Satter deserves our gratitude. . . . He is an astute observer of people, with an eye for essential detail and for human behavior in a universe wholly different from his own experience in America.
Drawing on two decades of reporting from the Soviet Union for the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times of London, Satter's riveting montage takes us inside KGB interrogation cells, factories sabotaged by theft, collective farms awash in vodka, labor camps where a prisoner's slightest protest brings slow starvation in an isolation cell, psychiatric hospitals stuffed with political dissenters who are force-fed psychoactive drugs and tortured. By jump-cutting between historic events-the abortive 1991 coup against Gorbachev; the breakaway by the Baltic republics and Ukraine; the coal miners' strike of 1989-1990; the storming of the Russian parliament by Yeltsin's troops in 1993, which left 150 dead-and the struggles of ordinary Soviet citizens to survive in a society built on official lies and illusions, Satter provides an astonishingly intimate look at the unraveling of the Soviet system on a personal as well as a political level. We meet daring illegal border-crossers, refuseniks who won't rat on Anatoly Shcharansky for the KGB, fanatic right-wing nationalists and whistle-blowers with grievances against their workers' collectives who are thwarted by a kafkaesque maze of Moscow agencies that sidetrack their complaints. Satter also chronicles Russia's religious revival and the alarming rise of extremist Vladimir Zhirinovsky. (June)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This book follows a distinguished genre of reporting represented by Hedrick Smith's New Russians (Random, 1990) and David Shipler's Russia: Broken Idols, Solemn Dreams (LJ 9/1/83). Like the works of these authors, Satter's anecdotal mosaic leaves an image of vivid individuals. He blends the stories of the courageous Jewish refusnik Viktor Brailovsky and Anatoly Koryagin, the symbol of principled resistance to Soviet psychiatric abuse, with those of ordinary people, such as the guide of Ufa's Lenin museum, who are utterly bewildered by Gorbachev's glasnost. This is not only a valuable account of social and political transition but also the description of a society that defies generalization. Except for a chapter on Ukraine, Satter's book is about Russians, whom he finds to be extraordinarily persistent "truth seekers" animated by the regime's injustice, or a people in "constant search of spirituality," or, finally, a nation whose "most important trait is to live in a world of illusions." It is unsurprising that this moving and thoughtful book lacks a conclusion, but it does offer an epilog. Recommended for all public and academic libraries.Zachary T. Irwin, Pennsylvania State Univ., Erie
A narrative of the author's travels in the Soviet Union, revealing the lies, denial, and wishful thinking that perpetuated a fraudulent version of reality during the last two decades of the communist regime, and offering a glimpse into the lives of ordinary Soviet citizens. For general readers. No index. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Every page of this splendid and eloquent and impassioned book reflects an extraordinarily acute understanding of the Soviet system.
Reluctant to relinquish America's Cold War mentality, a veteran journalist revives our image of the Soviet Union as the evil empire we loved to hate.
At a time when most works on Russia and the Soviet Union are concentrating on contemporaneous events, Satter (who has reported for the Wall Street Journal and other publications) offers a throwback to earlier journalistic accounts of life in the Soviet Union. With the exception of some confusing chapters on political turmoil in the early '90s, this is a string of brief sketches of Soviet citizens who fought the totalitarian Soviet state during its final decades. Included among those whose largely tragic stories Satter recounts are striking miners, factory workers, collective- farm workers, unsuccessful border crossers, KGB targets, psychiatric prisoners, and Ukrainian activists. Particularly harrowing are the "truth seekers," Soviet citizens who travel repeatedly to Moscow in search of justice from the central authorities. The chapter devoted to their stories is one of Satter's strongest; he devotes greater effort and space to developing the character of these wretched souls caught in a kafkaesque quest for truth. Despite many fascinating accounts of dissidents, both Satter's style and his stories suffer from the vehemence of his anti-Soviet polemic. The prose becomes flat and pedantic when he stops to lecture about the evils of Marxist- Leninist ideology, replacing the impressive and harrowing portraits of doomed individuals found elsewhere in the book with heavyhanded denunciations of a rotten Soviet regime that "used force to create illusions" after the predicted fairy-tale communism was not realized. Typical of Satter's tone are his final remarks about the ugly scene at a Soviet café: "It is hard to avoid the impression that if labor created man out of an animal, it was the achievement of communism to have changed him back again."
A passionate, often sanctimonious denunciation of the Soviet Union that dwells more on the past than the future.