If Anne Applebaum likes your book, it's time to give up writing
"An electrifying, terrifying book," says Anne Applebaum. "A riveting portrait of the new Russia with all its corruption, willful power and spasms of unforgettable, poetic glamour," adds Tina Brown. "Unflinching, tragic and profound," states A.D. Miller.
Peter Pomerantsev's anti-Kremlin book Nothing is True and Everything is Possible has been a huge global success since it was published earlier this year, particularly as an exercise in marketing and self-promotion. Building on stereotypes already engrained in the minds of many in the West about Russia's Novie Russkie, the glamour of its oligarchs and sinister mafia organisations, the book has achieved exactly what the author intended it to do: sell.
As a result, the Russia depicted bears no resemblance to the one I know. Nevertheless, to many in the English speaking world this account of a 'post-modern dictatorship' will be taken as gospel and swallowed along with the rest of the sensationalist, anti-Russian rhetoric that is out there. After all, to admit that in fact Russia is not the dangerous, dark place portrayed for decades in films such as Goldeneye and Salt would be boring. It would mean there was no enemy. No indians for the cowboys to chase. And there wouldn't be any fun in that.
Pomerantsev's text is nothing more than an eloquent rant; the memoirs of a British-raised Russian looking to make it big in the Moscow TV industry, but who gave up after working for TNT — one of the most frivolous channels — after he found it increasingly difficult to meet their demand for "positive stories". The author obviously thrives on negativity. Filled with drugs, crime and tragedy, his book almost screams of a 90s post-Soviet melodrama — like a Balabanov film, which it would resemble if there was more of a plot.
The main protagonists are prostitutes, suicidal models and corrupt businessmen — hardly the highlights of Russian society. As a window onto Russia it is deliberately narrow, with the purpose being to portray the country in an especially bleak light. We are taken from one random situation to another, without a coherent chronology, as if we are delving into a jumble of bad memories. The imbalance of negativity makes it seem in itself somehow surreal, like an endless tunnel with no light at the end. It is highly readable, yet one reads on in constant expectation of a climax, some kind of in-depth conclusion or purpose behind the scenarios depicted — but none is offered.
Instead it beautifully ties in with the neocon agenda and its portrayal of 'Putin's corrupt regime'. And as one does a little background research on Pomerantsev, names such Ben Judah, Micheal Weiss and Anne Applebaum appear — renowned for their heavily biased anti-Russian writing. Hardly surprising, really.
What we need are more writers depicting the real Russia — not scraping the surface of society glamour, which is generally sordid and scandalous in most societies. The world should learn instead of the rich generosity and brilliance of the people, a people not constrained by the rigidity of a regime, but in my opinion, freer in mind and more open to new possibilities than perhaps we shall ever be in the English-speaking world. Indeed, Pomerantsev ironically admits this himself in the title Everything is Possible. Russia today is in fact an incredibly exciting place to be — it's on the up and the West can't believe it.
Johanna Ganyukova is a graduate from the University of Edinburgh in Russian Studies and is currently completing an Msc at the University of Glasgow in Russian, Central and Eastern European Studies. She is RI’s Russian Media Editor
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