Honig’s debut novel explores the development and deterioration of Vladimir Putin's mind and morals.
Set in Russia a few decades in the future, Honig's novel introduces Nikolai Ilyich Sheremetev, the 24-hour nurse caring for the dementia-ridden former president. Sheremetev has lived his life as an honest man. However, when trouble in the family strikes and his nephew, Pasha, is arrested, Sheremetev mulls over the stakes of maintaining his high morals. While pondering how he might get his nephew out of jail, he learns that the entire staff at the dacha is greedily grabbing at dirty money. As time runs out both for Pasha’s release from jail and Putin’s moments of lucidity, Sheremetev wades his way through moral purgatory. Honig quietly and carefully crafts a tale about truth through time. Putin’s hallucinations are seamlessly intertwined with the present-tense narrative, braiding the past into the ex-president’s increasingly altered state of mind. Without justifying his autocratic brand of leadership, Honig humanizes Putin. “It was a terrible thing, dementia, a disease that struck at the very thing that made a person who he was.” However, what’s left of Putin oscillates between being a son fondly recalling his mother, a madman fighting the disembodied head of a Chechen, and the power-hungry politician he grew up to be. “The reason I was put in this place was to bring order to Russia...” he explains to a long-dead friend. His motives remain murky at best. “With one hand, I gave Russia order, and with the other I took for myself. It’s a fair trade.” Goroviev, a former journalist-turned-gardener, asks a pivotal question: “You wonder, a man who tells such lies…in the end, does he even know the truth himself?” Without any answers, Sheremetev is left to weigh the consequences of stealing from the biggest thief in Russia. Though Honig is a little heavy-handed with rhetorical questions, his study of what remains of a person once time takes its toll on the body and mind is a stunning take on the development of the corrupt and the corrupted.
A surprisingly touching investigation of motive, duty, and greed.