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The Exile: Sex, Drugs, and Libel in the New Russia Paperback – March 27, 2000
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From Publishers Weekly
In 1997, two American college-educated slackers began publishing the eXile, a no-holds-barred newspaper, in Moscow. The paper includes irreverent discussions of Russia's sex and drug scene and off-color humor pieces, such as an article poking fun at a U.S. African-American basketball player who was toiling for a Moscow team after he was kicked out of the NBA following a forced sodomy charge in the U.S. Their attitude toward Russia's expatriate community, including themselves, is clear: "Any affluent or even middle-class American who renounces the good life of sushi and 50-channel cable delivery" is "motivated by a highly destructive personality defect." The pranks the newspaper plays are entertaining: convincing an aide to Mikhail Gorbachev that New York Jets football coach Bill Parcells wanted the former Soviet leader to give a series of inspirational pep talks to his team, for example. The eXile also takes on the herd mentality of reporters, managing to convince one of its rival papers that basketball hall-of-famer Wilt Chamberlain was considering a comeback in Russia. (In between its humor and its testosterone, the eXile has reported some important stories, most notably that much aid money from the U.S. went directly into the hands of some top Russian politicians.) Only those with a National Lampoon mentality will enjoy the descriptions of the editors' sexual conquests and their comparisons of Russian and American women. Like much of the paper itself, the book, which recounts the newspaper's history, is tasteless. There's little doubt, however, that both incisively probe contemporary Russian reality--and the expatriate mindset. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Full of drugs, sex, and booze, this book initially strikes one as an ode to bad taste. The authors, editors of the English-language Moscow tabloid newspaper The eXile, know this: "we stood for all the wrong things--but at least we weren't bores." True enough. Still, Chapter 3 has good reporting on USAID, the World Bank/IMF, and the Investor Protection Fund and how they waste money and benefit the Russian rich. Similarly, Chapter 8 contains news items (e.g., former Yeltsin adviser Anatoly Chubais's "loans-for-shares" auctions) incorrectly analyzed in the Moscow press, along with the correct analysis by the editors of The eXile. The authors also describe The eXile's first year, 1997, which one editor saw as his "first experience...with taking life seriously." Like most coming-of-age stories, this is bittersweet. Recommended for academic libraries collecting in Russian studies or journalism.
---Bert Beynen, Des Moines Area Community Coll. Lib., IA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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To get to it requires making it through, or more likely past, the “contributions” written by Taibbi’s nominal co-author, Mark Ames. Ames is surely one of the most repellent human beings I have ever encountered on the printed page. He threatens to have his girlfriend killed because she refuses to get an abortion, dismisses the entire Czech Republic and its people because they don’t suit his style, and writes redundantly and at length about how “drugs are fun.” If Matt’s young adulthood was indeed misspent it was most likely due to his unprofitable friendship with Ames.
But if you take my advice and simply skip Ames’ chapters, this book offers two substantial rewards. Taibbi’s accounts of all manner of improbable ventures and misadventures, including playing professional basketball in Mongolia and getting beaten up in a Moscow nightclub restroom are highly entertaining, but they sneak up on the real point of Taibbi’s years in Russia and, indeed, this book. The Western expats who occupied Moscow during the late nineties, principally Americans, were every bit as grasping and loathsome as Moscow’s would-be oligarchs, enabling Russia’s worst people to take control of its economy - often with U.S. taxpayer dollars. That fellow expats would presume to influence another country in such a corrosive way pissed off the Russophilic Ames and Taibbi so much that they created The eXile as a subversive instrument to harass and damage them as much as possible.
The results of the eXile’s mission ranged from cringeworthy pratfalls to brilliantly executed pranks that did some significant damage to people who surely deserved the worst. Chief among the eXile’s targets was one Michael Bass who, while still pulling eXile quills out of his backside, gave this book a five star rating here on Amazon. The odious Ames precludes a fifth star but if you are a Taibbi fan, are curious about what really happened to Russia between Gorbachev and Putin, and would like greater insight into the actual effect of American “foreign aid,” then I recommend this book.
The book is divided into eight chapters, half by Ames, half by Taibbi. Fans of muckraking will appreciate Taibbi's contributions, which deal with the unbelievable amount of corruption and fraud in late 90′s Russia. The mainstream narrative about Russia is that Boris Yeltsin was a great capitalist, pro-Western reformer unexpectedly decapitated by the 1998 economic collapse, and that Vladimir Putin is an evil fascist who hates freedom and probably eats cute puppy dogs. The reality is that Yeltsin was a venal crook who aided and abetted the rape of his own country by capitalist oligarchs (both Western and Russian), and Putin is beloved by the Russian people because he had all the looters murdered, imprisoned or driven into exile (heh). The reason you don't know about this is because the entire Western press corps in Moscow, with the exception of the eXile, either turned a blind eye to the corruption or actively collaborated with the oligarchs. Hmmm, this all sounds kinda familiar... but nah, it can't happen here.
To this day, Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi are despised by the MSM because of the way they caught them with their pants down. To give just one example of how far ahead of the curve they were, the eXile was one of the only newspapers in the world that predicted the Russian financial meltdown of 1998. Particularly eye-opening is Taibbi's chapter on Michael Bass, an American crook who symbolized the worst of 90′s expat excess. Bass was a convicted felon who came to Moscow to pimp Slavic nubiles for quick cash while simultaneously trying to present himself as a respectable public figure, writing a society column for a now-defunct expat rag, The Moscow Tribune. After the eXile ran a story on how he sold an aspiring Californian runway model into sex slavery to an Arab sheik, Bass gave Taibbi what may be the most passive-aggressive death threat of all time. The tale has a happy ending, with Bass humiliated and exposed for all of Moscow's expats to jeer at.
All this isn't to argue that Ames and Taibbi are saints: Ames' half of the book will dispel that notion pretty quickly. Beginning with his contracting the worst case of scabies ever from a one-night stand in St. Petersburg, Mark Ames takes us from his early years living in a run-down California nursing home with his Czech girlfriend to his first months hustling in Moscow, and his eventually founding the eXile with a pair of pretentious liberals from Seattle. The passage where he fantasizes about their violent deaths at the hands of Chechen gangsters may be some of the most disturbingly funny writing in the history of the English language.
But Ames doesn't hit his stride until the book's midway point, with the chapters "Our God is Speed" and "The White God Factor." "Our God is Speed" details his adventures with drugs and is full of sick, graphic detail (such as his junkie pal Kolya's "shooting bloodied water from his infected needle across [their friend's] floor"), but "The White God Factor," about his experiences with Russian women, is of particular interest to anti-feminists. In between recounting his sexual encounters in Russia and Belarus, Ames tears feminism and American women to itty-bitty pieces.
One of the nice things about the eXile book is that it comes in a nice big 8 1/2 by 11 inch size, allowing the editors to toss unabridged reprints of eXile articles, cartoons, and covers in the margins. It adds value to an already action-packed title, but you don't want to read this one in mixed company.
Bottom line: if you're looking for one of the most honest books about post-Soviet Russia---or about sex and hedonism in general---you need to read The Exile,
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