30 September 2007

Andrew Meier - Black Earth

Andrew Meier was Moscow correspondent for Time for 5 years until 2001, and this book is collected from his experiences in the former Soviet Union. Each chapter is set in a different location, and with a different theme - organised crime in St Petersburg, oligarch power in Moscow, the gulags of Siberia, the war in Chechnya, and the new oil wealth in Sakhalin.

The book is a mixture of reportage and social history. One early chapter deals with a massacre in Chechnya that Meier himself exposed, going into Grozny at great risk to himself to investigate an army atrocity.

Meier, thanks to the status of his employer, has access to senior figures in Russia, from oligarchs to ex-Politburo members. This gives his account the credibility of highly-placed primary sources, so his comments on the power of the Kremlin, for example, are particularly well-informed.

Many of the chapters have an elegaic feel to them, examining the troubled past (Communism, gulags) and present (Chechnya, oligarchs), and there's little optimism felt. Maybe this is an accurate reflection of the state of Russia today. It's certainly fascinating material, and Meier is a very good writer, able to immerse himself in the culture, and present it in an engaging way.


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