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Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia Paperback – November 10, 2015
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Shortlisted for the 2015 Guardian First Book Award
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
About the Author
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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...).
God help us.
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.
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.