But when a family tragedy means that the nurse suddenly needs to find a fantastical sum of money fast, the dacha's chef lets him in on the secret world of backhanders and bribes going on around him, and opens his eyes to a brewing war between the staff and the new housekeeper, the ruthless new sheriff in town.
A brilliantly cast modern-day Animal Farm, The Senility of Vladimir P. is a coruscating political fable that shows, through an honest man slipping his ethical moorings, how Putin has not only bankrupted his nation economically, but has also diminished it culturally and spiritually. It is angry, funny, page-turning, and surprisingly moving.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-05-09
- Reviewer: Staff
In Honig’s scathing, dexterous debut, set about two decades in the future, former Russian president Vladimir Putin spends his final days in the throes of dementia at a dacha outside Moscow. Everyone in the dictator’s waning sphere of influence—the estate’s quarrelsome chef, the drivers in the car pool, the security detail, the conniving new housekeeper—schemes to benefit from Putin’s vast, ill-gotten wealth. “They were all the same, every single person in the dacha,” Putin’s longtime caretaker, Sheremetev, muses as he considers his own enigmatic honesty, which led indirectly to his wife’s death several years before and his eventual estrangement from his son, Vasily. “The only thing they cared about was how long the feast would go on, like fish gorging themselves on a whale’s flesh, even while the whale was still alive.” When Sheremetev receives news that his nephew has been jailed for speaking out against the current regime, he desperately wants to help the young man avoid a lengthy prison sentence. But the corruption at the heart of the Russian kleptocracy runs deeper than even Sheremetev—a rank amateur in such matters—can imagine. In a novel reminiscent of the meticulous visual art of a Robert Altman ensemble film, Honig, a former surgeon who lives in England, showcases a keen eye for characters and set pieces and a pitch-perfect ear for satire. The flawed, naive Sheremetev, caught in the push and pull of his own outmoded beliefs, is at the center of this scintillating work of social commentary. (Aug.)
A whip-smart parody starring Putin
When the Soviet Union collapsed, some triumphalists in the West expected something unlikely. They expected Russia to play nice. It hasn’t turned out that way, and they blame Vladimir Putin. But imagine Russia’s surly and enigmatic leader once he has fallen from power. Imagine him with his faculties less than intact. This is the premise of The Senility of Vladimir P., the ingenious second novel from former surgeon Michael Honig.
The five-term president, two-term prime minister and de facto czar suffers from hallucinations. An imagined Chechen torments him, so he treats the mirage to his well-known judo skills. In more lucid moments, he raves about his own cunning and watches TV footage of his exploits. Putin’s long-suffering, long-term nurse, Sheremetev, considers himself the last incorruptible Russian. Then his nephew Pasha goes to jail, and Sheremetev takes to pawning Putin’s vast collection of luxury watches to set Pasha free.
Marx said history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. Honig’s novel is the farce to Russia’s genuine tragedy. The dacha where Putin convalesces comes to symbolize post-Soviet Russia as a whole, and the novel betrays a serious anguish at what has befallen the country. It delights in showing its architect as a destructive megalomaniac. Today, Putin likes to appear shirtless to show his virility. Honig suggests instead that the emperor wears no clothes.