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Political Bookworm
Posted at 11:49 AM ET, 10/20/2011

Putin biography raises risk for author


At the Frankfurt book fair last week, one author loomed large by her absence.

Masha Gessen was in Moscow while her agent Elyse Cheney was at the fair selling foreign rights to Gessen’s forthcoming book, “The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.”

Publishers Weekly reports that Gessen’s publisher, Riverhead, said the book, which is scheduled for release in March, contains “explosive” details about Putin, the Russian prime minister. “And that,” PW adds, “could be a hazard for Gessen, especially in a country that is notoriously dangerous for journalists.”

So Cheney was at the fair trying to walk the line between selling the rights but also keeping a fairly low profile for the book. PW reports that one person said “you had to ‘go into a closet and secretly read.’ ’’ But once word got around that the book was being secretly shopped excitement over it picked up.

Riverhead’s publicity director, Jynne Martin, told PW that people working on the book have been feeling “panicky and protective” about their author.

Gessen is a longtime critic of Putin, who announced in September that he plans to run for president of Russia again in March. He’s seeking his third term, and there’s little doubt he will be elected. Early this week, Putin praised himself in a nationally televised interview as the hardest-working Russian leader since World War II.

“I can’t recall Soviet leadership after World War II who worked as hard,” he said. “They did not know what to do because of their physical capabilities or misunderstandings.”

In her book, Gessen describes how Putin, a minor KGB operative, was picked by Boris Yeltsin as his successor and then quickly demolished any progress the Russia had made toward democracy and cemented his leadership of a brutal autocracy.

The book grows out of a profile of Putin that Gessen wrote for the October 2008 issue of Vanity Fair. She describes a “shielded ... lonely” man, “increasingly estranged” from his wife, riding around in a custom-made black Audi bearing the license plate 007.

“A decade after Putin’s ascension to power,” Gessen writes, “Russia is a changed country. The democratic reforms of the early 1990s have been reversed. Elections have been virtually eliminated. ... Power in the country is concentrated to a degree even greater than in Soviet times in the hands of a small group of people.”

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By  |  11:49 AM ET, 10/20/2011

 
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