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Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev: Understanding Modern Russia

Updated: Apr 21



Book Cover of Nothing is New and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev


THE BOOK


  • Full Title: Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia (or Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: Adventures in Modern Russia, depending on the version)

  • Author: Peter Pomerantsev

  • Number of Pages: 256

  • Year: 2014

  • Genre: Non-fiction

  • Topics: Russia, Russian history

  • Useful Links: Goodreads, Blackwell's


THE BOOK Peter Pomerantsev, a Soviet-born Englishman, writes Nothing is True and Everything is Possible to report on his years spent working closer to his origins. Pomerantsev, who continuously lived in Russia during the early 2000s, talks about various aspects of Russian society that he could witness thanks to his job in reality television. Money, drugs, septs, corruption, intelligence, politics, economics and the relationship with the West, these and others are the topics the author covers in the book.


THE AUTHOR Peter Pomerantsev (b. 1977) is a British-but-Soviet-born writer, TV producer and journalist. He was originally from Ukraine when the country was still part of the USSR and therefore learnt Russian, although he moved to the United Kingdom when still a child. After studying in both the UK and Germany, he pursued the same career as his mother and started working on TV for the BBC, then for Russian TV channels (especially TNT) during his time spent in the country (2000-2010). From 2011 onwards, he began parallelly working as a journalist and author, focusing on Russia, Russian politics and Russian society.



BOOK NOTES: NOTHING IS NEW AND EVERYTHING HAS ALWAYS BEEN POSSIBLE


If you are here reading this post, you may be one of those who suddenly felt the urge to know more about Russia, to understand it. I know the feeling because I, too, felt that same urge. Not that I didn't find Russia interesting before the last two years or so, but it definitely became a topic I could not postpone getting deeper into anymore.


As for other trending topics these days, when we begin figuring out the context and the parts involved, we realize for how long the tiles have been moving and evolving without us noticing.


What is the modern Russia Peter Pomerantsev sees? The author gives us a depiction of 2000s Russia, but what we read sounds familiar or at least not too far from the general conception we might have of the country today. As the title implies, a place where telling what is true from what is staged does not come easy and where, therefore, if nothing is true, everything can be possible.


First, there is money. Money massively in the hands of a few, powerful figures. An enormous flow of other people desperately looking for a bit of that money and losing themselves while trying to get it. Money being confiscated and money being stolen. Money moving mountains, money in the hands of the wrong people, money never in the hands of the just.


Then there is propaganda. Propaganda taking over the TV, imposing schedules, programs, topics. Propaganda shaping the country and the minds, influencing and creating a web of lies and fictional truth.


After this comes obsession. Obsession conquering the youths through sects, psychological manipulation and the unreachable dream of becoming rich and famous. Obsession conquering the elders through nostalgia and the alluring narration of a return to glory and fast.


It is then the turn of naivety. The naivety of those who believe they can escape the system, they can choose their path and change their destiny, they can avoid going to war, paying their dues, surrendering to propaganda.


Lastly, there is hatred and disgust. Disgust for those who don't comply, don't abide by the rules. For who fails or falls out of the box. Hatred for the old role models, for a West that has nothing more to teach and has instead become a threat, an enemy to get quickly rid of, together with those who prefer it over the homeland.


A bleak picture, one that does not give much space to hope or silver linings, which are anyway surely present. Maybe because the author wished to focus on the aspects that are harder to grasp from newspapers, movies and TV. Or maybe because he, as a Soviet-born and Russian speaker, is able to perceive more than what rests on the surface.


An incomplete narration then, but one that is worth reading about, if anything to understand that nothing of the country we are suddenly interested in is really new and that everything that now seems closer than ever has been possible for a while.



Book Cover of Nothing is New and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev
An alternative cover for the book, where Vladimir Putin's face is clearly recognizable


WHY READ NOTHING IS TRUE AND EVERYTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE


Peter Pomerantsev was probably born to be a TV producer, as his writing style sometimes betrays. The use of words is not always convincing and at times maybe not the best to rightfully convey his message. He also focuses on some topics (first and foremost, the sects) for a bit too long, or maybe just long enough as to let the reader understand what he truly cares about.


The book shows the courage of its author, and his willingness to teach and spread awareness - Pomerantsev is not afraid to explicitly mention Vladimir Putin's name from time to time, despite the dangerous arguments he makes. And the President's is not the only name to be found in Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, the author never fails to be clear and fact-check what he says. But, again, the narration feels incomplete and slightly biased: Pomerantsev is clearly critical towards the Russian system and, despite his origins, he is deeply Westerner in his thinking.


And yet, this book can be an easy and fluid first approach to modern Russia and a reading anyone, even those who do not have any notion of the country, can manage. The language is immediate, the topics catching and the subjects relatable.




 


References:

This post is based on the ebook version of Peter Pomerantsev, Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia, Public Affairs, 2014.




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