- File Size: 2751 KB
- Print Length: 258 pages
- Publisher: PublicAffairs; 1 edition (November 11, 2014)
- Publication Date: November 11, 2014
- Sold by: Hachette Book Group
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00L4FSVZ6
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #104,347 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
|Print List Price:||$13.00|
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Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia Kindle Edition
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Longlisted for the 2015 Samuel Johnson Prize
An Amazon.com Best Book of the Month, November 2014
"Captivating...keen observations."―New York Times Book Review
"Sparkling collection of essays."
―Wall Street Journal
"This is a gripping and unsettling account of life in grim post-Soviet Russia."―Washington Post
"A scintillating take on a twisted reality."―Prospect Magazine
"A patchwork tapestry that leaves you shaking your head in disbelief."―The Guardian
"Everything you know about Russia is wrong, according to this eye-opening, mind-bending memoir of a TV producer caught between two cultures... the stylish rendering of the Russian culture, which both attracts and appalls the author, will keep the reader captivated."―Kirkus, Starred Review
"Sometimes horrifying but always compelling, this book exposes the bizarre reality hiding beneath the facade of a 'youthful, bouncy, glossy country.'"―Publishers Weekly
"It is hard to think of another work that better describes today's Russia; Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible may very well be the defining book about the Putin era. This might seem like excessive praise for a relatively short, non-academic memoir by a reality-TV producer now living in London, but it is justified by the author's gimlet eye and reportorial skill."―Commentary Magazine
"A brilliant, entertaining, and ultimately tragic book about not only Russia, but the West."―Tablet Magazine
--This text refers to the paperback edition.
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I have lived in Moscow for many years and have been to many of the places mentioned in the book--unlike some other works I've read about Moscow, this author's descriptions and insights about places and events generally ring true. Moreover, he describes many interesting incidents/personalities that I was not previously aware of, so reading this book was certainly worthwhile for me. As a journalist, the author seems to have had a very good perch from which to observe a rapidly and constantly evolving Moscow.
Some other reviewers have criticized the book for not enabling them to "understand" Russia any better. Don't expect to read this--or any other--book and come away with an "understanding" of Russia, but at least it might help readers appreciate why Russia is such a difficult place to understand.
I enjoyed the book, so why not five stars? I had three basic concerns about the book:
1) Russia, and Moscow in particular, evolves rapidly and is changing constantly. Therefore, many of the author's observations seem a bit dated at this point. The author generally doesn't provide much of a timeline in the book, so it is often hard to determine whether he is writing about 2002 or 2012. Moscow in 2014 is a very different place from Moscow 2002 or Moscow 2012;
2) While many of the author's stories are very entertaining, the result is sort of a grotesque caricature of Moscow, which in fact is a huge and heterogeneous city, with millions of absolutely ordinary people very different from those described in this book. The author provides a good description of an interesting but freakish "froth" of people that provide good copy, but creates an impression that they, rather than ordinary citizens, define the city (which, admittedly, they do to some extent...). Therefore, as you read this book, bear in mind that millions of people are taking the subway/bus to work every day as book keepers, lawyers, account managers, etc., pretty much like everywhere else in the world...
3) In a few instances, the author seems to overdramatize things a bit. For example, he goes on and on about the constant fear of having your "documents checked", etc. In fact, I don't think I've had my "documents checked" even once in the last several years, and it is certainly not something I'm worried about (this kind of thing was indeed more common several years ago, hence my comment about some observations being somewhat dated...).
Fake news is a hot topic and here we see how it is planted and politically used in detail in a post-modern authoritarian world. There is information showing how crony capitalism or modern fascism is opposed to the free market when government can take over businesses and put them in the hands of partners as governments change laws to fit the new situations. The Russian oligarchs are detailed and it is shown how money is laundered through the political West. There are stories of the Russian modeling world and how these models have only a short number of working years during which to find their "Forbes." Want to learn how religion is used as a tool to bond followers to the government? And, oh yes, New Age cults have found a new sucker base.
Afterwards, read the works of Soviet dissidents to see how dictatorships haven't changed but are just modernized.
God help us.
Here in America, too, the importance of "post-factual" politics is driving a change in how we think of truth, morality, justice, and what a good life might look like. Pomerantsev's book examines this phenomenon in the hyperreal context of Moscow as he sees it. Never having been there, and not speaking enough Russian to find the bathroom, I can't judge his perceptions of Moscow. But his understanding of political manipulation in the age of the selfie and of Twitter seem to me to have been prescient about the weird turn that U.S. politics took in 2016.
Pomerantsev is clearly puzzled and disheartened by these changes. His reporting is thorough and accurate; he mentions William Browder and Jamison Firestone, seminal figures in the dispute between Russia and the U.S., and reports Firestone's call for a European Magnitsky Act. But this is in some sense a sad narrative of a town ravaged by a series of disease outbreaks, which concludes by noting that the scourge has cropped up in a distant city that should have been prepared to handle it but apparently is not. The book has neither endnotes nor index. There is a page of "Extra Reading" with seven sources. I don't think this is nearly enough. I'll rate this book a must-read, but not a keeper.
Top international reviews
The author spent the best part of a decade in Russian TV which has given him special insight into what amounts to the filming of a fiction of a fiction masquerading as fact.
The people he knows are from different walks of life, friends as much as subjects. Their stories light the scenes of role playing, decay and epic scale corruption. Some thrive, some just survive; a few don't. The feel of it all is a bit like Otto Dix's Berlin in the '20s and '30s. It's a truly scary place.
What comes across is a society which has mutated into a full-blown kleptocracy ruled by a dictator and a handful of gangster oligarchs with ever-shifting rules where law and bureaucracy are weapons in a never ending struggle for supremacy. You can never be sure which way is 'up' or rather 'out' as huge fortunes shift across the world to London and New York.
Given the current debate over the degree of penetration of the US government by Russia, now is a great moment to read this highly entertaining book.
One is immediately reminded of the term Hypernormalization (popularized by Adam Curtis) when Pomerantz opens with the analogy of Russian politics as a reality TV show, and how nothing makes sense any more, if indeed, it ever did. However, Putin and his political connections play a very minor role, the book concentrates on the Russian nouveaux riche, and other social phenomena from the unhappy lives of Russian models to bizarre, cult like self help courses which take place in Moscow's All Russia Exhibition Center.
The overall message of Nothing is Real and Everything is Possible is that Russia has been overwhelmed with a sense of delirium, a kind that has taken people to a feeling beyond cynicism.
Overall, a concise and readable account of the negative social phenomena in modern Russia.
The Book is an easy read and for those of us who has a background in this area you will instantly feel at home. You will recognize everything he writes about and will possibly want to add some of your own examples.
The Book is a little unstructured and you sometimes wonder why he tells us so much about one area and nothing about other important parts. Also the timeline is hard to follow and he does not always tell us when everything happened.
But this is a very good book about Russia today and worth reading if you want to understand where Russia is going.
Pomerantsev has a privileged position as an outsider who's not completely outside due to his Russian origins but western up-bringing. Anybody willing to reveal this New Russia, and doubly so anybody happy to mention Stalin and Putin in the same sentence, must spend a lot of time looking over their shoulders both at home and in Russia.
Amazingly, it's also a very readable book
Much of the material is based on first hand experience and interviews with extraordinary individuals. I should think the writer would need to take great care if ever to returns to Russia, but maybe Putin doesn't believe books count anymore, when he can control the mass media. If this book was as influential as it deserves to be, the writer would have been silenced.
Yes, there are still journalists who are educated and courageous and are able to uncover the coverups and reveal the truth, but only with great difficulty, at huge costs to themselves and their families and usually only when the harm has been done.
Pomerantsev is one of them. Read this book.
This book gives a great insight into the niches of the post-Soviet society. While some aspects seem unbelievable, they are fact! Believe it or not, this is what has been going in Eastern Europe for the last century.
Reading the book is a sort of deja vu for people from the former Eastern bloc. They can even go on further and further with the unbelievable stories.
These 'open secrets' are exactly what this book excels in recounting: it is a well written, compelling and darkly humourous account of the worst Russia has to offer. But nothing more than that. The reader would do well to keep this in mind.