Top critical review
8 people found this helpful
on 10 December 2013
First of all I want to say that I know little about modern day Russia and her politics, as my interest has always been more historical. I think that perhaps in order to enjoy this book more, it would be wise to familiarise oneself with some of the political events in Russia over the last 20 years, and to gain a basic understanding of the system of rule. Whilst I knew of course about major stories such as the alleged assassination of Litvinenko, other major political events were brushed over in this book with an expectation that the reader would know the details, rendering them rather ineffective as part of the story. A familiarity with the remit and publications of Wikileaks would also be advisable.
So, perhaps I was at a disadvantage from the start, as I have spent far more time learning about the history than the modern day Eastern Europe. I had hoped that this book would improve my knowledge on how Russia is run during the modern era, from a uniquely personal account of someone who was intent on revealing the truth and hounded as a result.
Instead, what I feel I read was an undisguised attack on Russia's political system, and particularly Putin, the man at the head of it. I don't deny that a negative account of this side of Russia, and indeed Putin, is likely justified, but I would have preferred to be presented with facts from both sides and allowed to make my own decision. Perhaps in that regard I chose the book badly, after all the author was unjustly persecuted and therefore unlikely to leave Russia with feelings of endearment.
On that note however, I have to raise similar questions to some of my fellow reviewers. If the author's experience in Russia was so abhorrent, why return again and again, not alone but with his family? Knowing that the authorities thought nothing of breaking in to the family home, playing psychological mind games and other such antics, would you choose to make this your family's home whilst publicly speaking out against the regime? It seems an unnecessary and dangerous risk, one the author admits he was warned of more than once. The most damning report of all was made public by the author when he was barred from entering Russia, and his wife and two young children were in Moscow alone... and he writes that a three day delay on publication was out of courtesy to allow the Russian government time to reply, not to seek the safe removal of his family, who remained there whilst publication went ahead. An interesting decision for someone who apparently believes, as do many, that the people he was baiting were capable of more than just psychological games, but of murder.
Despite all this the book gets 2 stars, simply because it cannot be denied that it is eye-opening. I haven't been left feeling it necessary to wholly dismiss the author's opinions, despite obvious inconsistencies, because I do believe a lot of what he has reported. But strongly biased as it appears to be, it would be a shame if it were to be the sole source of many people's desire to understand modern day Russia. The historical knowledge of the vast and at times confusing nature of Russia that I do have, perhaps allows me to understand that there is far more behind modern day Russia than one man, as the author may like to have us believe. He is simply a product of Russia's history, the legacy of which is to create autocratic, power-hungry and financially driven rulers.