The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen

After seeing this book being sold in virtually every European airport newsstands in the course of the past two years, I finally decided to get down to reading it – actually, reading and listening to it, 50/50 style – just at the same time as its author published a new book about Pussy Riot.

As Gessen has always been an avid and harsh critic of the regime, I expected something extremely one-sided – and, to an extent, it was. Frankly, for a person that follows Russian politics more or less regularly, it had nothing new nor gave any new insights – so in a sense, indeed it was aimed at international audiences, not the local Gessen readership body. My gut feel, though, that this ain’t the reason why this book was never published in Russian – as I would love to give it to my wife’s 77yo granddad to read, in order to provide a one-sided answer to his no less one-sided Channel One view of the world.

If I start the count, it would be the enumeration of buzzwords: KGB, Gorbatchev, dissidents, the 1991 Putch, Gaidar times, October 1993, the first Chechen war, Berezovsky, Yeltsin losing popular support, the successor plan, who is Mr. Putin, the Moscow and Volgodonsk bombings, the notorious Ryazan FSB “training”, замочить в сортире, the second war, the President for the people, Gusinsky and NTV, Berezovsky in exile, Kursk, Nord-Ost, the Soviet anthem yet again, Yushenkov, Beslan, Politkovskaya, Ramzan, Litvinenko, Khodorkovsky, Baikal Finance Group, Browder, Magnitsky, the Gelenjik palace, a short Medvedev intermission, the list goes on and on and on. For foreign readers, though, it seems to be a neat collection of whatever bad happened in Russia in the past decade or so.

The one thing that, surprisingly, was very new and interesting to me, was Gessen’s very detailed view on Putin’s first post-USSR boss St. Pete’s mayor Anatoly Sobchak. Apart from a conspiracy theory that Mr. Sobchak was poisoned (ummm, though I find anything possible, this is kind of hard to believe), Gessen portrays Sobchak as an anti-liberal goon that tricked the old dissidents that brought him to power and who seeked no reforms – he rather was after raw political power, not exactly Game of Thrones style, but close. This view of Mr. S seems to go in line with whatever recollections I have of the gentleman, despite some recent propaganda to the contrary.

And secondly, the book’s epilogue, written around the time of and about December 2011 protests, now reads a bit naive and sad. “It is a tiny moment of great change,” – Gessen writes. Oh well.

P.S. … and now I love amazon’s audible.com and whispersync audiobooks! Yikes!

One Comment on “The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen”

  1. […] the audiobook is available as well, so that I can alternate reading and listening – after The Man Without a Face I realized that Gessen's stuff is best taken this way.   Great book! The more I read […]


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