Hardcover, 256 pages
Published November 11th 2014 by PublicAffairs
Format read: Finished copy via publisher
Professional killers with the souls of artists, would-be theater directors turned Kremlin puppet-masters, suicidal supermodels, Hell’s Angels who hallucinate themselves as holy warriors, and oligarch revolutionaries: welcome to the glittering, surreal heart of twenty-first-century Russia. It is a world erupting with new money and new power, changing so fast it breaks all sense of reality, home to a form of dictatorship—far subtler than twentieth-century strains—that is rapidly rising to challenge the West.
When British producer Peter Pomerantsev plunges into the booming Russian TV industry, he gains access to every nook and corrupt cranny of the country. He is brought to smoky rooms for meetings with propaganda gurus running the nerve-center of the Russian media machine, and visits Siberian mafia-towns and the salons of the international super-rich in London and the US. As the Putin regime becomes more aggressive, Pomerantsev finds himself drawn further into the system.
Dazzling yet piercingly insightful, Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible is an unforgettable voyage into a country spinning from decadence into madness.
In Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, author Peter Pomeranstev retraces his time as a foreign journalist living and working in Russia, trying to make sense of this new world. In so doing, he helps illuminate the radical changes and perverse realities of modern Russia. This is a thrilling, almost nauseating ride that is unlike anything this reviewer has seen in a long time.
Nothing is True and Everything is Possible is predicated on the idea that modern Russia is a land without optimism or hope. The best human rights activists or political opponents will simply not succeed. They’ve tried too many times and always fall short. Their tales adequately address the problems of modern Russia, yet rarely the hopelessness of its situation. It takes a hard-drinking, smoking, cynical Brit like Pomeranstev to expose what this country has truly become.
Pomeranstev exposes the modern source of power of ‘the system’ in Russia: the media. A long time ago, Soviet Russia used state-run television to deny everything, and failed miserably in the process (especially during the appalling war in Afghanistan in the 1980s). The current system learned from these mistakes and instead learned how to co-opt everything, every point of view, in order to weaken real opposition.
Instead of silencing critics, silencing other points of view, modern Russian media has chosen to acquire them and transform them into crude farces. When every source of public criticism comes from a far-right neo-Nazi member, a decrepit Communist apparatchik, a homophobic Orthodox priest, or a comical nouveau-riche capitalist, it’s easy to see how the stabilizing force of Putin and his ‘United Russia’ party becomes a necessity. Stability and strength are what they offer. So what if corruption is rampant? Without United Russia corruption would be worse! The country would collapse! There is no legitimate opposition, just these ridiculous clowns!
It’s a terrifying vision of how modern media and old-school corruption can destroy a new democracy. It’s a cautionary tale laid bare on the future of the 21st Century. It’s unlike anything you will read this year. And you should read it. We all need to.
The focus of this book is often deeply personal. The gold-digging girls desperate for a ‘Forbeses’ man to marry them, the victims of ‘self-help’ groups, or the models who wind up ending their own lives. Any of these could be found in any modern city. Certainly, this reviewer felt that the author’s criticism of the negative effects of modern Russia are also a reflection of urban society and the modern world.
What separates it from our ‘way of life’ is the critique of the media. Say what you will about modern media in America (or Britain, or Europe, or Japan, etc.), all these channels are not owned by their governments. They are regulated by them, but not controlled by them. The same cannot be said about Russia. All is owned and controlled, ultimately, by the powers that be.
As a result all stories end up happy, while tightly controlled. The dead models, the economic and financial corruption, the declining rights of homosexuals, muslims, or non-whites are all things that are not covered by any Russian channel, as Pomeranstev aptly points out. In modern Russia, nothing is true, but under United Russia, everything remains possible.
However, after years of studying modern Russia and recent global events in the Caucuses, Georgia, Syria, Crimea, and Eastern Ukraine, one cannot escape the conclusion that Russia has a role to play in geopolitical affairs, and it's important to understand the nation, inside and out.
I recommend this for fans of nonfiction who enjoy an unconventional take on a modern story. Pomerantsev nows what he knows, and predicates his work on his insights and his experiences. Peter Pomerantsev’s story is wholly concerned with his truth, modern Russia’s truth. This is a truth that should ultimately be read as a stark, cautionary tale.
About the author:
Peter Pomerantsev is an award-winning contributor to the London Review of Books. His writing has been published in the Financial Times, NewYorker.com, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, Daily Beast, Newsweek, and Atlantic Monthly. He has also worked as a consultant for the EU and for think tanks on projects covering the former Soviet Union. He lives in London.