Russian journalist Politkovskaya (1958–2006) questions Mother Russia from beyond the grave; the author was murdered soon after completing the book.
Politkovskaya was many things to post-Communist Russia, among them a journalist, an activist and what some called the “lost moral conscience” of the divided nation. Her final book is a tribute to her life’s work, which included shaming a government determined to vanquish political opposition and recording the voices of common people devastated by the Chechen conflict. The diary begins in earnest, detailing the parliamentary elections of 2003, which are paralleled with the increasing terrorism, both revolutionary and institutionalized, in Moscow. Politkovskaya reports with obvious heartache on suicide bombings, governmental corruption and the increasing “disappearance” of protesters and other undesirables. The target of much of her wrath is Russian President Vladimir Putin and what she deems his ruthless methods of controlling the nation. Later, the author travels to the Chechen Republic to interview unsteady veterans from both sides of the war. She also talks her way into the armed fortress of a complex Chechen warlord, sobbing with despair after her dialogue with the 27-year-old killer. Perhaps no other event affects Russia or the author as much as the Beslan school siege of 2004, where more than 300 hostages—most of them children—died in a pitched gun battle between rebels and Russian Special Forces. Politkovskaya interviews the mothers of children killed at Beslan, all the while punctuating her political reporting with the terrifying details of kidnappings, hunger strikes and other terrible acts of violence and self-destruction. As she mounted an increasing challenge to authorities, Politkovskaya’s work led to her poisoning, incarceration and finally murder by a contract killer in October 2006. “I see everything and that is the whole problem,” she writes in the book’s coda. “I see both what is good and what is bad.” Her diary may lack total journalistic objectivity, but Politkovskaya more than justifies her bias with this emotional portrait of the dangerous lives of the Russian people.
Fear and loathing in Moscow, recorded with clear-eyed compassion.