Russia is back on the front pages and I just finished two books that are must-reads for anyone who wants to get a clearer idea of just what in the world we’re up against. Read together, they give a timely recap of the past few decades and a bracing close-up of the current state of the former Soviet Union. Here’s the quote, which appears early in Pomerantsev’s book, that really made me sit up and pay attention: “Western ex-pats first arrived as emissaries of the victorious party in the Cold War. They were superior and came to teach Russia how to be civilized. Now… Russia is resurgent, the teachers have become the servants, and I’m not even sure who won the Cold War after all.” Yikes! He goes on to give a mind-blowing account of his decade in Russian television where “the President” is the star of a reality show and his set is the whole country. Pomerantsev focuses on Moscow—the fun house that people knowingly enter—while Garrels covers the middle of the country where people have a varying awareness of political corruption but crave the stability Putin offers after so many years of economic chaos. Both authors use the heartbreaking, inspiring, and sometimes hilarious personal stories of Russian citizens to reveal the workings of their society and how, if we’re not vigilant, we could become them. Truly eye-opening.
—Liz, Phinney Books, Seattle, WA