The Humorless Ladies of Border Control

Touring the Punk Underground from Belgrade to Ulaanbaatar

A one-of-a-kind travelogue exploring the intersection of literature, politics, and punk rock idealism in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Russia, Ukraine, and Mongolia

“Changing the Country, We Apologize for the Inconvenience” —street sign in Kyiv

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 Ulaanbaatar 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 postcommunist 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.


News and Reviews

The New York Times

The New York Times Book Review includes The Humorless Ladies of Border Control in their list of the "Season’s Best Travel Books"

Gut Feelings

Gut Feelings questions Franz Nicolay on the inner-workings of his brain

The New York Times

Franz Nicolay's new book, The Humorless Ladies of Border Control, is featured in The New York Times' "Open Book" column

Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly reviews The Humorless Ladies of Border Control


Goodreads Reviews