Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin's Russia
Between Two Fires is one of the best attempts yet at capturing some of the many facets of life in Vladimir Putin's authoritarian shadow. In his nonfiction debut, New Yorker correspondent in Moscow Joshua Yaffa takes an effective approach comparable to Masha Gessen's The Future Is History by focusing on how a few individuals have adapted to Russia's new reality. Between Two Fires is primarily composed of a series of profiles linked by a theme: the concept of "the wily man." Yaffa writes: "For the wily man, interacting with the state is a game of half-truths and deceptions, served up as offerings to the bureaucratic machine, and told to one another as justification for squelching ambition and a sense of morality." Wiliness flourished under the Soviets and persists under Putin. Yaffa's subjects are all somewhere between saints and sinners--"most people are neither Stalin nor Solzhenitsyn"--a diverse group united by the compromises they've made.
Between Two Fires introduces readers to the head of one of the country's largest television networks, an aesthete willing to broadcast propaganda in exchange for a degree of creative control that allows him to indulge his esoteric interests. Yaffa also includes a Chechen humanitarian who has allowed herself to become a state mouthpiece in a questionably utilitarian exchange, a colorful owner of zoos in recently annexed Crimea and a rebellious Orthodox priest. Each profile is individually fascinating--these are daring, odd, contradictory people. While it is easy to second-guess their choices from afar, Yaffa portrays a Russia where wiliness might be necessary to thrive. --Hank Stephenson, manuscript reader, the Sun magazine