THE GUARDIAN: VLADIMIR PUTIN'S MANY FACES, IN FICTION
|He may be "the Chosen One", or Stalin's ghost, or perhaps the ghost is his chief adviser. A grey wolf, a dolphin, or a lizard. A bridegroom found for Mother Russia by Father Christmas. A Zeus-like figure who can turn himself into an amorous crane. A Kremlin Clinton whom a Russian version of Monica Lewinsky attempts to seduce, writes theguardian.com. |
After almost 15 years ruling Russia, either as president or prime minster, Vladimir Putin has been portrayed in fiction with a striking imaginative freedom, by admirers and critics, Russian and western writers alike. While his background as an agent has intrigued spy writers, his carefully cultivated image as bare-chested action man
and horse-riding, bird-rescuing nature-lover has given encouragement to others who weave him into fiction influenced by fairytales, fables or magic realism.
In British and American writing, Putin notably appears in Henry Porter's Brandenburg (as a KGB man in 1980s East Germany) and is barely disguised in Charles Cumming's The Trinity Six as president Sergei Platonov, who, in trying to prevent the identity of a "sixth man" British traitor emerging, is also desperate to protect his own secrets from his years as an agent.
Others have preferred to keep him in the background as a sinister presiding presence. In John le Carré's Our Kind of Traitor, about the defection of Russian oligarch and "No 1 money launderer" Dima, Putin is clearly responsible for the climate in which the protagonist has flourished but remains invisible. Martin Cruz Smith's recent novels have portrayed a lawless "wild east" Moscow dominated by oligarchs and mafiosi, but suggests Putin is too powerful to name, alluding to him only as "the judo master" (and implicitly as Stalin's ghost, sighted in the city's Metro system in Three Stations).
Russian treatments, in contrast, tend to be idiosyncratic, often surreal. In Dmitry Bykov's The G-spot, Putin is a husband for Russia selected by Grandfather Frost (Santa Claus), who after their marriage – ie, his winning the presidency – finds her G-spot, so she doesn't miss the freedom he's stolen. Maxim Kononenko specialises in fake online stories about Putin, aka the Chosen One, such as the idea that he takes advice from not only Stalin's ghost but also a tiny Martian in his head.
Victor Pelevin's The Sacred Book of the Werewolf – about a romance between a callgirl/fox and a spy/wolf – was taken to be an allegory about Russia and Putin, or Pelevin and Putin, or both. An opera called Monica in the Kremlin posited a CIA attempt to honey-trap premier "Krutin". Only one western offering so far has been similarly facetious: Bobbie Ann Mason and Meg Pokrass's flash fiction Leda and the Crane Daddy, in which Putin comes to America on a hang-glider, with an entourage of cranes, and descends to seduce Leda, a bodybuilder.
A sense of the magical or uncanny clings to the president, starting with his remarkable foreshadowing long before he came to the Kremlin in Vladimir Voinovich's 1986 novel Moscow 2024, which conjures a future "shrunken, post-Soviet Russia run by a former KGB spy who had been stationed in Germany". Foretold, too, was the current Ukraine crisis, in Mikhail Yuriev's 2006 speculative novel Third Empire, which looks back from 2054 to the reign of "Vladimir II the Restorer", who responds to a revolution in western Ukraine, and rebellion against the new regime in the Russian-speaking east, by inviting the south and east to join Russia. A stand off with Nato ensues.
Those familiar with the late Tom Clancy's prophetic gifts will not be surprised to learn that he anticipated the crisis, too. In Command Authority, published posthumously in December, Russia retrieves its cold war status as No 1 villain nation in the Clancyverse under ex-KGB president Valeri Volodin. Intent on reasserting control over states formerly part of Russia's empire, Volodin provokes a crisis in first Estonia, and then (as also happens in one of Clancy's Ghost Recon computer games) a bigger one in Ukraine.
|548 reads | 21.03.2014|