June 16, 2015 by Darius
I recently read Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia by British author Peter Pomerantsev. It’s a unique look into the surreal, ever-morphing system that rules Russia, seen through Pomerantsev’s work in television in Russia. The book is rather eclectic and lacks a completely cohesive narrative—but then again, that’s Pomerantsev’s point: modern Russia defies a cohesive narrative.
Pomerantsev himself is British, born to Soviet émigré parents. His Britishness opened doors for him in the Russian television industry. One of the key themes of Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible is the fundamental malleability of reality in modern Russia. As Pomerantsev writes, “‘Performance’ was [Moscow’s] buzzword, a world where gangsters become artists, gold diggers quote Pushkin, Hells Angels hallucinate themselves as saints. Russia had seen so many worlds flick through in such blistering progression—from communism to perestroika to shock therapy to penury to oligarchy to mafia-state to mega-rich—that its new heroes were left with the sense that life is just one glittering masquerade, where every role and any position or belief is mutable.” Parts of Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible explore each of the pockets of Russian society in the quote: gangsters, gold diggers, biker gangs, and more.
Another source of the infinite transformations of modern Russia is the stratified society. As is expressed most literally by young women hoping to become the feted mistress of wealthy men, those lower down on the totem pole of Russian society try endlessly to mold themselves into something that those higher up will desire.
Pomerantsev also explores the way the Putin regime exploits the surrealism of New Russia. (Side note: Pomerantsev never actually uses Putin’s name in his own writing, instead referring to him as the President.) It is unclear just how the government is being run, what the government’s real policies are, and which laws will be enforced which days. As Pomerantsev writes, Russia is run like a reality TV show.
Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible is not the most cerebral look at modern Russia, but it is certainly entertaining and worthwhile. It won’t win the Russian government any new friends, nor is it likely to boost tourism to Russia. As a portrait of modern Russia down to its grimiest corners, though, it’s hard to beat.