‘Hard and balefully direct, wormy with unpleasant truths’


From The New York Times:

Anna Politkovskaya, the fearless Russian journalist who was shot and killed by an unknown assailant in Moscow in 2006, wrote about the dark side of Vladimir V. Putin’s reign: the brutal war in Chechnya; the top-to-bottom thuggery and corruption; the lack of an independent judiciary; the “bureaucratic black magic” that could poison, or snuff out, a life at a moment’s notice.

Ms. Politkovskaya — she was the mother of two, dead at 48 — wrote sentences that fit her subject: her prose was mostly hard and balefully direct, wormy with unpleasant truths. A not-untypical moment in “Is Journalism Worth Dying For?,” a new collection of articles she wrote for the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, describes a young Chechen woman scraping her father’s brains “from the walls into a bag in order to bury them.” This book, at times a catalog of inquisitorial horrors, is not for weak stomachs.

“Is Journalism Worth Dying For?” is moving on multiple levels, and one of them is for the glimpse it provides of the writer Ms. Politkovskaya might have been if she had made her career in a different time and place. Her warmth and gregarious humanity flood the margins of this volume, placing the horrors she witnessed in an even more appalling light.

During a short trip to Paris, for example, she met a publisher named Robert Laffont and found a Nabokovian delight in his aesthetically pleasing name. “The uvular trill of the ‘r,’ twice. The lilylike ‘la’ where a tender ‘l’ merges with a kiss from the lips delicately forming that special ‘a’ to produce a sound close to the la-la-la of a toothless babe.”

Observing an Argentine tango company, she delivered this deadpan verdict on romance in her own country: “Passion Russian-style is a trip from A to B. At A we kiss, and at B we saw away at the bed-frame.” Life with a favorite dog was like having “an intravenous drip of love,” especially since that dog, Martyn, learned to protect her from the ill-intentioned.

“Directly Confronting the Appalling”, Dwight Garner, The New York Times