Remnick has an enormous advantage. He writes better than anyone else. His natural sense of personality and gifted pen allow him to conjure a reality through images. Sometimes these images are a finely drawn portrait, as of Vladimir Zhirinovsky or Alexander Solzhenitsyn or the new banking mogul Vladimir Gusinsky; sometimes they are the sights and sounds of history turning corners, as the days and hours preceding Yeltsin's 1993 decision to blow up the White House; and sometimes they are the convulsive mix of human and physical impressions present in a setting, such as contemporary Moscow. Humor adds to the effect. Having sought out Stalin's favorite painter, an initiative typical of his curiosity, he listens for a while. "I had not said much, and when Nalbandyan began dispensing his opinions of Jews (negative) and flying saucers (positive) I decided that it was probably time to go."
At moments Remnick writes as though his purpose is to explain the larger significance of Russia's post-1991 evolution. His greater accomplishment, however, is to draw the reader into a theater filled with detail, color, and humanity, as vivid as the original -- and a whole lot clearer.
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