Vladimir Putin in Fiction

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Vladimir Putin in Fiction

The DC/Baltimore area seems to be inundated with Putin-based theater over the last year. (See Putin on Ice at the Single Carrot Theatre in Baltimore last fall, Kleptocracy at Arena Stage last winter and Describe the Night at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company  right now.  So the theater world seems to have Putin covered.  Let's see what the library has to offer in the way of fiction. (For nonfiction, check out my colleague David G's list Understanding Putin's Russia for some non-fiction recommendations.)

A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer duBois
Irina Ellison is a college instructor who has just learned through genetic testing that she is at high risk for Huntington disease. Aleksandr is a Russian chess champion who has chosen to run against Vladimir Putin in the Russian presidential election, which is practically a death sentence.  Irina decides to track down Aleksandr after she finds a mysterious letter to him in her dead father's study.  The letter asks the question "How do you proceed when defeat is inevitable?" A Partial History of Lost Causes is about how Irina and Aleksandr struggle to find an answer.   

The Senility of Vladimir P. by Michael Honig
A lot of these books don't mention Putin by name.  It's almost as if the authors are hesitant to cross a man who has enemies poisoned, or they live in a regime that regularly has creative people jailed.  Or they just don't want to be sued.  Or Honig just thought it was too blunt to name Putin by name. Anyway, this book just calls him Vladimir P.  

In any case, the Senility of Vladimir P. takes place 20 or so years in the future.  Vladimir P. has retired from government after "he had been five times president and twice prime minister."  He is suffering from dementia, and he is being haunted by visions of his past. In the meantime, most his staff has no problem taking advantage of his condition and almost everyone is skimming money.  It's almost like Putin's estate is a mini-kleptocracy. (I see what you did there, Honig.)  

Day of the Oprichnik by Vladimir Sorokin
This is another book about Russia in the future (2028) and the country has established a sort of intensely religous (and crooked) monarchy that engenders terrifying loyalty among the people.  The government has also reestablished the Operichniki, a brutal enforcement group originally used by Ivan the Terrible. The book follows operichnik Komiaga as his goes about his day.  His sickening, horrifying day.  

Author Sorokin has been persecuted for his work in Russia and he survived a possible assassination attempt.  You know exactly who he is thinking about when he writes about Russia's pitiless new tsar and the nightmare government over which he presides. 

The Sacred Book of the Werewolf  by Victor Pelevin
Okay. Stay with me.  This book is about a shapeshifting werefox named Hu-li.  Her main form is a 15-year-old Russian prostitute but she's actually 2000 years old and from China. Got it?  Also she can hypnotize people with her fox tail.  Anyway, Hu-li starts a relationship with Alexander, a lieutenant colonel in the FSB. And he's also a werewolf.  And his powers revive Russian's oil industry. It's been suggested that Alexander is a stand in for Putin and...yeah. I can see that.  

This book wasn't for me, but it received wonderful reviews, so if you like highly allegoric Russian fantasy (or really just one of these things) this book might be for you  Na Zdorovie!

The Kremlin's Candidate by Jason Matthews
This is the third book in the Red Sparrow Trilogy by Jason Matthews, and it's one of the few on this list that calls Putin by his name. He's not a werewolf, or a vague, malevolent presence.  The Putin in The Kremlin's Candidate is flesh and blood, and more terrifying than the "Putin" werewolf in The Sacred Book of the Werewolf.  He is sadistic and manipulative, especially toward Dominika, a double agent for the US and the book's protagonist.  This is the Putin we know from the news. In short, he's the perfect real life villain for this spy thriller.   

Vladimir Putin: Life Coach by Rob Sears
This is a tongue-in-cheek parody of a certain type of self-help book. "Improve your life with lessons from Proust, Mr. Rodgers, Michelle Obama etc, even if those people had nothing to do with the book we're pushing!"  

Author Rob Sears takes horrifying stories from Putin's real life and frames them as helpful life tips. Did you know that Putin brought a black lab to his first meeting with Angela Merkel after he learned she was afraid of dogs? The book advises you to "Be More Vlad" and "Wear a pair of Dracula teeth the next time you to to buy a used car to freak out the salesperson. In common with all rational humans, the salesperson's deep primal terror of Nosferatu, aka Count Orko, the 'bird of death', will likely lead him to accept a lowball offer so he can end the terrifying encounter asap."

It's a fast fun read and you do learn quite a lot about Putin.  More than you probably want.