“Fake news” had yet to become a common term when ‘Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: Adventures in Modern Russia’ was published in the UK in 2015, but the concept is very much present in Peter Pomerantsev’s anecdotal depiction of post-Soviet Russia. Raised in London, he moved to Russia as an adult and his work as a reality television producer allowed him access to all sorts of people and places at the peak of the television industry boom years in the 2000s. However, Pomerantsev quickly discovered that the media remained heavily state-influenced and he was not always free to produce the content he had planned. It is no surprise that his account of his time there shows how the boundaries between truth and reality were constantly blurred.
‘Nothing is True and Everything is Possible’ is a fitting title for a book about a country with such bizarre paradoxes at the heart of its national psyche. It’s an impressionistic memoir more concerned with conveying an atmosphere than diligent referencing of facts but is ideal for those interested in contemporary Russia and looking for a quick pacy read. As Pomerantsev’s anecdotes are based on the interviews and subjects he used for his television work, they tend to focus on the more extreme examples of contemporary life in Russia, which doesn’t reflect the normal day-to-day reality for the majority of citizens and won’t do much to dispel the perception of Russia as a corrupt place to do business. The professional mistresses of oligarchs, the supermodels driven to suicide by self-help cults and gangsters who have turned to producing crime dramas are some of the main subjects covered – perfect for sensationalist television and very effective material for a more searching narrative non-fiction account. Pomerantsev also describes other aspects of life which are rarely reported in Western media such as the destruction of historic architecture in Moscow to make way for shiny skyscrapers and the Kafkaesque system for obtaining a driving licence.
Even just a few years after ‘Nothing is True and Everything is Possible’ was published, the debates surrounding media control already seem far less unique to Russia compared to how they are depicted here. Perhaps this is why Pomerantsev has taken a more global look at the issues concerned in his new book ‘This Is Not Propaganda’ which was published in the UK a few weeks ago. I look forward to reading it at a later date.