SOCIAL SCIENCES

Behind Putin's Curtain: Friendships and Misadventures Inside Russia

Greystone. May 2019. 304p. photos. notes. ISBN 9781771643672. pap. $16.95. TRAV
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In 2016, German journalist Orth (Couchsurfing in Iran) embarked on a ten-week expedition to Russia, determined to go below the surface, to discover the real Russian people beyond their politics; he certainly succeeded. Perhaps because Orth couchsurfed across the country (free stays often in people's homes), he was able to connect with people on a very personal level. His memoir is full of stories, incredible encounters, bizarre sites, and lessons learned. In Moscow, the author stays with Genrich, a curmudgeon with an incredibly elaborate set of rules for his guests. In Volgograd, 15 minutes of watching his host's three-year-old son Grisha leads to utter chaos. Khabarovsk involved so much vodka experimentation that Orth does not remember anything. He also visits Zharovsk to seek enlightenment and an audience with Vissarion, a possible reincarnation of Jesus. Throughout these quirky, delightful encounters and connections, Orth also gets at the Russian people's political views, cultural traditions, religious beliefs, and more. Photos and ABC sections (focused looks at aspects of culture or society in Russia) included.
VERDICT Highly recommended for fans of travel memoirs or those seeking a deeper look at Russia and its people.

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