Serhii Rudenko tr. Michael M. Naydan and Alla Perminova
MixedThe Washington PostThis is more a biography of a presidency than of the president ... The book is not organized chronologically, making it somewhat hard to keep track of what happened when, and who was in and out of favor with Zelensky at various points. Nor is it organized thematically. Or rather, each chapter has a theme — Zelensky’s relationship to a given person, or a particular world event — but there does not appear to be much rhyme or reason as to why any given chapter follows another ... It should also be said that the book is somewhat awkwardly translated and that sometimes the author directly contradicts himself ... More concerningly, the chapter on Zelensky’s dealings with President Donald Trump contains a glaring factual error ... Perhaps most frustratingly, although Rudenko often draws comparisons between the various crises of Zelensky’s presidency and the strength and resolve he’s displayed since Russia began its all-out assault on Ukraine, he spends considerably less time analyzing how the same person was capable of being all these things: TV star, clown, reported oligarchic ally, disappointing president and heroic wartime leader ... Despite all of that, there are some high points in the book. The chapters about Zelensky and members of his presidential team at various points of his administration are especially strong and read as crackling little political dramas ... Even with all the jumping back and forth across time and theme, certain truths emerge about Ukrainian politics and Zelensky: Ukraine has long been plagued by corruption and nepotism. Politicians have promised to do better and then have gone back to the status quo. And Russia, in threatening Ukraine’s sovereignty, has managed to unite Ukrainians and turn a floundering president into a leader ... This book, for all its flaws, is a first picture of this person in this place at this time. One hopes that, in the not-too-distant future, the war will be over, the story will continue and there will be other books to join it.
MixedThe MillionsThe book, like each of Vapnyar’s key players, is not without its faults. It’s a fresh take on an old theme, but it is nevertheless an old theme, and one that uses some old tropes—about New York City, about immigrants, about social media, etc. And there are points at which it feels more beach-read than smart satire...Such shortcomings aside, Vapnyar ultimately offers a literary representation of the way we live now. She shows us America, the beautiful and absurd, managing to satirize it without ever losing sympathy for the people living in it, and certainly not for her four main characters.
PositiveThe MillionsEach satisfied demand is rewarded, and each sadness is returned with acute awareness of how full this book is of life and literature. It is not simple. But one cannot think that the author of The Big Green Tent would believe that what’s true possibly could be.