Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Politkovskaya's Russian Diary

‘[This book] should be dropped from the air in vast quantities throughout the length and breadth of Mother Russia, for all her people to read.’ So wrote Jon Snow in his introduction to A Russian Diary, by Anna Politkovskaya. First published in 2007 by Random House, just a year after her death, A Russian Diary: A Journalist's Final Account of Life, Corruption, and Death in Putin's Russia, has now been issued in paperback by Vintage. Politkovskaya was a crusading Russian journalist, most well known perhaps for her reporting from Chechnya and her strident criticisms of the Russian regime’s role in that conflict. She was also a severe critic of Putin’s presidency. In 2006, at the age of 48, she was shot dead in her apartment block lift. Russian state security officer Alexander Litvinenko accused Putin of ordering the assassination. Putin argued publicly that, in his opinion, murdering such a person would do much greater damage to the authorities than her publications ever had. Litvinenko, though, himself was murdered in London two weeks after making his accusation against Putin.

A Russian Diary is not a diary in the normal sense, but pieces of Politkovskaya’s writing put together and attached to specific dates. The book had been prepared by Politkovskaya herself and was in the process of being translated, by Arch Tait, when Politkovskaya was murdered. Wikipedia carries a detailed biography of the journalist and includes part of Jon Snow’s introduction: ‘Her murder robbed too many of us of absolutely vital sources of information and contact. Yet it may, ultimately, be seen to have at least helped prepare the way for the unmasking of the dark forces at the heart of Russia's current being. I must confess that I finished reading A Russian Diary feeling that it should be taken up and dropped from the air in vast quantities throughout the length and breadth of Mother Russia, for all her people to read.’

Thanks are due to the New York Times which has substantial extracts from the book, and an excellent review, by Andrew Meier. He is not enamoured of the translation or the editing but is much taken with Politkovskaya herself. He concludes: ‘Her writing made her more than a reporter; when she died, she was a crisis mediator and Russia’s most prominent human rights advocate. Stacks of letters — pleas for help — came daily. Politkovskaya fought for the victims — of the state, of terror and of that Russian catchall, fate. Then she joined them.’

Politkovskaya was born in the US to Soviet Ukrainian parents, both UN diplomats, but grew up in Moscow. She graduated from the Moscow State University Department of Journalism in 1980 with a thesis on the writer and poet Marina Tsvetaeva, who also led a troubled life, much affected by the Revolution. Tsvetaeva died, by committing suicide, at the age of 49, just a year older than Politkovskaya. Curiously, she was also a pseudo diarist: her book called The Demesne of the Swans is a series of political poems but written in the form of a diary.

The Diary Junction - Data and links for over 500 historical and literary diarists

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