Long before the meteor strike, longtime NPR correspondent Anne Garrels had Chelyabinsk in her sights. More than 10 years ago, she began visiting the city in order to understand what life was really like in post-Soviet Russia, beyond the confines of the glitzy Moscow metropolis.
In Chelyabinsk, she discovered a populace for whom the new democratic freedoms were as traumatic as they were delightful. A closed nuclear city throughout the Cold War, Chelyabinsk was thrown into disarray in the early '90s as its formerly state-controlled factories were exposed to the free market. And the next 20 years would only bring more turmoil. The city became richer and more cosmopolitan, even as the forces of corruption and intolerance became more entrenched.
In Putin Country: A Journey into the Real Russia, Garrels crafts an intimate portrait of the nation's heartland. We meet ostentatious mafiosos, upwardly mobile professionals, impassioned activists, scheming taxi drivers with dark secrets, and beleaguered steel workers. We discover surprising subcultures, like the LGBT residents of Chelyablinsk who bravely endure an upsurge in homophobia fueled by Putin's rhetoric of Russian "moral superiority" yet still nurture a vibrant if clandestine community of their own. And we watch doctors and teachers try to do their best in a corrupt system. Through these encounters, Garrels reveals why Putin commands the support and loyalty of so many Russians, even those who decry the abuses of power they encounter from day to day. Her portrait of Russia's silent majority is essential listening at a time when Cold War tensions are resurgent.
©2016 Anne Garrels (P)2016 HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books
"Former NPR reporter Anne Garrels...delivers a terrific narration of her own fascinating look at the current state of the former Soviet Union.... Whatever news she's delivering, it's mesmerizing." (AudioFile)
I loved how it gave personal stories about how people are finding ways to survive in a deeply chaotic Russia as well as their history under the Soviet Union and how things have changed yet also remained the same.
The story of the disabled children and the brave people building resources for them. That really hit home as I know that this is a real struggle even in America.
I would say the women who's working toward building the disabled center for children.
I think the scenes involving the struggles of families with disabled children; how the government encouraged them to hand their children over to the States foster system. I was incredulous at that system and how it continues to fail these children and abuse them.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I'm a big fan of history and I think this book blended past events with the way things are now in Russia very well. It was a great view into a changed society and how the legacy of the Soviet Union continues to plague the vast territory of the new Russia, and how there's so much more to the situation than just the fall of the wall or glasnost. There's a deeper legacy and it will be interesting to see how things play out for this large country in the decades to come.
I was keen to get this book after I heard the author interviewed on NPR. I know little about Russia, and Garrels does an excellent job of explaining how the changes of the last 30 years (and the Soviet era before) have affected people's lives.
As a broadcast journalist, she does her own narration, which adds a lot to this first-person account.
Highly recommended for anyone who is curious about how and why Putin is so popular, and what Russians really think about their country's situation.
Excellent look inside Putins Russia. Well researched, beautifully told story of modern Russian heartlands. A must for anyone who wants to know why Russians support Putin.
This audiobook (read by the author) was very interesting and informative. I was captivated the whole way through, never bored. I loved hearing the stories of the Russians in this book and learning a bit about how they think, it's a great insight. I'm recommending this book to my friends & family.
This book benefits mostly from the writer/narrator being a seasoned radio journalist. Garrels has a wealth of great stories and insights about contemporary Russia, and delivers everything in an economical, highly listenable way.
There are probably better, more intensive books about contemporary Russia and all its peculiarities, but this is a great listen for anyone who wants a relatively quick and easy listen on the topic.
It's always interesting gaining a perspective into the lives of those different than us. Russians are certainly amongst those who have lived markedly different lives.
Anne Garrels spent years in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk getting to the heart of the "Real Russia." The results are fascinating but eventually feel a bit repetitive. More or less everyone we hear from has had the same experiences. Tales of corruption, shakedowns, and brutality abound.
Interesting - even if Russia's tourism board is bound to hate it.
I am filled with a mixture of emotions. Sorrow for the suffering of others, anger for the abuses in all their forms, compassion, and wonder. Thank you Anne Garrels for taking me with you to places I will never physically get to go. I'm grateful that I heard a recent radio interview, and chose to listen to your book!
This book is an insightful look into Russian history and culture since the collapse of the Soviet Empire. It is written and told in such a way that it will keep you interested throughout. You can read "Lenin's Tomb" by Remnick, then "Putin Country," by Garrels, and you will gain a thorough understanding of modern Russian history and culture, and it will be fascinating.
A timely book that won't be so timely in a few years, but that's the fate of all journalistic accounts of a snapshot in time. Anne Garrels is an American journalist who has been covering Russia since Soviet days. In Putin Country, published just last year (2016) she travels to modern Russia to try to capture what life is like under Putin. She supposedly picked a city at random, though it's a bit suspicious that Chelyabinsk happened to be one she'd visited before, and which is also famous for recently being the location of a meteor strike in 2013.
In contrast to another book I read recently, Gary Kasparov's "Winter is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped," Garrels's book is not a polemic but a work of journalism. That said, she doesn't keep her own opinions entirely out of the narrative, and one always has to be suspicious about what a writer chooses to talk about and what she doesn't. But Putin Country doesn't seem to be pushing any particular agenda, even if it is not very flattering to Vladimir Putin.
Garrels largely confirms what Gary Kasparov claimed - that under Putin, Russia has slipped back into a corrupt authoritarian oligarchy. There are many differences from Soviet days - there are more paths for upward mobility, for example. You don't have to be a Party member, and you don't even have to be involved in organized crime, though it's nearly impossible to get very far without having to deal with them, and with government officials (often pretty much the same thing) who want their cut. Over and over, Garrels tells the story of activists, reformers, and entrepreneurs who are shut down, intimidated, or jailed as soon as they're becoming successful.
Alcoholism is rampant, of course, as is radiation sickness in towns and villages that were for decades exposed to shocking levels of radioactive waste, simply dumped into rivers. Officials told everyone that it was fine and not to believe their lying eyes. Garrels interviews some scientists who led protests even under the USSR, and attracted enough attention to force a government response, though the cost to themselves and their careers was high. Today many thousands are still sick and suffering from birth defects, cancer, and stunted lives. It seems entire regions have had their populations stunted.
This is a pretty depressing book. There is not much of a glimmer of hope that Russia is going to become better any time soon. If something happened to Putin, whoever takes his place isn't going to be any better.
So what do the Russian people think of Putin? According to the people Garrels talked to (keeping in mind, for purposes of this book, "the Russian people" is the inhabitants of the Chelyabinsk area), it's mixed. Most people aren't happy with the way things are run and the corruption, but many admire Putin's "strength," and the way he's restored respect for Russia after the humiliating collapse of the Soviet Union. Back in the 90s and early 2000s, there was a lot of pro-Western sentiment as Russia opened up and experienced a few heady years of freedom, but that has soured now. Garrels herself is generally treated politely, but no one has much good to say about America or the West.
Putin Country will probably just reinforce most of what Americans already think they know about Putin's Russia - that it's a corrupt kleptocracy ruled by a nationalist strongman, whose people often look up to him despite the fact that he's manifestly not acting in the best interests of the common man. That it's populated by underpaid professionals, scrabbling workers, alcoholics, now facing threats from Islamic extremists (far more internal threats than the U.S. has to worry about) while being encircled, geographically and economically, by an increasingly hostile West. It is not surprising that Russians feel defensive and their impulse is not to throw off the rule of Putin, who is actually standing up to these threats, or gives the appearance of doing so.
An interesting book, and yet I couldn't really convince myself that it's a comprehensive or balanced picture. Not that I think Garrels was being dishonest, but she's clearly an American, looking at things that interest Americans. She was talking to people willing to talk to an American journalist, in one little Russian city. Gary Kasparov's book was far less objective, far less balanced, but at least it was the work of a Russian (albeit one who has lived in exile for many years). I would like to read more books by actual Russians who are brave enough to tell us what it's really like in Putin country.
Superb book, that deals with every day life in Russia & exposes at an everyday level what it is like to life in a country where corruption is now the law as the law no longer exist. It is shocking as to how this country has fallen into utter chaos. Shocking & very well written.
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