, IL), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Alexander "Xander" Blakely's Siberia Bound: Chasing the American Dream on Russia's Wild Frontier is an account of his four years in Siberia, an adventure he experienced in the years immediately following college. Blakely, an economics major, and his partner, Sasha, embarked on a number of ventures, including selling automotive paint and used clothes, before opening a chocolate factory. They also got into the latex glove and condom business when a distributor came to them saying that her supplies of medical gloves had dried up. Blakely told Sarah Coleman in an interview for World Press, "I found a glove manufacturer that was already selling products in Eastern Europe, but Siberia wasn't on their map. So, getting an order for a million gloves from the middle of nowhere was a pleasant surprise for them. They shipped me not only medical gloves, but autopsy gloves (which the Siberians used for picking potatoes) and condoms (which I'm assuming the Siberians used for their intended purposes.)"
When Blakely moved to Siberia in 1992, the people there were enthusiastic about capitalism. Blakely wanted to grow the company carefully, and said in an interview at his publisher's Web site, "I was most proud of the fact that we gainfully employed forty people, while my partners were proud of our multimillion-dollar revenues. I think I had the heart of a free-market shopkeeper while my Russian partners had ambitions of multinational capitalist grandeur. I left because my sensibilities were holding them back from chasing their dreams with wild abandon." A Kirkus Reviews writer noted that "Blakely isn't happy with the way he had to do business—all the payoffs and shady dealings." Blakely returned to the United States with a new wife and so many memories that it took him four years to complete his book.
Library Journal reviewer Harry Willems said that Siberia Bound is not merely about capitalism; it is also about "a foreign culture that included business, love, and family relationships." Booklist reviewer Frank Caso wrote that Blakely's humorous accounts capture "both the adventurous and pathetic qualities of the cowboy capitalism that took hold in Russia during the first years of its democracy."
Robert Weinberg wrote in the Swarthmore College Bulletin that Blakely's "vivid and succinct prose also touches on other aspects of Russian life, such as the pervasive role of alcohol, the annoying tactics of American missionaries who seem to be everywhere, the challenges of keeping your clothes clean and fresh, the menace presented by drunken drivers, and the life-threatening nature of falling icicles during the winter thaw."
In his interview with Coleman, Blakely said that Siberians will always be "a hard-drinking people. It's not a sipping society. It's a bipolar nation, a manic-depressive country. If you think about the environment there, you have nine months of cold and dark and three months of sun and fun. It's not hard to see why they have deeply-ingrained notions of feast and famine. That's their world. That's who they are and it's part of their charm. We medicate for that kind of behavior here. And yet, some of my best and most interesting friends are bipolar! It's unfortunate that it comes at such a cost though."
When Coleman asked Blakely if he would go to a country like Siberia again, he answered, "In a heartbeat. The best thing I ever did was go to Siberia and establish a company with people whose forebears were my parents' generation's enemy. You know, one of the basic tenets of market economics is that any transaction leaves both parties better off, because they're both going into it by choice, and they'll only stay for as long as it's beneficial. I learned a huge amount in Siberia: It was so important for me, in my twenties, to go to a place that pushed me to the limit."
A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that while other expatriates have returned to write about their adventures, that what sets Blakely apart "is a natural gift for storytelling and a rare ability to translate the specificities of a foreign culture."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Blakely, Alexander, Siberia Bound: Chasing theAmerican Dream on Russia's Wild Frontier, Sourcebooks (Naperville, IL), 2002.
Booklist, May 1, 2002, Frank Caso, review of SiberiaBound: Chasing the American Dream on Russia's Wild Frontier, p. 1488.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2002, review of SiberiaBound, p. 628.
Library Journal, June 1, 2002, Harry Willems, review of Siberia Bound, p. 168.
Publishers Weekly, April 15, 2002, review of SiberiaBound, p. 48.
Swarthmore College Bulletin, June, 2002, Robert Weinberg, review of Siberia Bound.
Alexander Blakely Web site,http:www.xanderblakely.com (August 28, 2002).
Sourcebooks,http://www.sourcebooks.com/ (July 18, 2002), interview with Blakely.
World Press,http://www.worldpress.org/ (July 9, 2002), Sarah Coleman, interview with Blakely.*