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Behind Putin's Curtain: Friendships and…
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Behind Putin's Curtain: Friendships and Misadventures Inside Russia

by Stephan Orth

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I found this a fascinating look at Russia, the ordinary people and their attitudes. Particularly interesting was the breadth of his travel revealing a wide range of micro cultures and numerous large cities I had no idea existed. ( )
  snash | Mar 21, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received an advanced review copy of Behind Putin's Curtain through the Early Reviewer's Program. It is a travelogue of Stephan Orth's 10 week trip inside the republics that make up the Russian Federation.

Orth began his journey in Moscow where he had advance "hotel" arrangements through couchsurfing.com. In fact, all of his overnight stays were arranged through this organization. The results were usually comical but sometimes dangerous. Orth stated early in the book that he "wanted to spend time with normal people doing the things that they normally do and not focus on politicians, activists or intellectuals." The purpose of the trip was to understand what was on young people's minds and to understand the Putin phenomenon and its effect on people.

My first impression of this country was that it was truly poverty stricken. I always believed otherwise. While I knew that there were parts that were poor my general impression was that Russia was a comfortable country to live in and one that I would like to visit one day. This book changed my mind. Russia seems like the kind of country that my church would have a practical mission trip to in order to construct a building or fix one.

My initial impression of the book questioned how the author could stand the strange people that he stayed with. My next thought was how did these folks become so strange in the first place? Russia is a country of many accomplishments yet the people are quirky and they are living like those in a third world country.

While their living conditions are not so great, i.e., food and electrical shortages, they seem to love Putin as he is a strong leader. The Russian people view him as being able to bring back national pride and the author's discussions with his various hosts indicate that is more important to them than their personal struggles. When Putin invaded Crimea, they felt proud of the accomplishment regardless of whether it was the right thing to do. When Putin looks superior to other world leaders they are similarly proud. When Russia gets blamed for interference in the affairs of other nations the Russian people feel proud that they have power again.

The author made an astute assessment of the world's political situation. During the months before and after his trip the British voted for Brexit, the U. S. elected Trump, and Rumen Radev, the new president of Bulgaria, took over the presidency of the European Union. According to the author, all of these events happened exactly as Russian would have wished. They all strengthen Putin's position in the world. I haven't heard any of the U. S. news stations report on this so I am impressed to hear Orth's reporting on Putin.

The author never stayed in one place more than a few days. He maximized his interactions with people and summarized his experiences at the end of some of the chapters with what he calls truths about Russia. They are comical but true. An example is Truth #6 "The words 'that's Russia' explain many things for which there is no logical explanation."

However, the book was slow reading perhaps because of the format. Most of the interesting assessments of the Russian people and of Putin were at the end of the book. The reader does get a feel for what it's like to travel within the country via train and plane. The psyche of the Russian people is evident in the stories that the author tells from his interactions with his many hosts. While it seemed that the book read slow, I don't know that the reader would be able to surmise the Russian psyche without this particular format. It was necessary.

I found it hard to determine how to rate this book according to my 5 star rating list. The author made some incredible political assessments. He showed us what makes Russians tick. However, it was slow reading. I am thinking that I would rate it 3 or 4 stars for its entertainment readability but if you consider the book's duty to inform it should be rated higher. I cannot decide so I won't rate it. Read the book yourself and you decide. ( )
  Violette62 | Mar 20, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I read the first 75 pages and then skimmed the rest. Just wasn't worth my time to read every word because I'm so much older than this young person, and can't connect with his style of travel.
If a reader is looking for a memoir of this type of travel, then there are some interesting stories and worthwhile descriptions. I was quite interested in the photographs. ( )
  emr093 | Mar 19, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
While not some of the best writing (early pasts seem rather free-form) there are many interesting stories in Behind Putin’s Curtain. The German author spent six weeks in Russia couch surfing. Frankly, I didn’t know there was couch surfing (part of the homestyle gift economy, sort of like a thrifty AirBNB). He traveled some 9,500 km across Russia by train, bus, car, and airplane. Getting from Point A to Point B appears exhausting at times – 20+ hours by two trains, a two-hour bus ride, 12 more miles by car and a 10 mile walk. But Orth certainly met interesting people and places along the way. His description of the rebuilt of Chechnya turns into somewhat of a Potemkin village as outside the city center it is a “wasteland.” He visits faux shamans and becomes visits Sun City looking for an audience with Vissarion, a former traffic cop who sells himself as the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. He visits cities large and small and experiences an empty apartment as his lodging one night to having a dacha to himself. The writing gets better in the second half of the book IMHO. It’s a fascinating look at Russia today, including the effectiveness of state-sponsored propaganda. ( )
  sherman1951 | Mar 15, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
"I see what you mean by 'boring'" says the author on page 73. It provided the only chuckle and insightful moment as this is exactly how I felt about this book. I got through this book by reminding myself I had a duty to review it for Early Reviews. This is the most boring book I have ever read and that includes a mountain of mathematical textbooks. What on earth did the author expect? There is an art to raising the mundane to significance, but this is more a quagmire of ordinary - exasperated by the ordinary of Russia.
After reading this book, I consider my debt to Early Reviewers paid in full. ( )
  rhbouchard | Mar 6, 2019 |
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