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More than twenty years ago, when NPR correspondent Anne Garrels first visited Chelyabinsky--a gritty military-industrial center a thousand miles east of Moscow--her goal was to chart the aftershocks of the USSR's collapse. Returning again and again, Garrels found that the city's new freedoms and opportunities were both exciting and traumatic. As the economic collapse of th More than twenty years ago, when NPR correspondent Anne Garrels first visited Chelyabinsky--a gritty military-industrial center a thousand miles east of Moscow--her goal was to chart the aftershocks of the USSR's collapse. Returning again and again, Garrels found that the city's new freedoms and opportunities were both exciting and traumatic. As the economic collapse of the early 1990s abated, Chelyabinsky became richer and more cosmopolitan while official corruption and intolerance for minorities grew more entrenched. Sushi restaurants proliferated; so did shakedowns. In the neighboring countryside, villages crumbled into the ground. Far from the glitz of Moscow, the people of Chelyabinsk were working out their country’s destiny, person by person. Putin Country crafts an intimate portrait of Middle Russia. We meet upwardly mobile professionals, impassioned activists who champion the rights of orphans and disabled children, and ostentatious mafiosi. We discover surprising subcultures, such as a vibrant underground gay community and a circle of determined Protestant evangelicals, and watch as doctors and teachers trying to cope with inescapable payoffs and institutionalized negligence. As Vladimir Putin tightens his grip on power and war in Ukraine leads to Western sanctions and a lower standard of living, the local population mingles belligerent nationalism with a deep ambivalence about their country’s direction. Drawing on close friendships sustained over many years, Garrels explains why Putin commands the loyalty of so many Russians, even those who decry the abuses of power they regularly encounter. Garrels’s portrait of Russia’s silent majority is an essential corrective to the misconceptions of Putin's supporters and critics alike, especially at a time when cold war tensions are resurgent.


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More than twenty years ago, when NPR correspondent Anne Garrels first visited Chelyabinsky--a gritty military-industrial center a thousand miles east of Moscow--her goal was to chart the aftershocks of the USSR's collapse. Returning again and again, Garrels found that the city's new freedoms and opportunities were both exciting and traumatic. As the economic collapse of th More than twenty years ago, when NPR correspondent Anne Garrels first visited Chelyabinsky--a gritty military-industrial center a thousand miles east of Moscow--her goal was to chart the aftershocks of the USSR's collapse. Returning again and again, Garrels found that the city's new freedoms and opportunities were both exciting and traumatic. As the economic collapse of the early 1990s abated, Chelyabinsky became richer and more cosmopolitan while official corruption and intolerance for minorities grew more entrenched. Sushi restaurants proliferated; so did shakedowns. In the neighboring countryside, villages crumbled into the ground. Far from the glitz of Moscow, the people of Chelyabinsk were working out their country’s destiny, person by person. Putin Country crafts an intimate portrait of Middle Russia. We meet upwardly mobile professionals, impassioned activists who champion the rights of orphans and disabled children, and ostentatious mafiosi. We discover surprising subcultures, such as a vibrant underground gay community and a circle of determined Protestant evangelicals, and watch as doctors and teachers trying to cope with inescapable payoffs and institutionalized negligence. As Vladimir Putin tightens his grip on power and war in Ukraine leads to Western sanctions and a lower standard of living, the local population mingles belligerent nationalism with a deep ambivalence about their country’s direction. Drawing on close friendships sustained over many years, Garrels explains why Putin commands the loyalty of so many Russians, even those who decry the abuses of power they regularly encounter. Garrels’s portrait of Russia’s silent majority is an essential corrective to the misconceptions of Putin's supporters and critics alike, especially at a time when cold war tensions are resurgent.

30 review for Putin Country: A Journey into the Real Russia

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jaidee

    2 "wanted a helluva lot more" stars !! This is a book I struggled a great deal with. Ms. Garrels has spent a great deal of time in Chelyabinsk, Russia since 1993. You can read a little about Chelyabinsk here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chelyab.... Ms. Garrels takes this region and erroneously describes it as the Real Russia when it is simply one region of Russia. She then very superficially paints her own picture of this region by very lightly describing crime, the fate of journalists, politic 2 "wanted a helluva lot more" stars !! This is a book I struggled a great deal with. Ms. Garrels has spent a great deal of time in Chelyabinsk, Russia since 1993. You can read a little about Chelyabinsk here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chelyab.... Ms. Garrels takes this region and erroneously describes it as the Real Russia when it is simply one region of Russia. She then very superficially paints her own picture of this region by very lightly describing crime, the fate of journalists, politics, ethnic strife, patriotism, the state of gays, schools, women, health care. Yet in none of these areas does she really delve and through anecdotes and discussions furthers her own liberal western secular feminist agenda. Her attitude although attempting to be neutral often comes across as superior, all-knowing and imperious. She does very little to understand the Russian history, experience and psyche. An American stomping through the Wild East and judging from a comfortable distance. I would have appreciated a more factual, more in-depth, more neutral viewpoint of this region rather than this semi-sensationalistic journalistic schlock. The people of Russia have struggled long enough and deserve at least that !!

  2. 5 out of 5

    John Lamb

    Now that I've read this book about Russia, I think I am more qualified to lead foreign policy than Donald Trump. I'll await your vote.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Barbara (The Bibliophage)

    Anne Garrels, a former NPR correspondent, has been covering the USSR and Russia for about 40 years. She speaks fluent Russian, and has developed lasting relationships with the people of the region. Every bit of this shows in the depth of writing and analysis in Putin Country. In the book, she recounts the perspectives and experiences of people from Chelyabinsk rather than Moscow. This is a less cosmopolitan, primarily industrial city, although some of her subjects have traveled pretty widely. But Anne Garrels, a former NPR correspondent, has been covering the USSR and Russia for about 40 years. She speaks fluent Russian, and has developed lasting relationships with the people of the region. Every bit of this shows in the depth of writing and analysis in Putin Country. In the book, she recounts the perspectives and experiences of people from Chelyabinsk rather than Moscow. This is a less cosmopolitan, primarily industrial city, although some of her subjects have traveled pretty widely. But more often than not, they have struggled tremendously in the face of the post-Soviet, post-Gorbachev and Yeltsin, era of Vladimir Putin. Garrels makes the stories personal and engaging. She uses them to explain Russian history and Putin's policies regarding many topics. For example, Chelyabinsk is "one of the most polluted places on the planet" due to its mining history and the lack of viable environmental protection policies. In another chapter, she discusses the realities for people living the LGTBQ communities of the area. In another, the way addiction is treated (or not). As you can imagine, there's much discussion of corruption. I'll let Garrels' words speak for themselves: “When I ask if there is one law for Putin and his coterie of corrupt oligarchs and another for the rest of the country, he finds excuses. He says there is corruption everywhere, ignoring Russia’s international listing as one of the most corrupt countries. He stands by Putin as smart and capable, a man who will restore the country’s industry and its international standing. He deflects whatever criticism of Putin I throw at him, concluding with a Russian proverb: ‘When there is a fire, you don’t ask who the fireman is.’” I listened to the audiobook, read by the author. Between her writing style and narration, it was easy to grasp the complex ideas. I did find it depressing to listen over and over to stories of desolation. Thank goodness, Garrels makes it clear how strong the people of Chelyabinsk are in the face of so much difficulty. If you want to understand more about Russia today, this is well worth your time.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Maciek

    Do you know where Chelyabinsk is? It is a large city in Russia which lies a thousand miles away from Moscow, right next to the Ural mountains, where Europe oficially ends and Asia begins. It is a large city - latest estimates describe its population as exceeding one million - but still, for many of us, it is a total mystery. I think I'm safe to say that most of people who have no interest in Russia would probably never even have heard of it. However, Chelyabinsk achieved international fame in 20 Do you know where Chelyabinsk is? It is a large city in Russia which lies a thousand miles away from Moscow, right next to the Ural mountains, where Europe oficially ends and Asia begins. It is a large city - latest estimates describe its population as exceeding one million - but still, for many of us, it is a total mystery. I think I'm safe to say that most of people who have no interest in Russia would probably never even have heard of it. However, Chelyabinsk achieved international fame in 2013, when a small asteroid literally blew up above the city with the force of approximately 30 atomic bombs and with the brightness of 30 suns, exploding windows in buildings and knocking people down from their feet - thankfully no one died. (Interestingly enough, the last meteor to enter our planet's atmosphere did so more than a century earlier and also in Russia, where it flattened around 2000 kilometers of Siberian taiga. Thankfully very few people actually live in this part of Siberia, so there were no casualties as well). I remembered the meteor earlier today, and then I remembered this book. I struggled with it - not because it's poorly written, but largely because it's misleading. With a book bearing the title A Journey into the Real Russia you'd expect it to feature, well... a journey into the real Russia, whereas the author focuses exclusively on the city of Chelyabinsk, which she travels to and speaks with the locals to gather their point of view about things. It's not a bad task in itself, but it's limiting, and severely, considering Russia's sheer size and geographical and cultural diversity. What is real to a citizen of Chelyabinks might not be so to a citizen of a larger city before the Urals, or a small village deep in Siberia, or a settlement in the Caucasus or someone living on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Simply speaking, while I acknowledge the author's effort to highlight the issues facing Russian society at large, I would have liked something more... thorough, which would provide more coverage from what is after all the world's largest country. What I felt was that with this book we received just a short frame from what should have been a much longer and more complex film. It's not a bad book of glimpses into several lives of those who inhabit that city, but it is far from being a real journey into the real Russia.

  5. 5 out of 5

    ALLEN

    Dandy 2016 book about post-Soviet Russia under the stern ministrations of Vladimir Putin. Author Anne Garrels wisely focuses on the medium-sized Ural Mountain city of Chelyabinsk and the changes it has seen since the 1980s. Topics include consumer affluence, alcoholism and drug addiction, the partial privatization of education, the decay and collapse of Stalin-era collective farming, the rise of the Internet, corruption, and diminishing civil liberties in this century. The author's tone is highl Dandy 2016 book about post-Soviet Russia under the stern ministrations of Vladimir Putin. Author Anne Garrels wisely focuses on the medium-sized Ural Mountain city of Chelyabinsk and the changes it has seen since the 1980s. Topics include consumer affluence, alcoholism and drug addiction, the partial privatization of education, the decay and collapse of Stalin-era collective farming, the rise of the Internet, corruption, and diminishing civil liberties in this century. The author's tone is highly engaged, occasionally cheeky but always readable.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Holly

    A very good introduction to contemporary Russia. Garrels is a Russian speaker and has made Russia her special field of interest and reporting. She uses one city/region - Chelyabinsk - as a focal point. (She claims she blindly pointed at a map for a representative city to move to and devote her attention to. I'm not sure if I believe her, but I like the idea). She's a journalist of course, not a scholar, but Garrels uses her deepening understanding of this region and her personal relationships wi A very good introduction to contemporary Russia. Garrels is a Russian speaker and has made Russia her special field of interest and reporting. She uses one city/region - Chelyabinsk - as a focal point. (She claims she blindly pointed at a map for a representative city to move to and devote her attention to. I'm not sure if I believe her, but I like the idea). She's a journalist of course, not a scholar, but Garrels uses her deepening understanding of this region and her personal relationships with its people to examine Russian culture, politics (troubling and corrupt), the economy (disastrous), corruption (endemic), environmental degradation (Chernobyl isn't the worst), and social attitudes. Her years of personal interactions and friendships offer an intimate lens to view the country - that added a lot to my understanding. One of the most interesting (and depressing) areas she explores has to do with young people, teachers, and education: Russian youth are extremely cynical, cheating is rampant, and intellectuals and educators are discouraged by the apathy. I'm merely a dilettante, but I've been reading Masha Gessen's books over the last year or two. Since Gessen expects more basic knowledge on the part of the reader those books required more effort for me to get up to speed, and the Garrels might have served as a gentler introduction. But Gessen's books are so good: Word Will Break Cement about Pussy Riot and the Putin regime's crackdowns; The Man Without a Face, her exposé about Putin and the regime; and The Brothers, ostensibly about the Tsarnaev brothers but also a deep study of the wars and people of the Caucasus region (Dagestan, Georgia, Chechnya, etc). Then there is another book I've been meaning to read - Peter Pomerantzev's Nothing is True and Everything Is Possible, which I've heard good things about and might explore areas Garrels does not cover, such as television and the media, and Russia's "rich" class.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    Hundreds of miles away from Moscow, Anne Garrels, longtime NPR correspondent (if you listen to the audiobook as I did, you will undoubtedly recognize her voice!) describes the "Real Russia". Using the medium-sized industrial city of Chelyabinsk as a microcosm for the country and culture as a whole, Garrels uses her expertise in investigative journalism to tell the stories of many Russians she has known over the decades, and the new faces she meets. There is fear, there is frustration, and there Hundreds of miles away from Moscow, Anne Garrels, longtime NPR correspondent (if you listen to the audiobook as I did, you will undoubtedly recognize her voice!) describes the "Real Russia". Using the medium-sized industrial city of Chelyabinsk as a microcosm for the country and culture as a whole, Garrels uses her expertise in investigative journalism to tell the stories of many Russians she has known over the decades, and the new faces she meets. There is fear, there is frustration, and there is fortitude. The people believe in Russia, and many people in this region, as the title suggests, are ardent Putin supporters (though when pressed, they cannot name many things that they particularly like about the leader, and many disagree with some of his policies). It's a fascinating portrait, and it makes me want to read more on the subject.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Marshall

    For years I have been looking for a perfect book to introduce Russia to novices. When I was in high school, during the heyday of the Soviet Union, that book was The Russians by Hendrik Smith. While Smith tried to show all of the Soviet Union, from Uzbeks to Sakharov, Anne Garrels's Putin Country focuses on a single town, Chelyabinsk, which contains in this microcosm all the drama of contemporary Russia. Garrels recounts a great many compelling stories which illustrate masterfully the state of pla For years I have been looking for a perfect book to introduce Russia to novices. When I was in high school, during the heyday of the Soviet Union, that book was The Russians by Hendrik Smith. While Smith tried to show all of the Soviet Union, from Uzbeks to Sakharov, Anne Garrels's Putin Country focuses on a single town, Chelyabinsk, which contains in this microcosm all the drama of contemporary Russia. Garrels recounts a great many compelling stories which illustrate masterfully the state of play in Russia. Topics include orphans, LBGT Russia, the family, medicine, education, the Orthodox Church and Muslim Russia. Two chapters deal with Anne Garrals' taxi driver and a forensic entrepreneur. Both stories illustrate the pitfalls of contemporary Russia for both the winners and losers. If this book has any faults, they are minor. I think that the author might have provided more context for her chapter on the Orthodox Church, for example. Collusion between church and state dates back to the days of Dmitri Donskoy. I think some of the concerns about Muslim community might have been better understood the better, had Garrals explored the relationship between Saudi Arab and the growth of Islamic fundamentalist beliefs throughout the world. Moscow does not want to see what happened in Kosovo happen in Chelyabinsk. Corruption to is an issue that I think has always been with Russia dating back to the times of the tsars as anyone who has ever seen or read the Inspector General knows. It runs like a golden thread throughout the book, outrageous, but eternal. I am not sure what is reported in this book on this subject is new to Russian society as much as it became far more overt after the end of the Soviet Union. Availability of expensive foreign consumer goods probably only exasperated longstanding tendencies. I think Garrals has produced a remarkable book that serves to make Russia, the real Russia, outside the artificial atmospheres of Saint Petersburg and Moscow, accessible. She is to be commended for her efforts.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    The title of Putin Country is far, far more provocative than the content. I was kind of dreading a Russian version of one of those dreadful Atlantic articles in which pencil-necked NYC journos go to West Virginia to find out what Trump supporters think. What I got was an empathetic portrait of people in post-industrial Chelyabinsk -- a city I have some familiarity with as the home of delightfully trash-talking Youtuber, hip-hop head, and accidental dissident NFKRZ -- trying to make it in the 21s The title of Putin Country is far, far more provocative than the content. I was kind of dreading a Russian version of one of those dreadful Atlantic articles in which pencil-necked NYC journos go to West Virginia to find out what Trump supporters think. What I got was an empathetic portrait of people in post-industrial Chelyabinsk -- a city I have some familiarity with as the home of delightfully trash-talking Youtuber, hip-hop head, and accidental dissident NFKRZ -- trying to make it in the 21st Century. You hear from a whole chorus of people, none of whom can be easily pigeonholed. At a time when brainless Russophobic hysteria is at a multi-decade high in my home country (sure Trump's getting that Kremlin money, but Biden's pharma money ain't any cleaner), and sensible and well-meaning liberals have embraced the myopic and xenophobic that the right has been proffering for years, books like these are a welcome antidote. Books that show that no group is a monolith.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Isern

    A book that I finished, because of interest in the subject, but with which I was unimpressed. The book is about Chelyabinsk, which is taken to represent, in its dysfunction, all that is wrong with contemporary Russia. Not typical, perhaps prototypical. Environmental degradation, endemic corruption, cultural fatalism. The book achieves little more than vignettes, which are not always compelling. This is one of those books by a journalist who, over the years, talked to a lot of people; who put tog A book that I finished, because of interest in the subject, but with which I was unimpressed. The book is about Chelyabinsk, which is taken to represent, in its dysfunction, all that is wrong with contemporary Russia. Not typical, perhaps prototypical. Environmental degradation, endemic corruption, cultural fatalism. The book achieves little more than vignettes, which are not always compelling. This is one of those books by a journalist who, over the years, talked to a lot of people; who put together a book using the old notes; but who declines to do more probing research that might involve documents or to think reflectively on the material.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Apratim Mukherjee

    The author's work is mostly concentrated in Chelyabinsk.Now one city cannot be generalised as one country.Hence;her analysis is one sided and sample size is very small.There are no photographs also which I feel were essential for these kind of books. On the positive side,the writing is excellent and all characters are introduced systematically.You can sympathise with the taxi driver,feel angry for the actions of the mayor,hate the police etc...all thanks to the writing capabilities of the author. The author's work is mostly concentrated in Chelyabinsk.Now one city cannot be generalised as one country.Hence;her analysis is one sided and sample size is very small.There are no photographs also which I feel were essential for these kind of books. On the positive side,the writing is excellent and all characters are introduced systematically.You can sympathise with the taxi driver,feel angry for the actions of the mayor,hate the police etc...all thanks to the writing capabilities of the author. All in all its a good book with a wrong name. Its not Putin Country,its Chelyabinsk diaries.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    A fascinating, well-researched, warts-and-all portrait of the real Russia, not of Moscow or St Petersburg. Garrels' investigative journalist skills impress the most. She has won the trust of an extraordinarily wide range of people from all walks of life and got them to tell their stories. She relates them in their proper context in a very accessible narrative. A real eye-opener for me, even though I have lived in Russia and speak the language.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Charlene

    ​An in depth look at life in Russia, which includes Putin's rise to power (and his even more important rise in popularity), the economy, human rights, patriotism, and more. While Garrels wrote this before Trump's win, I found it interesting how similar Putin and Trump seem to be. Without knowing it, Gerrels lays out a map of what we should be looking for in our own country if we hope to stop politicians from getting too powerful, like they are in Russia. The press in Russia are punished if they ​An in depth look at life in Russia, which includes Putin's rise to power (and his even more important rise in popularity), the economy, human rights, patriotism, and more. While Garrels wrote this before Trump's win, I found it interesting how similar Putin and Trump seem to be. Without knowing it, Gerrels lays out a map of what we should be looking for in our own country if we hope to stop politicians from getting too powerful, like they are in Russia. The press in Russia are punished if they write anything unflattering about Putin. There was one publication that held out, reporting unflattering facts, until 2015, but even that publication is now under Putin's control-- it's voice no longer a threat to his power. This was even more interesting to read about in light of Trump's war on the media. The first thing a dictator does (and Putin is not a "president"; he is indeed a dictator) is attack the press and gets control over what the citizens read. There are many human rights violations going on in Russia but to protest is to practically commit suicide. Protesters, those who fight for the civil rights of others and those who try to speak up about the environment, are targeted by the government. Punishments include things like being brought up on tax evasion chargers, even if you have paid your taxes or having child services come to your house to investigate if you are a good enough parent, making sure you know that the thing you love most can be taken from you. So sure you are free to protest, as long as you would give your first born to do so. Donald Trump is cracking down hard on protestors, and it's only been a month. It's beginning to look too much like Russia for my comfort. The most interesting aspect of this book was the combination of hard core patriotism, for Putin no less, and the view the Russians generally have of Americans. After reading this book, it was so clear to me that I need to make more of an effort to be better informed about what is going on in the rest of the world. This book is filled with so much information and so many things that we, as Americans now under Trump, need to think about. How does someone like Putin not only rise to power, but gain the support of his people? Life is so terrible in Russia; yet, the citizens are largely behind their leader. what kind of dynamic has to happen to get people to support someone like Putin? Yes there are dissenting voices, but not nearly enough. I find Putin's strategies to be brilliant and effective. Here is a dude who has not only landed himself as the leader of a country, he has changed the rules so that he can stay president, make the church rule the state, squash any civil rights movements, and basically gain more and more power until he morphs from president to authoritarian leader to straight up dictator. How far will we let Trump continue on this journey?

  14. 5 out of 5

    Meg - A Bookish Affair

    Russia is one of my favorite places to read about whether in fiction or non-fiction. I think it is a fantastically interesting place but much of what I read (fiction or non-fiction) set there always seems to be set in the big cities. What I really liked about "Putin Country" is that the author gets us out into the less-traveled places in Russia to explore how Russians feel about their leader Vladimir Putin. Drawing on interviews with every day people in Chelyabinsk (a fairly industrial city), Ga Russia is one of my favorite places to read about whether in fiction or non-fiction. I think it is a fantastically interesting place but much of what I read (fiction or non-fiction) set there always seems to be set in the big cities. What I really liked about "Putin Country" is that the author gets us out into the less-traveled places in Russia to explore how Russians feel about their leader Vladimir Putin. Drawing on interviews with every day people in Chelyabinsk (a fairly industrial city), Garrels explores the mayhem and the mystique that surrounds Putin and his government. The answers about what she finds are especially interesting in light of what we have going on in our country right now with our own government. We see people explaining away some of the government corruption and deception that permeates everything from newspapers to television. We get a view of why Putin maintains popularity after so much time in the spotlight. It's fascinating! This book definitely shed some light for me and made me think about things in a different way - something I always appreciate about a good book!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    Garrels writes about the period from 1993 on in Chelyabinsk, a former industrial city 1.000 miles east of Moscow. . She concentrates on the views of people she has known over the those years, people from all walks of life, though she tends to concentrate on the more educated and more successful, though success in this city is hard-won. Much graft, paying of bribes, in essence more of the same we have seen since the revolution. Very low pay, even for doctors. No supplies. Even now, people are di Garrels writes about the period from 1993 on in Chelyabinsk, a former industrial city 1.000 miles east of Moscow. . She concentrates on the views of people she has known over the those years, people from all walks of life, though she tends to concentrate on the more educated and more successful, though success in this city is hard-won. Much graft, paying of bribes, in essence more of the same we have seen since the revolution. Very low pay, even for doctors. No supplies. Even now, people are disappearing for making an innocent remark suddenly judged treasonous. Putin is generally very popular, as the economic situation is improved. There are still many palms to grease, but goods are available to those who have a few bucks. Alcoholism, in men especially, is still a huge problem. I can't say that any of this is new news in Russia. It seemed to me that Garrels relied heavily on her old sources, though she did zoom out to the larger picture as well. Garrells is IMOP not much of a writer. She has been a reporter for years. Writing is not really her craft, and her sentence structure seems very awkward at times. Most of the people who comprised her narrative ( and many were highly educated) had this point of view concerting Putin: that he had provided far better for the common man than previous leaders. What was interesting to me was the mind-set of people she spoke with. The Russians are tired of feeling backward and ineffectual on the world stage. They want to be proud of their mother country, and who wouldn't? So now they seem to be in a phase that almost repudiates Glasnost. They are tired of having their dirty laundry aired for all to see. They point out that the United States has done a lot of colonizing and is far from being as open as we pretend. All this was interesting to me. I was assuming that Russians would still be quite angry that the state had murdered so many of their townspeople. But no. They want to move beyond that memory and be proud. I had a hard time sustaining interest in this book. I have read many far more difficult books on Russia, but it was not that her book was so small in terms of ideas (and it was), it's just that nothing really grabbed me.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Oliver Bateman

    nice series of short essays from longtime Russia correspondent Anne Garrels, who knows the language, knows the country, and has been through some rather nasty shit during her time there. i was in Russia for a couple of weeks last year, and got only the Moscow/St Petersburg side of the story, so this story of million-person, run-of-the-mill, and highly radioactive Chelyabinsk was rather illuminating. that said, there's a fundamental tone of western elitist derision that characterizes this work: t nice series of short essays from longtime Russia correspondent Anne Garrels, who knows the language, knows the country, and has been through some rather nasty shit during her time there. i was in Russia for a couple of weeks last year, and got only the Moscow/St Petersburg side of the story, so this story of million-person, run-of-the-mill, and highly radioactive Chelyabinsk was rather illuminating. that said, there's a fundamental tone of western elitist derision that characterizes this work: they lack this, they lack that, they don't have this thing, they're missing that important one. i'm reading secondhand lives, a much more intimate history of late soviet and immediate post-soviet life, and the difference is stark. the garrels approach is similar to the approach of family members of mine who worked for the foreign service: all of the world is compared to america, where a particular rule of law is in place, from which all deviations must be measured. it makes for useful observations when other-izing is called for, and russia is surely one of the biggest others around (more alien, i'd argue, than china; eastern europe is odd, and the further east you go, the odder it gets). yes, life for people over there sucks, everything is corrupt, health care isn't affordable, and minorities can expect little protection from the government...but that's really the story everywhere, including here. the difference is in terms of the quality of the veneer and finish, and little else: it's still a lada under the hood, no matter where in the world you go.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    Listening to an interview with Anne Garrels about her brand new book, Putin Country, on Fresh Air at the same time I was coincidentally taking classes on the Cold War and the history of Russia, I thought I would love it. Unfortunately, I found the interview fascinating and the book somewhat tedious. Ms. Garrels does fill in the blanks of how the lives of people in middle Russia, not Moscow or St. Petersburg, have changed and changed often since the end of the Cold War. I found it interesting to Listening to an interview with Anne Garrels about her brand new book, Putin Country, on Fresh Air at the same time I was coincidentally taking classes on the Cold War and the history of Russia, I thought I would love it. Unfortunately, I found the interview fascinating and the book somewhat tedious. Ms. Garrels does fill in the blanks of how the lives of people in middle Russia, not Moscow or St. Petersburg, have changed and changed often since the end of the Cold War. I found it interesting to see how the sanctions following Putin's invasion of Ukraine have affected life for the ordinary Russian citizen. I do recommend this book to anyone interested in life in Russia, just beware that it is not a quick read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Allisonlcarter

    Russia is so much weirder and scarier than any dystopia.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    Anne Garrels is a journalist and commentator for National Public Radio who has covered Russia for years. She wanted to examine the remarkable changes in that country since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but she felt it would be more informative to see the changes in the lives of “ordinary Russians,” away from the capital city of Moscow. She chose Chelyabinsk, formerly a military-industrial center a thousand miles east of Moscow at the southern edge of the Ural Mountains. The remote region Anne Garrels is a journalist and commentator for National Public Radio who has covered Russia for years. She wanted to examine the remarkable changes in that country since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but she felt it would be more informative to see the changes in the lives of “ordinary Russians,” away from the capital city of Moscow. She chose Chelyabinsk, formerly a military-industrial center a thousand miles east of Moscow at the southern edge of the Ural Mountains. The remote region of Chelyabinsk is known for being “one of the most polluted places on the planet.” Chelyabinsk had been badly treated under the Soviet regime. It was a center of nuclear power research, and the Soviets were inclined to sacrifice safety in the interest of rapid progress. A number of accidents occurred, and there were hundreds of incidents of radiation sickness. Few if any of these events were admitted at the time by the government or reported in the news. (Horrifying accounts are now available; you can read about them here.) Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the successor state has made progress in cleaning up the environment, but is still very secretive about any problems that occurred in the past or that continue to exist. In addition to the environmental problems, the economy of Chelyabinsk is now suffering as well. As Garrels observes, the Russian economy boomed overall when oil prices were high, and many fortunes were made by a new class of “oligarchs.” Moscow, the capital, has become vibrant and prosperous. But Garrels reports that things are not so rosy in the hinterlands, where austerity has resulted from the lowering of oil prices. Money is still being spent in some sectors. The Russian state allows freedom of religion, actively favoring the Russian Orthodox Church. In Chelyabinsk just as in the big cities, many of the Church’s splendidly ornate cathedrals and monasteries have been restored to their original brilliance, once again supplying the "opiate of the masses" scorned by Karl Marx. Garrels sees Russia as going through something of an identity crisis. The gene pool was severely depleted by the horrors of World War II and Stalin’s purges. Women still outnumber men by a significant margin. The Russian military complains that it has difficulty finding suitable recruits. Alcoholism and drug addiction are quite prevalent among Russian males. Nevertheless, most Russians, she avers, are happy with or at least satisfied with the job Vladimir Putin has done. His approval rating is in the mid 80% range! This high rating results in part because most Russians strongly disapproved of Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, of whom Garrels says, he “and the ‘liberals’ who took the reins of government in Russia [from the Soviets] were unable to resist the lure of getting rich quickly by corrupt methods.” Moreover, under Yeltsin, criminal gangs often used violence to achieve their goals. Corruption under Putin remains rampant, but at least order has been restored, and the economy is vastly better than it was before, even with setbacks from lower oil prices. Garrels found some Russians who strongly disapproved of Putin. There are civil and human rights advocates who feel constrained by a strong atmosphere of state-sponsored censorship and the self-censorship that inevitably follows. Garrels says there is an “unbridgeable gap” between Putin’s supporters and Russians who think country is on wrong track — much like the current situation in the USA. It should also be noted, however, that Russians in general are not as wedded to the ideal of “individual liberties” (versus policies reflecting the good of the collective) as we are in the West. In addition, most Russians are dependent on state-sponsored news media, where Putin has been able to shift the blame for many of Russia’s problems to the West, at least in the eyes of his enthusiasts. Russians also resent the fact that the West seems unaware of the sacrifice they made in WWII, having sustained 95% of the military casualties inflicted on the three major Allied powers (the U.S., the U.K., and the U.S.S.R.) To ask Americans, you’d think they won the war practically single-handedly. In any event, the improvements in Russia since the Soviet government and since the tenure of Yeltsin are striking. It is not unreasonable for Russians to felt grateful to Putin for all the advances of the country generally and in their own economic situations in particular. Garrels tells the story of Chelyabinsk in a series of chapters that read like features on NPR. They are full of interesting revelations, such as in the one titled “The Forensic Expert” about Alexander Vlasov, the region’s deputy forensic pathologist, who worked on excavating a mass grave from Soviet times. Evaluation: These snapshots of a Russia away from the big cosmopolitan areas of Russia are entertaining and shed light on a lesser-known region of that country. Rating: 3.5/5

  20. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    This was an audiobook production of Garrels' book and I think that may be the best way to read it. Garrels is the narrator and she does a great job, as one might expect given her long experience with NPR. Others have found the book tedious at times and I could see that. However, her skill at narration minimized that. She has spent more than 20 years visiting Chelyabinsk described by the publisher as a "... gritty military-industrial center a thousand miles east of Moscow." So you are not hearing This was an audiobook production of Garrels' book and I think that may be the best way to read it. Garrels is the narrator and she does a great job, as one might expect given her long experience with NPR. Others have found the book tedious at times and I could see that. However, her skill at narration minimized that. She has spent more than 20 years visiting Chelyabinsk described by the publisher as a "... gritty military-industrial center a thousand miles east of Moscow." So you are not hearing about the Russia of Moscow or St. Petersburg. Instead, she describes the conditions of the more average Russian. She established long term relationships with a wide range of people over time. I began to understand what chaos the 90's were and what an identity crisis Russians who had been Soviets, not Russians, for a very long time experienced. It also made me realize how naïve anyone was who thought that democracy would be adopted easily by a culture that had never experienced it. I began to understand why they would accept Putin's "muscular" leadership despite the widespread corruption and limits on freedoms. Definitely recommended.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Soheil

    I was looking for a book to learn more about Russia. Putin Country by Anne Garrels was recommended to me. I listened to an audiobook read by the author. At its high point the book describes the streets, the buldings, people's interactions, etc. You can get a big picture of what it is like to walk in those places. At its low point, which is most of the subsequent chapters of the book, the book only talks about honest to God people who tried to make a living or business but were fouled by the corrup I was looking for a book to learn more about Russia. Putin Country by Anne Garrels was recommended to me. I listened to an audiobook read by the author. At its high point the book describes the streets, the buldings, people's interactions, etc. You can get a big picture of what it is like to walk in those places. At its low point, which is most of the subsequent chapters of the book, the book only talks about honest to God people who tried to make a living or business but were fouled by the corrupt governement. It goes on and on regarding this theme weaving story after story of how insufficient and corrupt the government is, with which I understand the author has had a few negative encounters. I cannot judge the extent of fault within the state of Russia. My only quarrel is that most of this book, which reads mostly like a bunch of news articles pieced together, focuses on repetative stories with the same theme. If you hate the Russian government, this is the book for you. If you want to learn more about Russia as a country, you may be able to do better.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tressa

    A fascinating book on the current state of Chelyabinsk. I would have liked to hear more about all of Russia, but I understand that it would be challenging. The level of corruption astounded me. I knew that Russia isn't a bastion of democracy, but the level of oppression the people live with and seem to be resigned to makes me sad. The size of the book is deceptive. It is not an easy read and contains so much information. Recommend if you are interested at all in the state of modern Russia.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    Best book about Russia by a non-Russian that I've ever read. The depth and breadth of Garrels' reporting is really evident here, and she does a good job letting Russians speak for themselves about their beliefs and values. Garrels reports largely from Chelyabinsk, which even this Petersburg native can appreciate as a departure from the usual focus on Moscow and Piter.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Krista

    Interesting, however not quite as in depth as I was expecting. Good look at how individuals live in Russia, however not a lot of surprising or revolutionary information.

  25. 5 out of 5

    David

    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 rec 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.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Julie Mickens

    This is about Russia's own Rust Belt which is much worse off than our own. Nevertheless, it's become creepily obvious where Trump's handlers/managers got much of their rhetoric, messaging and strategy -- from Putin's Russia. (Aside from the that government's more direct assistance.) Unfortunately, such right-wing rhetoric works on both the Russian post-industrial citizens and our own. In sum, excellent insight that's suddenly way too relevant. The prose is sparse and plain, but understatement ser This is about Russia's own Rust Belt which is much worse off than our own. Nevertheless, it's become creepily obvious where Trump's handlers/managers got much of their rhetoric, messaging and strategy -- from Putin's Russia. (Aside from the that government's more direct assistance.) Unfortunately, such right-wing rhetoric works on both the Russian post-industrial citizens and our own. In sum, excellent insight that's suddenly way too relevant. The prose is sparse and plain, but understatement serves the subject well.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    Well researched and well written providing insight into the mind of today's Russians - not the leadership, but the common people. Anne Garrels has been visiting the Russian city of Chelyabinsk for almost two decades. She has develop contacts and friendships spanning that time frame. This allows Anne a unique look into how a wide range of the local population's thinking has transitioned over time - from Boris Yeltsin's troubled rule to today's totalitarian rule of Putin. It's startling and amazin Well researched and well written providing insight into the mind of today's Russians - not the leadership, but the common people. Anne Garrels has been visiting the Russian city of Chelyabinsk for almost two decades. She has develop contacts and friendships spanning that time frame. This allows Anne a unique look into how a wide range of the local population's thinking has transitioned over time - from Boris Yeltsin's troubled rule to today's totalitarian rule of Putin. It's startling and amazing at the same time. The rise of a new entrepreneurial rich and the suffering of many of the communist proletariat. Yet there is definitely a national pride rising out of the Soviet ashes that are shared by almost all the population. One that Western nations must watch closely and figure out how to diplomatically navigate in the years to come. Highly recommend everyone interested in international affairs read this book

  28. 4 out of 5

    juliemcl

    Garrels briliantly and intrepidly holds up the fun-house mirror that is modern Russia. I got a little bit of bummer fatigue in the later chapters, but it is a really worthwhile book for understanding what is going on there and the depths to which any country could sink if allowed, both how it happens and how it affects the average person, with some still supporting Putin against all evidence that his rule is not in their interest. I started wishing she would apply her gimlet eye here in the U.S. Garrels briliantly and intrepidly holds up the fun-house mirror that is modern Russia. I got a little bit of bummer fatigue in the later chapters, but it is a really worthwhile book for understanding what is going on there and the depths to which any country could sink if allowed, both how it happens and how it affects the average person, with some still supporting Putin against all evidence that his rule is not in their interest. I started wishing she would apply her gimlet eye here in the U.S. ("Trump Country"?), but then realized there are a whole slew of books now out or coming out purporting to show what's really going on in the white middle (with titles like Hillbilly Elegy and White Trash).

  29. 4 out of 5

    Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    If you are headed to Russia, you couldn't have a better guide than Anne Garrels; Garrels knows the stories in Russia and she can tell them better than anyone else. Russian stories are bleak, with corruption and graft and greed, with alcoholism and despair and desperation in every tale. Russia is stories of repression of free speech, stories of hazing in the military, stories of people exposed to nuclear waste, stories of thwarted hope. Garrels listens to them all and shares them with us, coolly, If you are headed to Russia, you couldn't have a better guide than Anne Garrels; Garrels knows the stories in Russia and she can tell them better than anyone else. Russian stories are bleak, with corruption and graft and greed, with alcoholism and despair and desperation in every tale. Russia is stories of repression of free speech, stories of hazing in the military, stories of people exposed to nuclear waste, stories of thwarted hope. Garrels listens to them all and shares them with us, coolly, dispassionately, an eye always there seeking a bit of hopeful news amid the dark.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Retired journalist Anne Garrels documents current life in Chelyabinsk, as well as its history. This is a fascinating look into the lives of real Russians. The end of communism was a severe economic shock, resulting in extreme deprivation and loss of the social safety nets for the vast majority of the residents of this region. The most frightening bit of this book, for me, was the information about the Chelyabinsk prisons, in which inmates are tortured regularly and horribly if their relatives do Retired journalist Anne Garrels documents current life in Chelyabinsk, as well as its history. This is a fascinating look into the lives of real Russians. The end of communism was a severe economic shock, resulting in extreme deprivation and loss of the social safety nets for the vast majority of the residents of this region. The most frightening bit of this book, for me, was the information about the Chelyabinsk prisons, in which inmates are tortured regularly and horribly if their relatives don't provide bribes (in money or in kind) to the jailers.

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