An absolute smasher of a book! on a page tearing tip. I came across it by chance whilst sifting through the isles in a decent shop. Wus’ this? It’s got pretty poor sleeve design, especially considering the strength & style of the material within. But the vignette on the back convinced me that this was essential reading based on the journalists insight. I wasn’t wrong.
The Book is the debut from journalist Peter Pomerantsev who has a long & varied history of media work in Russia dating back to 2001. From 2006 he secured a position working at Russia’s TNT network who’s job was to produce programmes that would aid “the new Russia” as he puts it “look and sound more Western.” This of course provides considerable access & insight which is the bulk of the books source material. One of the first things that struck me about the book was how well it’s written. Part of the brilliance of the prose comes from Russians themselves, but very much also from Peter’s eye for character & his remarkable way with words & description. His depictions & details of gangsters, bureaucrats, loons, activists, bohemes, jezebels, civilians, soldiers, & way beyond, are astonishing. He seems able & inclined to spot & define with language the quirkiest traits in his subjects which also often extends to their habits & the scenarios they induce or experience. In this respect, the book is an absolute joy to read, reading almost more like a piece of creative writing as the pages practically flip themselves. Many other reviewers & critics have stressed the same admiration for this descriptive-super-power & the book has garnered two longlist positions for literary awards. For all the humour, be in no doubt, there is incredible menace & darkness. Modern dictatorships with selective democratic functions or allegiances masquerading as democracies vs mutated democracies with camouflaged despotic functions & allegiances masquerading as benign beacons. Leaning more towards one extreme/ruse than the other, they all seem to be busy borrowing from each other’s books & adjusting functions & techniques to their own personal Frankensteins. the West, having pretty much carbonated all “higher ground” over the last decade (Iraq, Afghanistan, The War On Terror, The Financial Crash, & worst of all Climate Extermination/Inaction) plus, can no longer credibly criticise international injustice & abuse of power (but of course they will still try) without utterly paradoxical double standards & herculean hypocrisy, especially when so much of the wealth looted from these regimes is laundered through their systems in an act of supremely complicit corruption (London/The City being the greatest offender). & thus Peter’s book plays out between Russia, London, New York & Paris in an insane-interplay polarization. Russia’s rampant, institutionalized & just about all pervasive corruption is a nefarious nightmare for the average citizen & indeed even the non-average or high-flyer can swiftly find themselves in a form of hell should allegiances shift or some mad power take-over be deigned profitable or necessary by another “business” body, partner or rival. It actually becomes so deranged that reading the book almost becomes like a hallucination or trip. The corruption, mendacity, paranoia, uncertainty & extreme oscillations in reality plus the constant absurdity of Kremlin propaganda (& perhaps worse the raped minds the propaganda has produced & their emboldened actions) cause a kind of calenture in Kafka free-fall. Indeed, the last 100 pages are under the moniker “Forms Of Delirium”. It’s totally mad, like some kind of blanket new-age steroid psy-ops influenza outbreak gone rogue.
Russia is a very difficult one. The Russia we have today owes a giant section of it’s origination as a direct result of Western meddling & intimidation, facilitation & abetting, most notably through the Cold War & Catastroika (the 1991 state liquidation, privatization & sell-off) & the Wests harbouring of the loot & looters that ransacked the country. This is definitely not an excuse for the mad & terrible things that go on, but it’s a reality that must never be forgotten or excluded from many arguments. Both felons try to exculpate themselves with propaganda, lies, deception & denial. In between both arguing abusers, both extremists, both ruthless, are the rest of us!
If you are interested in contemporary Russia, Peter Pomerantsevs book is indispensable. If you want to read a transfixing, fantastically written, dark, tragic & disturbing piece of cutting-edge journalism, this is the lick!
I’ll leave you with a very telling quote from one of the many characters in the book, this one a retired (well, probably) gangster – “’I often think now I should of gone into politics,’ said Vitaly. I just thought it boring, I didn’t realise they use the same methods as us.’”
Author: Peter Pomerantsev
Publisher: Faber & Faber (2015)