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Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia

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A journey into the glittering, surreal heart of 21st century Russia, where even dictatorship is a reality show

Professional killers with the souls of artists, would-be theater directors turned Kremlin puppet-masters, suicidal supermodels, Hell’s Angels who hallucinate themselves as holy warriors, and oligarch revolutionaries: welcome to the wild and bizarre heart of twenty-first-century Russia. It is a world erupting with new money and new power, changing so fast it breaks all sense of reality, home to a form of dictatorship-far subtler than twentieth-century strains-that is rapidly rising to challenge the West.

When British producer Peter Pomerantsev plunges into the booming Russian TV industry, he gains access to every nook and corrupt cranny of the country. He is brought to smoky rooms for meetings with propaganda gurus running the nerve-center of the Russian media machine, and visits Siberian mafia-towns and the salons of the international super-rich in London and the US. As the Putin regime becomes more aggressive, Pomerantsev finds himself drawn further into the system.

Dazzling yet piercingly insightful, Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible is an unforgettable voyage into a country spinning from decadence into madness.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published November 11, 2014

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About the author

Peter Pomerantsev

9 books366 followers
Peter Pomerantsev is a Senior Fellow at the Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University, and at the Institute of Global Affairs at the London School of Economics where he runs the Arena Initiative, dedicated to investigating the roots of disinformation and what to about them. He has testified on the challenges of information war to the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the UK Parliament Defense Select Committee. He is a Contributing Editor and columnist at the American Interest. His first book, Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, won the 2016 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, was nominated for the Samuel Johnson, Guardian First Book, Pushkin House and Gordon Burns Prizes.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,118 reviews
Profile Image for Maciek.
567 reviews3,415 followers
September 14, 2015
I recently saw a great Russian film, "Дурак" - Durak, meaning "The fool". The protagonist, Dima, lives together with his wife, son and parents in a single apartment in an ordinary Russian town; although he works as a plumber, he studies architecture in hope of entering university and improving his situation - much to the chagrin of his mother, who doesn't believe that learning alone can get him anywhere. One day, the chief of a local repair group is absent and Dmitri is called in his place to investigate a burst pipe in one of the buildings - where he discovers a much large problem: the entire construction is faulty, and the building has started to tilt. Dmitri calculates that the construction will collapse in less than 24 hours, killing all 800 residents. Although the building is not in his district, Dmitri takes it upon himself to ensure that all residents are evacuated, but soon discovers that the entire town's bureaucracy is corrupt to the bone - and that revealing the dire condition of the building would also expose years worth of embezzlement of public funds by various council members. Although "Дурак" tells a familiar story - a single, honest man struggling against an entire network of corrupt officials - it does so with class, style, and honesty. It's a dark film, and depressing one - but very well made, and I definitely recommend it.

Which brings me back to the book - Nothing is True and Everything is Possible is a collection of anecdotes gathered by Peter Pomerantsev during his 10 year long experience of working in Russia. Although Pomerantsev was born in Kiev during the Soviet era, he was raised in England, for which his parents left as political refugees in the 1970's. In the 2000's Pomerantsev returned to the country of his parents to work in the media industry, which at the time was booming because of high oil prices - money seemed limitless, and so did the opportunities. The dark underside of this is that media have been largely co-opted by the state, which uses them to shape the views and opinions of its citizens and consolidate their support.

Majority of Russians and Russian speakers watch Russian television for information, but only in recent times Russian television has begun to successfully conquer the global market. Russia Today aka RT is a state-owned television network which broadcasts the "Russian point of view" in three languages - English, Spanish and Arabic - and attracts millions of viewers. RT has often been accused of being a Kremlin propaganda outlet designed to spread disinformation and anti-Western sentiments, while at the same time remaining consciously uncritical and apologetic towards the Russian government. RT has offices in Moscow, London, Washington, Los Angeles, Havana and Buenos Aires, and also runs the the most watched news channel on YouTube.

Pomerantsev has many stories to tell about his experience with the Russian media - including RT - but his book is largely anecdotal, and not academical. It is not a study of the current situation of television and other media in Russia, but the author's private and therefore ultimately limited experience with it - there is no bibliography or citations, and most of the book is concerned with Pomerantsev's memories of conversations that he held with various people that he encountered during his stay in Russia.

Pomerantsev brings attention to important issues which many readers might otherwise have not known about - one of them is the destruction of Moscow's historic architecture to make space for new, modern skyscrapers. Another is the case of Yana Yakovleva - a Russian entrepreneur imprisoned on trumped-up charges, who bravely resisted police extortion and corruption, and eventually created an organization devoted to helping other entrepreneurs harassed and threatened by corrupt authorities. Yakovleva's case is just one of raids on entrepreneurs, where businessmen are jailed by the authorities and their companies are wrested from them.

However, much of the book is focused on the "surreal" aspect of its title, and focuses stories of people who are deemed by the author to match the description but somehow are still reminiscent of old Russian stereotypes - Siberian gangsters, beautiful but suicidal models, oligarchs and the new rich...all of these people exist in Russia, but this country contains millions and millions of perfectly ordinary people who are living their day to day lives exactly like you or I: they go to school and work, play with their kids, enjoy being with friends, love and die. Russia is not a freakshow containing only characters like those that the author describes - I think it would be much more interesting to hear ordinary citizens live, and how their lives are affected by the government - but this would require a much longer and more detailed book.

Although There is nothing wrong with personal observations, I expected the book to contain a more thorough research of these issues - what I got is more of a personal memoir rather than a serious academic study of contemporary Russia, its media and political system. The fault is largely mine, as I approached the book with these expectations instead of reading any reviews - but while I appreciate the insights into the country that it gave me, I can't help but feel a bit disappointed.
Profile Image for Sleepless Dreamer.
863 reviews245 followers
March 8, 2022
I visited Russia exactly one year ago. I liked this book but I'm definitely glad I didn't read it before visiting Russia. In fact, while reading this book, I found myself wondering if Pomerantsev and I visited the same Russia. 

When I think about Russia, I think about Vlad and Slava in Saint Petersburg and how they went to Burger King for literally everything (cold? Burger King! hungry? Burger King! want a place to sit down? Burger King!!). I think about the way they taught themselves English and are now studying Spanish and coding, hoping to leave Russia soon. I think about how Vlad teased Slava about being from Kazakhstan and how we went out with them every night of the week and met their gang of ridiculously attractive non-English speaking friends. It was like they literally adopted us into their lives (and yeah, I cried a little bit when we said goodbye).  

And I think about wandering around Moscow at 3am and deciding with my friend that we have to find vegan burgers right now. We joked about how that's possible in Tel Aviv but surely not in Moscow. However, within a few minutes of attempting to follow Google Maps' instructions, we came across a huge 24/7 food court and it was the one of the strangest places I've seen in Russia. There was an entire vegan fast food place, which was a pleasant surprise (people call Tel Aviv a vegan capital but like, Moscow is where it's actually at!). 

Being a little tipsy, I enthusiastically started to speak with the waitress there and long story short, we went out with her the next day. She showed us artsy neighborhoods and her favorite vegan places as well as speaking about racism in Russia and xenophobia in a way that was heartbreaking yet incredibly hopeful, sharing videos of her dancing and complaining about universities. 

My point here is that the Russia I recall was chaotic and eccentric, wildly diverse and so angry and proud. And sure, hearing Russian men talk about violence is jolting and so many Russians seem deeply unhappy but as a whole, life in Russia is not too far from other European countries I've seen. I'm creating a separation between the lives of the people and the way the government works but ultimately, I don't think Serbians or Bulgarians are that much better off or drastically different than Russians (shout out to that guy in Belgrade who casually went, "You could stay here for months without anyone checking your visa because no one really wants to stay here"). 

Somehow this book didn't line up with my experiences of Russia. Imagine watching American reality tv and assuming that that's America. That's pretty much what this book is like. Now, it has a lot of entertainment value. It's well-written and you get this vibe like you're actually peeking into people's lives. The ridiculousness of the stories here really adds to their appeal, especially since we have a tendency to believe the worst in Russia. It's hard not to feel enraged while reading about Yana Yakovleva or the stories of abuse in the army or to feel heartbroken at what happened to Ruslana Korshunova.

However, it simply wasn't the Russia I met last April. I roamed around random Siberian villages and big Buryatia towns and I did not see any gangsters. Didn't see any sugar daddies in Moscow either. Didn't see oligarchs, didn't see any prostitutes or models, didn't bribe anyone and the list goes on. I'm not saying that these things don't exist in Russia but they feel like a very small minority. Heck, most American cities feel far more dangerous than Russia. 

Russia has plenty of problems (as I'm sure Russians will be the first to point out) but it's unfair to paint Russia solely with this brush. After a decade of working in Russia, I imagine he does have better stories yet they aren't shown here at all. Not a single person described here feels, well, average. Russians that I met were ironic (Max jokingly calling us comrades definitely comes to mind), they were kind (shoutout to literally every Russian that saw I was lost and was incredibly helpful, even without speaking English) and they were trying their best to deal with the problems of Russia. I guess he thinks that's not what people would be interested in reading but I have to say, Russia caught me off guard precisely because of the amount of misinformation that exists out there (why didn't anyone tell me Novosibirsk has a fantastic coffee scene?). 

One of the things that I absolutely learned from Russia is that by only being able to speak English, you drastically limit the people you're able to speak to. This means that you only really get to speak to people who have either been educated or want to know English. So I do realize that I'm very biased but I felt like a lot of people seemed to have a weird adoration for the United States (which was weird for me because like 40% of my personality is complaining about the states). This book made it seem like Russians have this contempt for the Western world and I don't know how accurate that is. I understood that there's a split between people who are very nationalistic and don't want to learn English and those who aren't very nationalistic and learn English but this book came across like all Russians are just waiting for the West to fall. 

Of course, this book isn't particularly academic. If you're looking for a book about life in Russia, this isn't it. It's anecdotal and when it comes down to it, it's interested to read about the adventures of a British guy in Russian tv. It's just important to make sure you know that's what you're getting. 

I'd like to wrap up this review with a disclaimer. I adore Russia but ultimately, I was there for a month and a bit. That's pretty much nothing (Novosibirsk and Vladivostok, I will definitely be back!). I look forward to hearing Russian voices express their opinions on this book as I'm sure they will have much to say and it will be far more based than this book and my review. As a whole, this book is a quick read and it's engaging and entertaining but it's important to take this with a grain of salt and hey, visit Russia for yourself! 

What I'm Taking With Me

- There was recently a big diplomatic thing between Israel and Russia where an Israeli brought a bag of weed with her during a connection in Moscow and Russia had intended to imprison her for 7 years. Ultimately, it got worked out but yeah, I do see that Russia isn't quite playing the game with the rules of everyone else.
- However, I need to travel to Northern Russia one day and it's always been a dream of mine to see the Bering Strait. My friend and I have been joking about doing a reunion trip in Russia in like 9 years and this time around, I swear, I will not miss Yekaterinburg. 
- Russia apparently has several cults. I would love to learn more about the guy who claims to be Jesus. 
- I spent way too much of this morning reading about Lifespring and really, I can't believe that was a thing.
- The end of this book where he starts to claim Russians are taking over London was a little weird but somehow made me think about how some political scientists claim cities are going to become more powerful than countries. People often bring up London as an example of a global city that has more power than several countries. 
Profile Image for Maru Kun.
216 reviews495 followers
October 25, 2022
I felt pleased with myself having spotted that the title of this book is an allusion to Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism but a better reaction is embarrassment at not having noticed earlier:
In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and nothing was true. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.

Perfect for our times, but when Hannah Arrendt wrote these powerful words could she have imagined they might be applied to QAnon – the increasingly popular conspiracy theory helpfully summarized in this Rolling Stone article:
Among the standard “Women For Trump,” “Blacks For Trump” and “Promises Made, Promises Kept” signs, the video shows a few others. They featured the letter “Q,” a reference to QAnon, a conspiracy theory gaining traction among some of Trump’s most ardent supporters. In a nutshell, followers of QAnon fashion themselves as detectives, or “bakers,” who try to make sense out of vague bits of information, or “bread crumbs,” left for them on the Internet by “Q,” a mysterious figure purporting to be a government official with high-level clearance. The clues left by “Q” have led his disciples to believe that Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation is a cover, and Mueller is actually working in tandem with Trump to take down a murderous cabal of liberal elites that includes everyone from Tom Hanks to Barack Obama. QAnon believes these elites have been running an elaborate child sex ring for years, and that there is a “storm” coming in which Trump will throw all of these pedophiles in jail once and for all. As NBC News reporter Ben Collins described it on Tuesday, QAnon is like “Pizzagate on bath salts.”

This, ladies and gentleman, is the latest episode of utter lunacy brought to you by the GOP and their base. You really can’t make this up. When it comes to totalitarian propaganda, I doubt that there is much that would have surprised Hannah Arendt - but this might just do it.

Charming family of QAnon supporters looking forward to taking murderous revenge on a secret cabal of liberal pedophiles

As they so often do about a whole range of different issues, the Trump administration came out with multiple contradictory positions on child separations.

From the Department of Homeland Security we have "there is no child separation policy and it's disrespectful to officials to say that there is”. From Press secretary Sanders we have the Evangelical Christian position that “child separation is lawful and per Romans 13 we should obey the law” (I seem to remember something about rendering unto Ceaser what is Ceaser’s from nursery school days, but that must only be my imagination). From the Orange One himself we have “there is a child separation policy, but it’s the Democrat’s fault”.

Why these inconsistent positions?

I owe an anonymous Redittor for the insightful answer: Trump and his enablers simply don’t care about the truth (taken for granted), so their tactic is to come out with multiple different messages each tailored for a different set of supporters – - "we didn't do it" for traditional Republicans, "we did it, but God says it's OK" for Evangelicals and "Hilary made me do it" for the rest of the Base.

These different groups just don’t care about the inconsistency and the lies such inconsistency reveals. They want to believe what their group wants to believe, even if other groups believe something completely different. Combine this with the approach to propaganda explained by Hannah Arrendt above and we have American political discourse today: bullshit and lies; fantasy and fear.

As this book will explain, the Russian people have been living with the same type of monstrous BS for decades. Read about the “fire-hose of lies” that Putin spreads, how his administration controls the media and even establishes his own opposition parties simply to sow confusion in the mind of the electorate.

Unless the US gets a grip by the end of 2018 I would give it a more than even chance that this book will be the future of American politics for decades. If the Democrat’s don’t make a decent showing in November 2018 (or if Russian election hacking is successful), go out and buy a copy. You’ll need it.
"Just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening.” - Donald Trump, 2018.

"The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command." - George Orwell, "1984".
Profile Image for Paul.
2,143 reviews
October 22, 2015
Russia is an enigma. For the last over a century it has been under some form of autocratic control, first with the Tsars, then the communists and after a brief dabble with democracy, now has an elective dictatorship under Putin. Each time a new Russian doll is revealed, it is a more intense form of what they have always had. It is into this new Russia that Pomerantsev, a British TV producer with Russia parents, steps.

The Russian TV industry is booming, having removed the shackles of communist propaganda, they now have more freedom to experiment with new shows to entertain and captivate the masses. But there is still control; the Russian media machine has tentacles running deep into the TV industry, as he discovers when he attends meeting in smoky rooms where he is told exactly what he can and cannot show and always to have positive stories.

As he travels through this new surreal Russia he meets all manner of bizarre people. There are the oligarchs, as you would expect, professional mistresses, stunning supermodels driven to suicide by the latest self help cults, hell angels who think they are holy warriors and hoodlums who now make hit TV series with real guns and blood in the action scenes. These changes reflect the country now; the ebb and flow of ideologies are refracted from the splinters left after communism, perestroika, the financial shock therapy, the rise of the oligarchs to the present virtual democracy that they have now. There are tales of the way that the Kremlin asserts its control of the public too; Yana Yakovleva was a business woman who had been importing cleaning chemicals for years, until one day her life is turned upside down after her arrest as the authorities deem these to be narcotics now. She fought back , but many languishing in the prisons have very little chance against the false charges and corrupt officials.

Like a shot of neat vodka, it’s a powerful book, and chilling too; Pomerantsev has brushed aside some of the mysticism surrounding modern Russia and has shown us what is going on. The way reality can be blurred and distorted by the autocrats in charge is quite shocking as well. This fragmentation is not just Putin’s doing, but a result of the instability of the Russian state post communism. There reach is huge too; with London now home to a number of the Russian ultra rich, they are not afraid to dispense their own form of justice in the UK, including murder.

Well worth reading for anyone with an interest in modern Russia.
Profile Image for Richard.
1,147 reviews1,044 followers
July 13, 2022
In case you aren’t aware, Ezra Klein (the founder of Vox Media) has a great podcast. He tends to interview people who have deeply thought about something in the world of politics and society, but he isn’t going to let them go without a pretty thorough grilling. Anyway, last October (2019) he had the author of Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia on. If you don’t want to read the book, at least listen to the podcast (87 minutes).

A big reason I follow Klein is that he’s spending a lot of time poking at what I think is the defining problem of the era: the tribal hyper-partisan schism that seems to be infecting every country, and is tearing away at U.S. civil society. (Klein just added his own book on the topic, Why We're Polarized .)

Part of that tribalism is that no two groups agree on what is “true” anymore. This book documents how that emerged in “the New Russia” and how that’s turning out. The book is over five years old, and so it’s missing a lot, of course.

But I realized two things.

First, this isn’t actually all that surreal for Russia. Objective truth has often been missing in action in the country’s direction for at least a century. I mean, have you ever heard of Rasputin? How about Lysenkoism? Putin is presiding over a decline in mortality as well as a relative decline in GDP, offset only by oil and gas revenue. Does anyone thinking rationally believe that is a good plan? He’s doing a Soviet redux strategy, but with less compassion for the poor.

Second, the book seems scary, but it’s really just sad. The author says “my Moscow peers are filled with a sense that they are both cynical and enlightened” and that the “lost-in-new-wealth world of Moscow rises and blends with the sudden global money from all the emerging, expanding new economies” — except this money isn’t wealth arising organically from healthy, vibrant economic activity. It’s money that has been extracted by the kleptocrat supporters of authoritarian governments. The only creativity is in pretty and fanciful ways to spend absurd amounts of cash.

That means much less money is being left back in Russia (or those other “emerging, expanding new economies”) and that the poor of those societies are the ones being screwed. Remember how the Roaring Twenties ended?

As an American, I think that distinction is important. The U.S. is also getting a lot more of that “nothing is true” stuff, not so much the “everything is possible”. The foundations of the “post-truth” aspects of Russia and the U.S. are quite different. One is an authoritarian regime already using Nineteen Eighty-Four tactics to suppress public scrutiny, the other is a side effect of a grassroots struggle for the soul of a country.

That doesn’t make me sanguine. The lack of a desire for a consensual reality shown here will have corrosive effects in America, some of which will end up similar to what Pomerantsev details.

So it is also documentary, anthropological evidence of what that looks like. In that way, I see connections to the other non-fiction book I’m reading now, Talking to the Enemy: Religion, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists . Here, elite Muscovites are willfully blending their identities to survive Putin’s regime without suffering terminal cognitive dissonance. In the latter, disenfranchised and disaffected Muslims are self-radicalizing by finding “truths” that are more exciting than what quotidian world offers. The America of the future will, I think, borrow from both.
Profile Image for Caro the Helmet Lady.
773 reviews349 followers
January 15, 2016
This book didn't shock me as much as it probably was supposed to, I guess it makes a stronger impact on a western reader, who hears less about Russia every damn day of his life than I do, or one who lives under the rock or in some fairyland and isn't aware of today's world in general. Because of course western world has its own problems (for example Donald Trump, gun un-control, and other fun things you have, America). It's just that in Russia, modern or not, everything comes to gargantuan extremes. Sometimes it's funny, other times it's scary. And it can be scary as hell.

I wasn't happy about the style the book was written, it was a tad too chaotic for my tastes and sometimes repetitive, and some stereotypical "profiling" of characters in it didn't help either. But I really liked the last part and the last chapter, it was well done and insightful in many ways.
Profile Image for Paul.
888 reviews71 followers
February 8, 2015
Nothing is True and Everything is Possible - Well Informed Account of Modern Russia

Peter Pomerantsev is one of the most assiduous observers of modern Russia that there is at the moment, who always gets to the heart of the matter with his observations and comment. Nothing is True and Everything is Possible is yet another wonderful example of his work and one of the most important commentaries on modern Russia and Moscow of the moment. If this were a work of fiction you would think it was a dystopian fantasy, unfortunately for the world it is true.

As someone who has a cynical view of Russia, probably because over the centuries Russia has had a large bearing on my Polish family from taking land to murder at Katyn and exile in Siberia. This book will upset a lot of apologists for Putin’s Russia but Pomerantsev takes a look at the Russia that has emerged from the failure of the Soviet Union to the oil rich new oligarchs where the richest seem to have gathered most of the riches where there are many beautiful people who live very dangerous lives. What we do see is that everything changes quickly where there is a vacuum due to a political and ethical bankruptcy.

If this were a novel you would not believe the list of characters that appear throughout this book we see performance artists, gangsters, models, prostitutes, gold – diggers and oligarchs. Being chased around by European development consultants, who seem to be chasing a fast buck.

Pomerantsev describes Moscow as a ‘city living in fast forward’ with new modernistic buildings changing the sky line of the city but also of the destruction that takes so these new buildings can take their place. One feels the changes in Moscow happening so fast that there is a constant flux around the city for change.

I was surprised to see so few mentions of Putin in the book but you can feel that he is behind everything that happens, just like big brother. That the regime that Putin leads from the Kremlin can come across as schizophrenic, with the able assistance of the TV Channels who make Putin the saviour of modern Russia the great statesman and hero. This makes it hard for the opponents of Putin to take up against him as you do not clearly see what you are up against, especially so when the organs of government can suddenly change direction and take against you.

This is a fascinating account of modern Russia, even without Putin being mentioned to often you feel his hand in many things, protecting his new empire like Caesar. The messages in this book resonate especially when considering events in eastern Ukraine and the influence of modern Russia there. We are able to see the sleight of hand through the illusions of glamour, but where money is king and there is a very dangerous core bubbling under the surface.

Nothing is True and Everything is Possible is a wonderful but terrifying account of modern Russian that if you want to know more about the country then one needs to read this book. One of the best books on post-Soviet Russia and the influences it has over certain areas of Europe through money, glamour and corruption.

Profile Image for Antonomasia.
978 reviews1,222 followers
October 12, 2015
'Adventures' is the right word. This is exhilarating narrative non-fiction based on the author's experiences of over ten years living and working in Russia; if it's a referenced academic study you want, this may not be the right place to start. I wouldn't be surprised if, to the avid Russia-watcher, there's little new here, and that it might trade in cliches; one phrase, that unique Moscow mix of tackiness and menace sums it up pretty well. But, surprised how little of this I'd heard in detail before - bar the inevitable news stories about Putin and Ukraine and Sochi, a BBC programme, Rich, Russian & Living in London, and the documentary Vlast (the rise and fall of Khodorovsky, available on some flavours of Netflix) - I found this a frightening and enthralling trip; Alice hurtling down a glittering rabbit-hole. The fascination with Russia, maybe more so to those who have roots in nearby countries that feel the Great Bear breathing down their necks, sometimes strikes me as similar to being hypnotised by the mingled beauty and danger of a large predator. Russia is not a topic I'm consistently into, as the ignorance indicates, but sometimes I'm focused enough to notice the unusual and compelling nature of it as an interest. (It's one of those countries, isn't it? There are Francophiles, Anglophiles, Russophiles: few nations have the long history of cultural reach that means there's a ready made word for interest in them.)

This is a short book and a fast, exciting read; the author worked predominantly in TV, including reality shows; whilst the subjects are screen-friendly, potential for sensationalism is offset to an extent by good writing and a reasonable amount of depth and understanding of complexity. I had two books around from the Samuel Johnson Prize longlist for 2015; wanted to finish one of them before the shortlist announcement tomorrow - and much as I love Bruce Robinson's writing, this stood a better chance than an 800-pager. Whilst reading Pomerantsev, I thought 'wow' and 'phew' every now and again, thinking there's no way they can't shortlist this; but several hours after finishing it, I thought it perhaps could have explored more aspects of the country (there's very little on the lives of poorer Russians, apart from young girls hoping to bag a 'Forbes'), or looked for anti-stereotypical subjects. So far it's sticking in my mind in the same way a light TV documentary would.

As the book fleshed out what I already knew, its contents is already starting to feel familiar; well of course, naturally that thing was there. Yet whilst reading it felt so topsy-turvy.
Desperate school leavers compete to become a millionaire's or expat's mistress, in a world like the football WAG nightclubs, turned up to twenty and with greater threat of violence. (One girl, from Dagestan lived with the ultimate contrast that her sister was a hijab-wearing jihadi wannabe - Wahabi fundamentalists are actively recruiting in Central Asia.) But what are these girls' other options? What do their "sensible" classmates do?
And what about strong, stern women in their forties and fifties, the real foundations of the Russian state? They flit past once or twice, but we never meet any. Have they been replaced in reality as well as national image by these coltish, highlighted, whatever-he-wants dollybirds? (Surprisingly, a new sitcom is described as the first show in Russia in which women are stronger than men. Yet the formidable matriarch has long seemed part of the country's image in the West, and I've noticed it in not a few Russian films.)

The Kremlin's network of influence has co-opted most ideologies and aesthetics, with pet oppositionists (an idea taken literally in one of the communist-era satirical stories in The Elephant) of all stripes who are never too successful - made to look a bit silly and out of touch, in a world where one can apparently *say* almost anything, but it won't *change* anything unless it dovetails with a bigwig's intentions. However, if you start digging up the trails of corrupt money, you're in very big trouble, very quickly. Having undoubtedly read their Debord, Huxley & Orwell, they've got the society of the spectacle, the co-opting of the language of democracy for undemocratic ends, and the mass entertainments down pat. The TV station where Pomerantsev worked (he's the son of Soviet parents who emigrated to Britain in the 70s) runs on hyperactive bright colours and positive stories meant to appeal to ordinary young Russians. I was probably more ignorant of Russia Today than many of my friends, but now it makes sense - the way some of the content is considered interesting, and at other times it's denigrated as crude propaganda: they deliberately intersperse the pro-Putin stuff with Westerners who appeal to politics outside the mainstream (including Julian Assange, Nigel Farrage and George Galloway), in order to widen their audience with foreigners dissatisfied with their home status quo, and give an illusion of a general freedom of speech that doesn't apply to any of their Russian journalists who think of running anti-Putin stories.

There are oligarchs and gold-diggers here, and of course also gangsters. The gangster hegemony has been over for a while - most of the guys are dead, in prison or in more respectable professions. Some of them got rich, but one very entertaining example of Pomerantsev's acquanitance, Vitaly Djomotchka, taught himself filmmaking via watching classic films whilst living out in the Siberian sticks near Vladivostok, made a TV series about gangsters with a cast of his mates, threatened a station into showing it, and when it turned out to be surprisingly good, became a director and popular novelist (I was reminded somewhat of Jimmy Boyle as described in Sebastian Horsley's Dandy in the Underworld, though Djomotchka sounds more commercially talented and not quite so chaotic) ... But the Kremlin decided it didn't want so many gangster stories on film any more: now he's down on his luck, living in a jeep, albeit still with some underworld pull. (This was not the first occasion when I wondered if the author was burning his bridges by writing about people, and how much his book cost him in contacts and friendships.) Gangsters themselves may no longer be in fashion, but as Pomerantsev puts it, their behaviour has become the norm among powerful people in New Russia: dictatorial pressure, threats, violence, whims turning on a sixpence and woe betide those who don't keep up like good little chameleons. I like it when writers manage to describe psychological states without resorting to terminology; good jargon free description can also convey experience and atmosphere more - but, breaking my own rule about casual use of these terms, it's as if the system runs on psychopathy and narcissism. (It's widely agreed that there is a certain amount of those in politicians and business leaders everywhere, but in dictatorships like Russia it's blatant and uncontrolled with little attempt to window-dress or play nice.) Ordinary, potentially decent Russians are cynical, resigned to the idea that things are bad everywhere else anyway; the masks they repeatedly switch between for different areas of life seem more pervasive and oppressive than those many Westerners also need. It's sad given the great artistic history of the country, and all those people stuck there, the promise of the perestroika years not having paid off. Pomerantsev makes it sound as if the country has rarely been different. (Another continuity is popular interest in mysticism, cults and alleged healers - and there seems to be no equivalent of Dawkins keen to debunk.) A TV poll to find the country's greatest leader in history was being won by Stalin, so the station rigged it. (Other candidates like Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great were also autocrats of one stripe or another. Incidentally, when I was a kid I read the story of Peter the Great cutting beards and saw it as mischievous: now that response rather horrifies me - regardless of my being less of a fan of beards than most people in 2015 - and it sounds like a violation of physical integrity, the ruler even controlling the subject's body, and a particular shock to people who would not have expected it.) The winner of the rigged poll was Aleksander Nevsky, ostensibly a gallant medieval knight from too long ago to be controversial: but he was involved in tax farming and quelling and killing other rebellious Russian princelings for his Mongol suzerain. I've seen it said elsewhere that it's wrong to suggest that Russians don't quite know how to be ruled by anyone other than a dictator, will always revert to type (like a person whose patterns of abusive relationships are ingrained by repetition throughout life), and that it's impossible for the place to change. (One individual can do therapy - but millions?) Pomerantsev is no fatalist, though he shows a country with such deep and widespread habitual corruption that it implicitly seems impossible to change given the vast size of the place. But practical possibilities for reform are not what this polaroid book even pretends to deal with.

Social issues that take up a lot of time in our media only get a brief mention here, though Pomerantsev does echo what's heard in greater detail elsewhere. Those officially permitted to speak out about LGBT rights (without changing anything) include a pet-oppositionist TV channel called SNOB, acronym almost certainly intentional, deliberately characterised as young urban hipsters who are out of touch with the concerns of ordinary Russians. Racism comes up via the story of one of my favourite characters in the book, who also has a mixed-race marriage and children. They are a tiny minority and there are no other black kids at their school, despite living in the capital, and bullying sounds frequent. I thought of The Underground by Hamid Ismailov, in which a mixed race Russian boy in the 80s and 90s is even more isolated and mocked, without the advantage of educated parents or stable home. The father discusses emigrating so his kids can have a better life with less discrimination, although when the book was written he was still in Russia. Racism against the much larger Central Asian population is also frequent and faces few repercussions: the growing Russian nationalist right, increasingly favoured by the Kremlin, has [oxy]moronic opinions whereby they want 'Greater Russia' to regain her historic lands, yet they regard Central Asians as dirty 'churoks, who should go home - the usual crap one hears from neo-fascists - and that implicitly casts them as foreigners. Grassroots anger at this attitude fuels the growth of Muslim fundamentalism; and according to one college lecturer, young people in the region, religious or no, don't feel Russian in the way that his generation felt Soviet.

There weren't a whole lot of people to like among the cast of Nothing is True but three heroes stood out.
In vain, probably, I'd wanted to be shown someone nice I could kind of understand, someone more thoughtful than brash, imaginable perhaps as a friend of a friend. Finally: Alexander Mozhayev, the guy with the mixed-race family, a historian, psychogeographer and campaigner to save Moscow's old buildings from rapacious developers - and their paid arsonists - who use construction for money laundering and who don't even give a fuck about the tourist interest of the old structures, beyond replacing them with the occasional new-build replica. Few of the buildings are saved, because there are no useful legal remedies and those in power don't care about 'officially protected monuments', but Mozhayev at least writes about them beautifully. This book has no pictures, sadly.
‘Mozhayev is the city’s memory,’ a girl with orange pigtails tells me when I ask her why she has come [to a campaign]. ‘Before I had no idea about the city I grew up in.’
The following is the sort of life and person I and, doubtless others, would love to hear about in a book on Russians, but he has been swept off screen by the oligarchs, only present in this quote from one of Mozhayev's essays:
there was one first-floor flat, whose windows looked directly out onto the bench, which was pure Old Moscow, with a yellow low-hanging lampshade, and books stacked up to the ceiling where they seemed to be keeling over, and a big man with a big beard moving about with tea inside, and a cat that would fling itself repeatedly at the wood-framed windows.
...says Mozhayev as we walk. ‘To anyone familiar with Prague or London or Rome or Edinburgh, these old Moscow courtyards are probably of little interest. But he is too modest; the best enticement in the book to visit Russia is this, in Pomerantsev's words: the web of little lanes, courtyards, and alleyways that spreads in a horizontal swirl between the great trunks of the gargantuan Stalin-era avenues...The light is different here, darker and softer, the fresh snow reflecting back the remains of the day to underlight the crumbling lions and angels stuccoed onto buildings. Everything here is scuffed, textured, tawny, ragged, and lived in. Even the language here is different, full of sing-song and caressing, affectionate diminutives: ‘Come here my dovelet’; ‘My little bluebell.’ An almost rural mood of childhood, soft snow, and sleds. Here is the Moscow that existed before the Soviet experiment. Back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries St Petersburg was the capital, the city of power, regime, order. Moscow was a backwater, the holiday city where you could sleep in late and spend the day in your pyjamas. Yet There isn’t a building that we walk past that wasn’t the scene of execution squads, betrayals, mass murders. The most gentle courtyards reveal the most awful secrets. And when such oppression has never been consigned to the past for more than a handful of years, you can't make spooky allure, ghost tours and the likes of the London Dungeon out of it: it's simply tragedy.

Pretty much the only Strong Female Character (TM) here is Yana Yakovleva, an entrepreneur who was imprisoned after a Kafkaesque regulatory change, resulting from a feud between two apparatchiks, made the standard cleaning products her firm imported illegal. She was lucky in being able to get out of this bureaucratic nightmare because her lawyer knew how to organise a campaign against the bigwigs, and Putin had decided to get rid of the officials because they were slipping up publicly and also presented a future challenge to him. Many others fall foul of powerful people who aren't out of favour and get consigned to jail for years, despite having done nothing wrong. It's a great story well told, and we're allowed to see different sides of Yakovleva, when she can't cope and when she can: Black is white and white is black. There is no reality. Whatever they say is reality. Yana began to scream. The more Yana screamed, the more guilty she looked: she saw herself for a second, a redhead with red eyes screaming in a cage in a courtroom. It's not just the heroics of ending up as a de-facto fitness instructor to her dozens of cellmates (doing things for others is a very fulfilling displacement activity), it's the white-knuckled clinging on: If she even started to negotiate, it would be like giving away a part of her sanity, letting them own and dictate what the truth was. And then everything would start to slip., and the tactical use of daydreams about a relationship that carried little hope if she'd probed the reality - yet without losing touch with what was real.

Near the end of the book, lawyer Jamison Firestone is introduced, via the story of his executed former colleague, Sergey Magnitsky, an anti-corruption hotshot who had got too far for the authorities' liking in uncovering signings-over of wrongly confiscated businesses and the state employees who profited. He says one of the problems I have living in London is that if I actually tell the truth about my story people just assume I’m lying. They never call me back. I’ve learned to just talk pleasantries...It’s just too weird - unless it's a context where he can show them corroborating news articles. Someone should make a movie about this guy. His father was a dodgy entrepreneur who tried to muscle in on his first Russian venture, hiring gangsters to threaten to break his colleagues' legs; he instead resigned, and the dad thankfully left Russia after the gangsters got out of control and stole company cars. He got away for a long time with not keeping his mouth shut, in a country where few can: The minister expected a polite answer, but Firestone told him publicly that while ministers and oligarchs were above the law, the country was fucked. He sacked clients' protection racketeers: ‘“You’re quite right. We didn’t understand. And I’m sure it’s our fault – but now that we understand the services you offer we don’t need them any more.” This balls-of-steel enterprise ended when Magnitsky was arrested and the rest of the firm fled down fire escapes at night, on to trains to Ukraine and planes west. No matter how good you are as a lawyer, you can't face down Putin when his machine has turned on you.

Whenever I read or watch something about Russia, I feel the weight of the hypothetical question: would I go there if I actually could? None of the other countries I have a yen to visit have undemocratic regimes. If I did go, I'd want to be very fit and know the language well (cue sitcom-style training montage with 'Eye of the Tiger', gym gear and headphones, including sudden yelp and hopping on one leg, clutching a knee in pain). Then there are the paranoid concerns like if it's better to leave laptops at home; even if only a Kinsey 2, make sure clothes are feminine, not potentially dykey, but easy to move in; and am I acquainted with too many journalists to be a random pleb. Which paranoia probably makes one more suspicious. But imagining being that person who feels just about tough enough (and that all the preparation and worry would probably mean an ordered, spectacularly uneventful touristy holiday) I find myself thinking that perhaps I wouldn't want to give my money, unflashy hostel fees and whatnot, to that country after all. But never quite sure, because it could be so interesting.
Profile Image for Kuszma.
2,277 reviews171 followers
May 8, 2020
Olvashatjuk önéletrajzi alapokon álló regényként is, amelyben London szülötte visszatér a városba, ahonnan szülei elmenekültek, és megpróbálják megemészteni egymást. Győz a város, London gyermeke feladja, és hazatér. Pomerantsev abban az időszakban érkezett Moszkvába, amikor a "nyugati" szó varázslatos hatással bírt, azt mondtad, "Londonból jöttem", és máris dúskáltál az állásajánlatok között. A szerző történetesen a televíziónál helyezkedik el, ami ebben a pezsgő, új honban mindennek az alfája és omegája, mert egyedül képes összekötni a felhőkarcolók és fekete Bentley-k Oroszországát azzal a Russzal, ahol a mámik még mindig a kerekeskútról hozzák a vizet a leveshez. Ide is, oda is el tudja vinni az Elnök üzeneteit, így hát a technokraták, akik ezeket a direktívákat megszerkesztik és habos-babos, fogyasztható formába öltik (pláne a tapasztalt nyugatiak), megérik a saját súlyukat aranyban. Szóval minden szép és jó, ömlik a pénz, csak hát valami bűzlik Dániában. Illetve pont Dániában nem annyira.

Pomerantsev könyve a nagyszerű publicista lendületével megírott bennfentes szöveg arról, ahogy a valóság felbomlik a kormányzati médiumok csapásai alatt. Nem pusztán arról van itt szó, hogy az orosz állami tévé hazudik, a helyzet ennél összetettebb: az orosz politika tervezőzsenijei megelégszenek azzal, ha elhiszed, MINDENKI hazudik, hisz egy világban, ahol mindenki hazudik, a mi hazugságunk akár egyenértékű is lehet a többiek hazugságával. Ez pedig eltakarja az összebékíthetetlen kontrasztot aközött, hogy egyeseknek bitang sok pénzük van, mások meg ázsiai mélyszegénységben élnek. Mert egyfelől van az alkoholizmus, a szekták, a terrorizmus, a halálra szekált kiskatonák, a felmérhetetlen, mindent átható korrupció, valamint a magántulajdon törékenységének Oroszországa. Másfelől pedig van a hanyatló Római Birodalom dekadenciáját felidéző bulik Oroszországa, ahol a fiatal csajok (az "aranyásók") azért jönnek fel a fővárosba, hogy pénzes palit fogjanak, és ahol az Elnök barátai brit focicsapatokat vásárolnak, amibe úgy gyűjtik a sztárfocistákat, mint én anno a Lutra albumba az állatos matricákat. Mi hidalhat át ilyen szakadékokat? Hát az Elnök személye, aki "hatékony" és "stabilitást" ad, ezt kell a médiának minél hatékonyabban mantrázni, hátha az elfedi azt az apróságot, hogy igazából se hatékonyságról, se stabilitásról nem beszélhetünk.

És a média ezt megoldja. Az orosz agytrösztök tanultak a hidegháború hibáiból: akkor a nyugat egy csomagban adta el a szabadpiaci kapitalizmust és a parlamentáris demokráciát a menő zenékkel és menő filmekkel, a farmerral, a laza életérzéssel. A putyini rezsim képes volt leválasztani a kettőt egymásról, létrehozva egy cool diktatúrát, ahol az Elnök homofób motorosokkal mutatkozik, félmeztelenül medvéket simogat, erős, bátor, igazi apafigura, amíg őt látjuk, nincsen semmi baj. Az egyetlen biztos pont egy bizonytalan világban, ahol a nyugati imperializmusnak más dolga sincs, mint az oroszok ellen fenekedni. És hogy ez a folyamatos készenlét ne fárassza le túlzottan a lakosságot, a tévék gondoskodnak a buborékokról, ahol minden rendben van, nyugati licenc alapján készült valóságshow-kkal terelik a figyelmet, Amerikából koppintott vígjátékokat sugároznak, sőt, ami a csavarok csavarja: még ellenzéki pártokat is biztosítanak neked - ha arra van igényed -, csak éppen ügyelnek arra, hogy ezek a pártok elég nevetségesek legyenek, és senki ne tudja őket valódi alternatívának tekinteni. Szóval megvagyunk valahogy - a fal bársonyfüggönnyel van takarva, a létezését is el lehet felejteni, egészen addig, amíg bele nem rohanunk fejjel. De hát ne rohangáljon az ember. Ne ágáljon, ne akarja, hogy igazi problémákkal foglalkozzunk, ne vesse fel, hogy fejétől bűzlik a hal, mert akkor megjárja. De hát ez is megy, hisz a kommunizmus utolsó évtizedeiben megszerezték az oroszok a rutint a színleléshez: senki sem hitte komolyan, hogy a rendszer működik, mind látták a repedéseket, de úgy tettek, mintha nem lenne semmi gond. Most is csak így járnak el, őszintén biztosítják az Elnököt a szeretetükről, kinyilvánítják hitüket Szent Oroszország Anyácska tökéletességében, aztán a gyereküket meg - ha tehetik - brit iskolákba járatják, és Milánóban egy igazi jó kávé mellett baráti körben kitárgyalják, micsoda szar ez az egész. Közben meg a repedések ott vannak - hogy meddig lehet eltakarni őket, jó kérdés. Hogy összeomlik-e a Patyomkin-falu, vagy előbb még megfertőzi és a maga képére formálja az európai demokráciákat, arra egyelőre nincs válasz.

Nyilván nem illik szakirodalomként olvasni. Inkább újságírói munka, hisz az abnormálisra koncentrál az általános helyett. Ugyanakkor ha valahol, hát Oroszországban az abnormális már olyan közel került az általánoshoz, hogy a kettő határai szinte elmosódnak - szóval kellő óvatossággal akár következtetéseket is levonhatunk. Nem túl biztatóakat, ami azt illeti. Jó lenne hinni abban, hogy Pomerantsev nem a jövőt mutatja meg, hanem csak valami extrémet, valami érdekeset, amin elszörnyülködünk ugyan, de minket nem érint. De hát érint.
Profile Image for AC.
1,722 reviews
November 29, 2016
This is fabulous. A disturbing look at how contemporary Russia is trapped in the matrix of simulation and authoritarianism, and what it portends for globalization. The book is written as a collection of anecdotes, the athor's experience, rather than analytically, and so is a compelling read. Yet there is real depth to Pomerantsev's insight. Thoroughly enjoyed this.
Profile Image for J..
458 reviews191 followers
April 3, 2015
For the reader that chooses his writing on the elegance of its phrasing, the precision of its language, maybe this isn't a great book. Even for the reader who just wants a lively narrative venture-- maybe this isn't the book. (In fact, I read an Advance copy, unadorned by notes or index though complete with typos and awkward grammar at points).

But for the reader whose idea of Writing consists of witnessing the author engaged in a death struggle with his themes, perhaps even not knowing what a given theme might be called-- watching the elements of a million unrelated threads weave themselves into a worldview, and a record of a time and place-- Pomerantsev's Nothing Is True is a miraculous, if unwieldy, construction. And something not to be missed.

No plot, of course, a parade of characters that are perhaps not even real people, but what stunning atmospherics, the vibe of a vast dystopian novel put into terms that are disconcertingly for real.

It is Pomerantsev's thesis, one of many, that Russians were privy to a kind of inside track to Millennial Insanity, long before the turn of the century, or anything historical-iconic like the Internet or the world polarization of the 9-11 disaster. His book reads a little like the wry multi-voices of T.S. Elliot, another chronicler of ruined empire and consequent diaspora.

And as Russia can now be anywhere, as much in Paris or New York with the waves of outbound travelers, Pomerantsev finds London to be the exile of choice, the most compelling illustration of the New Moscow, and what has become of his country, his culture :

Past the bouncers outside and the girls smoking long, skinny cigarettes, past the tinted glass doors ... There are three floors. One floor is 'Asian', all black walls and plates. Another floor is 'Italian', with domino tiled floors and a faux thatched cottage in the corner. Downstairs is the bar-cum-club, in the style of a library in an English country house with wooden bookshelves and rows of hard-cover books... a series of quotes, of references wrapped in a tinted window void, shorn of their original memories and meanings (but so much colder and more distant that the accessible, colorful pastiche of somewhere like Las Vegas). This had always been the style and mood in the 'elite' 'VIP' places in Moscow, all along the Rublevka and in the Garden Ring, where the just-made rich exist in a great void where they can buy anything but nothing means anything because all of the old orders of meaning are gone. Here objects become unconnected to any binding force. Old Masters and English Boarding Schools and Faberge eggs all floating, suspended in a culture of zero gravity.

But now it's not just Moscow any more where this style resonates. Over in Bernie Arnaut's Bulgari Hotel, on the corner of Hyde Park, the most expensive hotel in London (rooms start at ₤850 a night, the penthouse is ₤14,000), the floors are black granite and the walls are black glass, with older men and younger women in the blackness hard, scowling and sparkling. The lost-in-new-wealth world of Moscow rises and blends with the sudden global money from all the emerging, expanding new economies. And the Russians are the pace-setters. Because they've been perfecting this for just a few years longer, because the learning curve was so much harder and faster when one Soviet world disappeared and they were all shot into cold space. They became post-Soviet a breath before the whole world went post-everything. Post-national and post-west and post-Bretton-Woods and post-whatever-else. The Gagarins of the culture of zero gravity.

Pomerantsev doesn't set up models or hypotheses about the concept of Russia; he gets out the shovel and finds where the bodies are buried. Describing as he goes, the layers of mystification and disorientation as the truth is disinterred. Bitter, rueful, yes, and no conclusion to ruin the macabre scenery; Nothing Is True is a picaresque without a center, a grim account of lost souls.

Profile Image for Repix.
2,228 reviews429 followers
August 7, 2022
Qué libro tan ridículo y, por eso, desgraciadamente, tan premiado.
Los excesos no son solo de Rusia, ni la corrupción, bien lo sabemos en España, otra cosa es que tu rusofobia no te deje ver el bosque.
Profile Image for Jake Goretzki.
746 reviews116 followers
February 9, 2015

No great surprises here for the seasoned Russia-watcher, but this book captures the general awfulness of contemporary Russia and of the Putin era very well. All told, it’s the kind of thing you want to buy for anyone who hasn’t been and still thinks Russia - as it generally runs in the UK - as either a) all Pushkin and balaikas and Hermitage or b) some sort of pre-1989 prison camp.

At many points I found myself thinking: yes, exactly. Exactly.

He’s spot on when it comes to everyday living in a Mafia state: the pervasive sense that ‘this is for show’, that ‘nothing is real’ and that real power is happening way beyond you. That everything done and said is ‘just PR’. Talking the talk during the day, then mouthing off about the regime in the evening. He also gets the cultural landscape very well. Tackiness and menace - bravo. A good eye for Russian racism too - the hilarity of wanting an empire back, but hating the people that happen to live in that empire.

At the higher level, it’s damning too. Government co-opts the language of democracy and consensus, while using all the tools of the personality cult and high Stalinism. So, fake politics and fake parties. State-sponsored homophobia. A corrupt judiciary. Corrupt driving tests. Fabricated TV news. Watching 120+ people choke to death after a theatre siege by not getting round to letting anyone know how they’d been gassed - and not being taken to task.

Whence the dreadful Russia Today, currently being gobbled up by the European far right and far left and imploring us to look for that 'second opinion' (from a regime that kills second opinions in their apartment elevator if they're persistent enough). It’s brilliantly awful - ingeniously exploiting the moral relativist, moral equivalent-seeking, ‘whatabout’ tendency that’s afflicting the impressionable among us. Putin lies? Tony Blair lied! Russia invaded Ukraine? Well, The UK invaded Iraq! Russia jails dissidents? Assange is a dissident! That 21st take on the Soviet ‘А у вас негров линчуют’ / ‘And you are lynching blacks’ gambit (forgetting for a moment that if you’re not white and have blue eyes in Russia, you’re a ‘black’ too).

It’s all particularly refreshing and compelling as it all comes from a man who has been able to function day to day there and who is in some respects completely at ease at establishment parties and in government-run TV firms. He’s a brave man.

I studied Russian in the nineties. The academics were for the most part wildly, wildly deluded about the place - thinking of Russia as this sweet Mediterranean romance of apple-cheeked babushki, wooden huts and Akhmatova. Utter saps, really. This is the kind of book you’d want to force them to read at gunpoint.
Profile Image for Holly.
1,012 reviews227 followers
May 19, 2017
Portraits of everyday life in a corrupt state; a series of vignettes told with a filmmaker's eye and without the heaviness of scholarly analysis. The final essay builds to a chilling crescendo. It's all so much worse than I even imagined.

Timothy Snyder names this book in his suggested-reading list within On Tyranny.
84 reviews51 followers
April 2, 2022
"Мої московські колеги впивалися власним цинізмом, і водночас просвітленістю" - пише Померанцев, який робив шоу на каналі ТНТ.

Рекомендую це читати, особливо, тим, у кого залишилися ілюзії щодо "хороших росіян". Скажімо, розділ про Суркова добре пояснює, чому весь сучасний російський контент, яким би "інтелектуальним" та "опозиційним" він не здавався, є частиною пропаганди.
Profile Image for Tanja Berg.
1,909 reviews438 followers
May 5, 2015
The author is a British TV journalist with Russian parents. He lived many years in Russia and this books gives insight to some of the people he met. The society as a whole can be seen as reflection in the individual stories shown here and it is a bizarre world.

"This isn't a country in transition but some sort of postmodern dictatorship that uses the language and institutions of democratic capitalism for authoritarian ends."

And furthermore:

"The Kremlin has finally mastered the art of fusing reality TV and authoritarianism to keep the great, 140-million-strong population entertained, distracted, constantly exposes do geopolitical nightmares, which if repeated enough times can become infectious".

Russia is not like, not striving to be like and never going to be anything like, the West. It is a society that has never, in all its history, been ruled as a democracy. It has always been an autrocracy. Even the people who very well know what sort of society they are a part of, turn a blind eye. They are used to dichotomy, having a private and public opinion that do not meet.

This book has put Russia in an entirely different light for me. All its possibly pro-Westernness is mere illusion and the facade is crackling. I am definitely concerned about some of its closest neighbors, including the Baltic states and my passport country Finland. Russia has even played out against Norway - my adopted country - lately, with military crossing borders and uninvited officials showing up on Svalbard. They are testing their ground. There is no doubt that Putin's amibition extend further than the current borders. Be afraid, be very afraid! If you think I'm being paranoid, read the book and follow the news.
Profile Image for Dianne.
567 reviews936 followers
April 8, 2015
A revealing look at the trippy nightmare that is modern Russia. Riveting - a bit much by the end and it's hard to keep all of the players and their various incarnations straight but very, very interesting.
Profile Image for Ted Lehmann.
228 reviews16 followers
November 11, 2014
I fear that Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia by Peter Pomerantsev (Public Affairs, 2014, 254 pages, $25.99/14.49) will not be widely enough read nor deeply enough covered by the main stream media to have it gain the sort of attention it deserves. This is an important book presenting the world of contemporary Russia in all the vivid complexity and corrupt duplicity which everyone should be aware of and seek to bring to heel. Since Russia is a land working without a moral compass, a place where how things look and are presented have become reality for those living and working there, its ability to morph to meet current circumstances and to insert itself into supposedly sacrosanct institutions in the “free” world like London banks, world fashion, film, and the NBA always gaining power and weakening free institutions, appears inevitable and almost unlimited. Pomerantsev, a documentary film maker, worked for Russian TV during the first decade of this country, writes with cinematic vigor and intense personal detail, using the reality of his subjects to document the moral and spiritual corruption of Russia's recovery from the collapse of the Soviet Union and Vladimir Putin's emergence as a new and ever more powerful twenty-first century dictator committed to restoring Russian power and influence.

Pomerantsev is a British journalist/film maker of Russian heritage who spent a decade mostly in Russia working as a producer for Russian TV network TNT, which is one of Russia's top five television networks specializing in portraying a light and humorous view of life. During his years in Russia, Pomerantsev produced a series which profiled the lives and experiences of the rich and glamorous Russians who emerged on the world scene among the beautiful and powerful people. His profiles of individual lifestyle and fashion leaders become increasingly dark as Pomerantsev realizes he's participating in helping create a vision of beauty, success, and happiness in a world dominated by corruption, greed, and an ethic emphasizing that PR, how things appear, eventually becomes the reality the masses believe in, masking the real abuses of freedom, power, expression, and liberty now dominating the reality of Russia and finding their greatest expression in the annexation of Crimea and the current efforts to reclaim ethnic Russian portions of the Ukraine. Perhaps the most frequently used word in the entire book is “corrupt” and its variations.

In Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, Pomerantsev describes the constant remaking of Moscow, historic buildings and neighborhoods torn down to replace them with series of cheesy upscale high rise towers mimicking the posh buildings of Paris, London, New York, and Monte Carlo. Young entrepreneurs, often former gangsters, live in luxury while always on the edge of having it all pulled out from under them if they stray too far from the currently emerging version of 21st century Russia. The power of Pomerantsev's writing lies in the vivid profiles he writes of a number of representative individuals who become metaphors for the corruption of the whole. He pictures unbelievably beautiful Russian girls who've come to Moscow to find a “Forbes” (rich business men who will enter their lives and make them over). Fueled by sex and booze in Moscow's steamy night spots, the girls, who are known as “cattle” to the Forbses, make themselves fully available and are cast aside when the next one comes along. He profiles Vitally, a former gangster whose school was prison. Vitally rises and falls at the Kremlin's will, but he is a chameleon whose colors change fast enough for him to, perhaps, survive. This isn't a portrait of a country in transition, but some sort of post-modern dictatorship using the language and institutions of democratic capitalism for authoritarian ends. The horrors of double think and double speak bring Orwell's 1984 to life a generation after the year has passed. The remainder of my review can be found on my blog (Google: Bluegrass Ted) as well as a portal to Amazon where you can purchase it to help support my blog. Thanks
Profile Image for Anna.
1,741 reviews677 followers
November 30, 2016
I remember reading an article about this book, probably in the Guardian, at some point in the past. The title was particularly memorable and is very apposite. Pomerantsev takes the reader on a disorientating mini-tour of 21st century Russia, with a focus on the media. It isn’t a linear or thematically structured narrative so much as a series of extended anecdotes connected by meditations on Russian society and culture. The overall effect is unsettling, as well it might be. 'Nothing is True and Everything is Possible' depicts a country unmoored, with no rule of law, no economic policy, and no real political opposition. All this has become normalised and accepted, through skillful Kremlin manipulation.

That’s a bald and tedious summary of the book, though. I read it in one sitting, as the journalistic style is very digestible and the content so incredible. The people and events Pomerantsev recounts include catwalk models in strange cults, self-mythologising gangsters, internecine political warfare that causes ordinary people to doubt reality, oligarchs (of course), and the surreal world of Russian TV. The latter is the most fascinating aspect of the book. The 'Russian point of view' advanced on the Russia Today channel apparently involves co-opting all kinds of potential opposition, presenting a range of commentary to create confusion, and simply repeating bald lies. Pomerantsev notes that the channel uses Western media cliches in a reducto ad absurdum, a triumph of subjectivity in which truth becomes a meaningless concept. It's also pretty clear that there's no separation between politics, the economy, and the media. The rulers of each are the same and proximity to the Kremlin is everything. As Pomerantsev puts it:

The victims I meet never talk of human rights or democracy; the Kremlin has long learned to use this language and has eaten up all the space within which and opposition could articulate itself. The rage is more inchoate: hatred of the cops, the army. Or, blame it all on foreigners. Some teens, the anarchists and artists, have started to gather and protest, rushing out of the metro and cutting off the roads and the main squares. They call their gatherings ‘monstrations’ and carry absurdist barriers:

‘The sun is your enemy’
‘We will make the English Japanese’
‘Eifiyatoloknu for president’

The only response to the absurdity of the Kremlin is to be absurd back.

The book ends by recounting the export of Russian money and mores to London. Whilst reading, I couldn't help thinking that the situation in Russia is only a more extreme manifestation of neoliberal politics in the UK. (Moreover, the pervasive Russian use of the term 'effective' reminded me of the ubiquitous 'efficient'.) There is definitely a continuum between the two and I don't think the UK is moving in the right direction along it. Certainly, reading this makes you doubt the comfortable feeling that such things could never happen over here. In my view, the most unsettling element of the book is this quote from a member of the Kremlin youth group:

"Politics is the ability to use any situation to advance your own status," Sergey told me with a smile that seemed to mimic Surkov’s (whose in turn mimics the KGB men's). "How do you define your political views?" I asked him. He looked at me like I was a fool to ask, then smiled, "I’m a liberal… It can mean anything!"
Profile Image for Dorin.
242 reviews62 followers
January 14, 2023
Pomerantsev pictează Rusia așa cum arată ea astăzi și ne prezintă și procesele prin care a ajuns așa. Pune pe foaie propriile experiențe. Nu a cercetat anterior (doar ulterior, pentru a contextualiza anumite lucruri) și nu pretinde că deține adevărul sau că imaginea văzută și prezentată de el este 100% conformă cu realitatea.

Începe cu niște povestiri anecdotice cu personaje aproape exotice: Aliona, o tânără în căutarea unui forbs (afacerist în topul Forbes) care s-o ia drept amantă și care merge la cursurile unei „academii” de vânătoare de averi; Vitali, un gangster din Vladivostok care face filme amatoricești despre gangsteri, aproape autobiografice, difuzate de televiziunile locale de frica amenințărilor, venit la Moscova, unde se dă la fund trăind în mașină; Benedict, un consultant care încearcă să-și ofere serviciile în Rusia anilor '90 și care nu învăță nici după mulți ani că lucrurile nu funcționează cum crede el. Trece apoi la povești mai sumbre, chiar tragice: despre o tânără antreprenoare care a nimerit în mijlocul unor răfuieli între servicii; despre un tip care încearcă să salveze de la demolare clădiri vechi; un afacerist care dă petreceri extravagante; despre fotomodele care s-au sinucis după ce au urmat cursurile unui guru (fondator de sectă). Toate acestea sunt împletite cu contextualizări, prezentări și meditații mai largi despre modul în care merg lucrurile în Rusia și cum gândesc rușii, în special cei care au știut sau caută să se descurce.

Fiind producător la postul de divertisment THT (mă gândesc cu duioșie la prostiile pe care le vedeam cu drag la acest post, în copilărie, și cu amuzament la documentarele despre care spune Pomerantsev că le-a făcut, parcă dintr-un alt univers decât grila obișnuită a THT), venit de la Londra, lucru mai important decât orice altceva din CV-ul lui și care îi deschidea multe uși, a văzut multe. Moscova descrisă de el este o insulă. Ne spune chiar autorul că într-un fel arată lucrurile în Moscova, altfel în restul țării. Despre asta am citit și la Ben Judah, în Fragile Empire, fiind unul din puținii care au intuit această diferență și care au încercat să o studieze mai bine, de asta nici nu m-a mirat să citesc la final că Judah a fost editorul lui Pomerantsev pentru această carte.

Moscova e un oraș care-i atrage pe toți: afaceriști, gangsteri, birocrați, artiști, parveniți, fete ușoare, adolescente naive, toți ridicați dintr-o mentalitate sovietică, încă existentă, departe de a dispărea, pentru că nici nu se dorește acest lucru, în care fiecare spune una și face alta, în care fiecare trebuie să vorbească mai multe limbi (nu străine, ci valorice), natural, fără să se prefacă și fără să le pară că se prefac, adoptând două sau mai multe sisteme de valori în același timp. Moscova e locul în care se înghesuie toate gusturile și lipsa lor, toate extravaganțele, toate stilurile arhitecturale, toate modurile de gândire, toată bogăția petro-oligarhilor, corupția, crima și decadența. Ca să împrumut o metaforă a autorului, Moscova – și Rusia de astăzi în general, din perspectiva mentalității colective –, este o oglindă stricată a Occidentului, un sistem de valori pe invers.

Din experiențele autorului, vedem și felul în care funcționează controlul politic asupra societății. Rusia e ca un reality-show regizat. Cineva la Kremlin vine și dă săptămânal indicații marilor televiziuni. Săptămâna asta unii lovesc în cineva, alții în altcineva, cuvintele cheie vor fi următoarele, Putin trebuie să fie văzut așa etc. Nimic nu e adevărat, totul este un spectacol, o simulare în care cineva are puterea de a schimba percepții cu un simplu pocnit din degete. Actori și figurați există oriunde. Nici divertismentul nu scapă. Oamenii nu au nevoie de adevăr pentru că adevărul e urât și deprimant, dar și incomod pentru cel de la putere.

Este o carte care merită citită. Are în ea ridicol, dramatic, tragic, filozofic. Anecdote, povești, monologuri, reportaje.

Nu mi-a plăcut doar că de multe ori autorul pare să evite să dea nume, chiar dacă e vorba de Putin sau alți politicieni, deși alteori oferă aceste nume. Nu am înțeles de ce.

Profile Image for saïd.
6,320 reviews977 followers
March 14, 2023
Incredibly interesting to read a book directed at a specific audience (in this case: non-Russian Westerners who are not aware of the reality of Russia) of which you are not a part.

Thinking about Russia a lot recently for obvious reasons, one of which being that a lot of ostensibly progressive/liberal figures have pushed back against Western (and non-Western) sanctions on Russia... typically because they say this would hurt ‘ordinary Russians.’ Which, on one hand, I get, because it sucks to be punished for something that isn’t your fault, but generally 1) the sanctions WORK, and lifting them would only give more power to Putin and his cadre; 2) the ‘ordinary Russians’ are getting fucked either way, because the alternative to these more diplomatic consequences (i.e., sanctions and rehauling trade negotiations etc.) is outright global warfare, which would be WAY WORSE for aforementioned ‘ordinary Russians’; and 3) ‘We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the oppressed.’ If you’re not fighting back against injustice, you are contributing to it, even if you’re an ostensibly ‘ordinary’ anything.
Profile Image for Bill.
175 reviews
April 11, 2015
Disjointed accounts of how screwed up Russia is linked by some pretty weak pop psychology. A few interesting stories keep this book from being a total waste if time.
Profile Image for Lance Charnes.
Author 7 books91 followers
August 12, 2019
Winston Churchill famously called the Soviet Union "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."Opaque was the typical description for the black box of the USSR; many an intelligence analyst made a career of charting the ups and downs of high Soviet government officials by seeing where they stood on Lenin's Tomb in Red Square during the May Day parade. After the USSR imploded, the West had great hopes that post-Soviet Russia would become a normal nation with a normal (read, more transparent) government held accountable by an independent legislature and judiciary and a free press.

Oh, well. Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible proposes that instead of becoming a normal nation, Russia is as opaque and unknowable as the USSR ever was because now it's the ultimate reality TV show.

This comparison isn't random. The author was a jumped-up production assistant on documentaries made for British TV when he joined the vast wave of Western "consultants" crashing down on Moscow at the turn of the century. By using the "Open sesame" phrase -- I come from London -- he became overnight a producer who could take meetings at the top of Russia's media industry and could get his cameras in front of almost anyone, almost anywhere. Much of what's in this book passed before his lens before it went into print.

We know that "reality TV" isn't reality -- it's a stage-managed, semi-scripted, ruthlessly edited funhouse reflection of whatever story the producers want to promote. So it is in today's Russia, according to the author. Opposition parties are funded by the government or by the government's pet oligarchs to present the illusion of democratic choice. State-owned or -sympathetic media companies will support "independent" news outlets that happen to put forward narratives useful to the leadership. Normal people will publicly swear allegiance to Putin and his United Russia party, then ignore its diktat in private. None of this is new; an old Soviet adage said, "They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work."

The main difference is that now, huge amounts of money are available for the grasping to people who stay on Putin's good side. This has spawned a new nomenklatura of extremely wealthy men who can live beyond the means of the old czars and for whom there are no rules except to make certain everyone above them also profits. As a result, Russia is essentially a mafia state. Major real estate developments are nothing more than opportunities for bribery and money laundering, to be abandoned (whether or not they're finished) when all the available money has been squeezed out of them. Honest (or uncooperative) businessfolk find themselves in the crosshairs of one police agency or another; the owner may end up in prison while the firm is parceled out to interested oligarchs or the head of the responsible police agency. "Making a killing" in business isn't a metaphor here. It's no wonder that so many of Moscow's very rich men are graduates of the KGB or GRU -- they've been fighting this war for decades.

The author (the son of emigres who left the Soviet Union in the '70s) writes a personal and impressionistic tale of what he saw and did in the freewheeling 2000s and 2010s, back before Putin and the oligarchs had sewn up all the money for themselves. While all the macro trends I mentioned loom over the narrative, he illustrates them with reality show-ready anecdotes: the school for gold-diggers; how Russian women took over modeling (at one point, over 50% of the runway models in London, Milan, and Paris were Russian); the charismatic cults that promise power and success but tend to push their adherents into addiction or suicide; and the thriving nightclub industry that delivers spectacular Euro-style behemoths meant to be places for rich men to meet beautiful teenagers, as well as dives decorated like 1970s Soviet living rooms so aging intellectuals can relive the thrilling days of clandestine samizdat readings and listening on the sly to the BBC World Service.

These vignettes are this book's greatest strength. Perhaps because of his trade, the author is good at zeroing in on a small, engaging story and telling it in a highly visual way. When he pulls back to the bigger picture, he often gets lost in his own prose. In many ways this book reminds me of Roberto Saviano's Gomorrah , another highly impressionistic chronicle of extreme vice and greed that excels on the micro scale but becomes almost hallucinatory at the macro. It earns the word surreal in its subtitle.

If you have any interest at all in the new Russia; if you want to know why Russian mobsters seem to be everywhere now; if you've discovered that your Instagram feed is packed with Russian supermodels; you need to read Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible. It's not always easy nor is it always fun, especially when the author reaches for the Big Picture, but it's full of you-gotta-be-kidding moments that will leave a lasting impression.
Profile Image for Halina Hetman.
722 reviews14 followers
February 13, 2023
Чи можна Померанцева назвати українцем? Сам він принаймні так себе не називає. Його батьки - зросійщені українці єврейського походження, народився він в Києві, жив здебільшого у Великій Британії, дружина його - росіянка, дочка - говорить російською краще ніж англійською. В цій книжці він позиціонує себе як британця і, на відміну від свого батька, дійсно далекий від української культури (наприклад, непрямо називає українця Малевича російським художником, тобто підсвідомо слідує за російською пропагандою, що і не дивно для людини, яка стільки років провела в рф). Чому це важливо для мене? Бо я довго думала, чи треба на його книгу залишати відгук в такому разі))
Про неї я дізналася зі згадки в "І знов я влізаю в танк…" Забужко. Головний мінус книги - це книга про росію. Росії там багато, як і росіян, як і їх життя, проблем, думок, "активізму", політики, імен, скандалів. Читати це з одного боку огидно і нецікаво, особливо коли ніколи не чула про саме існування тих "знаменитостей" чи "культурних" феноменів, що там описуються, з іншого - варто, якщо брати за увагу ту частину, що стосується саме розвінчання всього цього російсього марева (і яка мені тут найбільше сподобалася). Автор намагався з усіх сил не романтизувати рф - і я рада, що здебільшого йому це вдавалося. Книга дописувалася в 2014 році, коли вже був окупований Крим та частина Донбасу, і автор виражає свою однозначну та непохитну позицію щодо збройної і, що не менш важливо, інформаційної війни рф проти України.
В цілому, висновки щодо філософії та ідеології рф, до яких дійшов Померанцев, скоріш за все не здивують сучасного українського читача, та ще раз прочитати підтвердження своїх думок не тільки приємно, але й цілюще - в тій атмосфері міжнародного газлайтингу, де ми зараз опинилися.
Особливо цінно, що ця книга популярна і читається в основному західною авдиторією, сподіваюся, хоч комусь вона відкрила чи ще відкриє в майбутньому очі на реальний стан речей. Текст доволі публіцистичний, його легко читати і розбирати на цитати, він дає змогу подивитися об'єктивно не лише на російський спосіб мислення, але й на власний, а також і на власні цінності. А потім вирішити, на чиєму ти боці.
Profile Image for Yuliia.
16 reviews6 followers
January 7, 2021
дуже вичерпне дослідження всього (ну або принаймні частини), що не так з російським медіа (і не тільки)
як приємний бонус: книжка перекладена на величезну кількість мов і можна рекомендувати друзям-іноземцям
Profile Image for Anthony Taylor.
209 reviews43 followers
July 21, 2022
A Cultural Journey through Modern Russia.

Peter Pomerantsev is a journalist and writes the book in the ilk of a reporter. For me this means that the book flows nicely, but also that the wider context and evidence can be lacking. This should not put the reader off as Pomerantsev conducts a lot of primary research, taking part in events, meeting people, interviewing witnesses and visiting the locations he talks about.

He is a man who whose parents are emigrés from Soviet Russia and as such he had been drawn back to the motherland following the collapse of the USSR and the opening up of an exciting and confident new east. The book essentially follows his reporting and work for TNT, a major Russian TV channel and adventures into the intriguing and quirky cultural world of Putin’s Russia. It is surprising fascinating and terrifying at the same time. Modern Russia appears to be free and oppressed at the same time. There is a plethora of tales, anecdotes and characters which help to build of picture of society, politics, culture (both mainstream and sub) and institutions which make up the country. From how the law system works, police, government control of media and ‘manufactured’ opposition to oligarchs and models it is truly a place where the truth gets in the way of narrative and anything could happen.

The book is a great, easy and short read. However as I mentioned at the start, some of the stories must be placed into context or considered in isolation as one could probably walk into any country, find a cult or idiosyncratic story and present it as the norm. As a result I was skeptical about what Promerantsev intended to achieve. In other areas I could completely believe it and overall the book does pushes me to fee I am understanding modern Russian culture. A great book for anyone wanting to understand this wild east.
Profile Image for Dasha.
17 reviews15 followers
November 8, 2015
Пітер читається пожадливо. Шляхом вегетативного розмноження російська реальність розщеплюється на численні паралельні виміри сенсів і переконань, витвореними найефективнішим тут альянсом політтехнологів і кінорежисерів, але найвлучніший образ, що застряг у мене в голові - це завершення комп’ютерного пасьянсу: щойно всі карти складені, їх, немовби у наркотичному рейві, випльовується ціла множинність, королів і королев безперестанку лихоманить. І цей процес ніяк не зупинити, хіба розпочати нову партію, знаючи, що вона закінчиться тим самим, чи зовсім вимкнути гру.
Коли я питаю своїх російських начальників, старих телевізійних продюсерів і представників ЗМІ, які керують цієї системою, що означало рости в пізньосовєтську епоху, чи вірили вони в комуністичну ідеологію, яка їх оточувала, вони завжди відповідали сміхом.
- Не будь дурним, - казала більшість із них.
- Але чи ви співали пісні? Чи були хорошими комсомольцями?
- Звісно, співали й отримували від цього задоволення. А одразу після цього слухали “Deep Purple” i BBC.
- То ви були дисидентами? Ви вірили у крах СССР?
- Ні. Все було не так. Ти просто одночасно розмовляєш кількома мовами - і так увесь час. Існувало нібито кілька твоїх особистостей.
З цієї точки зору, велика драма Росії - це не “перехід” від комунізму до капіталізму, від одного завзято сповідуваного набору переконань до іншого, а те, що протягом останніх десятиліть СССР ніхто не вірив у комунізм, але всі й далі поводилися так, немовби вірили, а тепер вони можуть лише створити суспільство симуляції. Тому це залишається поширеною, щоденною психологією: останкінські продюсери, які вдень створюють новини, де обожнюється Прези��ент, а потім, тільки-но йдуть із роботи, перемикаються на опозиційне радіо; політтехнологи, що з неабиякою легкістю змінюються від ролі до ролі - націоналісти-автократи в один момент, а наступного вже ліберали-естети; “православні” олігархи, що співають гімни російському консерватизму - і тримають свої гроші та родини в Лондоні. В усіх культурах існують відмінності між “публічною” та “приватною” іпостассю людини, але в Росії суперечність між ними сягає крайнощів.
І йдучи Москвою, що задихається від диму, я бачу, як топографія міста артикулює ці поділи: агресивні проспекти з їхніми баронами-чиновниками, хабарами і перевертнями в погонах, де єдиний спосіб виживання - стати такими ж корумпованими, як і вони, а за кілька метрів від них - тихі дворики з майже буколічним настроєм і провінційним уявленнями про порядність. Раніше я думав, що ці два світи конфліктують, але правда в тому, що вони перебувають у симбіозі. Майже так, немовби однієї миті вам рекомендують мати одну ідентичність, а наступної - другу. Таким чином ви завжди розщеплені на на невелечкі фраґменти, і зовсім ніяк не здатні серйозно поставитися до зміни ситуації. Як наслідок, ви дедалі частіше стикаєтеся тут із дещо агресивною апатією. Цей базовий світогляд лежав в основі СССР і тепер підтримується в новій Росії, навіть попри те, що СССР уже давно офіційно не існує. Але це розщеплення також надзвичайно зручне: ви всю свою провину можете списати на свою “публічну” іпостась. І це не ви розкрадаєте бюджет / створюєте пропаґандистські шоу / схиляєте коліна перед президентом, а це просто роль, яку ви граєте. Насправді ж ви добра людина. І тут не йдеться про самозречення. І навіть не про притлумлювання страшних таємниць. Вам видно все, що ви робите, всі свої гріхи. Ви просто реорганізовуєте своє емоційне життя так, щоб не турбуватись.
Profile Image for Christopher May.
69 reviews1 follower
September 2, 2014
When looking at the "new" Russia and its leadership, I can't help but wonder about the country sometimes. What's going on over there? What is the story with Putin? Is the real Russia the one of beauty portrayed during the Sochi Olympics or the one that is supporting rebels that shoot down passenger planes? When I read about Peter Pomerantsev and his background, I had a hope that he would be uniquely positioned to tell the story of today's Russia. I wasn't disappointed.

Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible proved to be a very, very fascinating read. Pomerantsev provides a series of vignettes during his time in Russia working for the television industry. The stories are fascinating, but also a little scary. Everything seems to be corruption and spin. They also highlight an interesting aspect of modern Russia. In this country flush with new money, searching for a national identity seems to be the standard. I was particularly struck by a quote from Alexander Mozhahev -- a crusader trying to save historical buildings in Moscow that all too often are casualties of this identity search:

"Every new regime rebuilds the past so radically. Lenin and Trotsky ripping up the memory of the tsars, Stalin ripping up the memory of Trotsky, Khrushchev of Stalin, Brezhnev of Khrushchev; perestroika gutting the whole Communist century...and every time the heroes turn to villains, saviors are rewritten as devils, the names of streets are changed, faces [are] scrubbed out from photographs, encyclopedias [are] re-edited. And so every regime destroys and rebuilds the previous city."

I highly recommend picking up a copy of this book, especially when you watch the news and see stories about downed Boeing 777's and a new era of East-West face-offs in places like the Ukraine. It'll be enlightening and fascinating, although possibly a little frightening. I'll close this review with another quote from the book -- this from lawyer Jamison Morrison:

"We used to have this self-centered idea that Western democracies were the end point of evolution, and we're dealing from a position of strength, and people are becoming like us. It's not that way. Because if you think this thing we have here isn't fragile you are kidding yourself."

Maybe it's time to take a closer look at Russia?
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