Rory MacLean’s Pravda Ha Ha is...a triumph, made all the more commendable by its inherent challenges ... MacLean chronicles the surreal while surveying the brutally real ... His writing style, too, remains pure in its colour and profound in its conclusions. However, Pravda Ha Ha is deeply disturbing book ... MacLean paints a convincing portrait of a Europe in turmoil ... MacLean is brilliant at creating scenes. He can revisit the past, mixing warm nostalgia with cold distaste. He is, though, at his best when he states his personal truth that has been honed from surveying the landscape, talking to the victims and perpetrators and gauging what was once the reality of 30 years ago and what presents itself now.
... gripping ... MacLean is an accomplished writer; his immersive prose crackles with wit and wry humour, and captures scenes and personalities with aplomb. As a narrator, he is frank about his own liberal beliefs and unabashedly partisan in his thumping of reactionaries, ethno-nationalists and xenophobes. But if his colourful encounters with Europeans from alt-right Polish executives to German neo-fascists offer a fascinating and grim portrait of our current predicament, how compelling is MacLean’s explanation of how we got here? ... There is a great deal of truth to his account. But illiberalism, ethno-nationalism and authoritarianism are deeply embedded in European culture—they are not confections of recent politics.
Readable and often grimly entertaining, Pravda Ha Ha demonstrates that Mr. MacLean has not lost his eye for absurdity...or a revealing detail. Yet Pravda Ha Ha has less of the subtlety that marked Mr. MacLean’s long-ago debut, a shortfall that extends into occasionally clumsy prose ... he hears 'the echo of marching boots'—a symptom, mainly, of his bleak mood ... Disillusion is generally a better guide than hope, but when disillusion is, if only partly, the product of a continuing illusion—in this case, a vision of 'Europe' to which Mr. MacLean is still in thrall—that is not necessarily so ... Failing to acknowledge how the EU has been its own worst enemy leads Mr. MacLean astray as he searches for enemies elsewhere. He exaggerates the effect of Russian efforts to 'undermine European unity' (though these are real enough). At the same time, the author downplays the extent to which the EU’s insistence on 'unity'...has become a force for destabilization ... Despite such sins of omission, Mr. MacLean has an acute grasp how a people’s history can be rewritten to reshape its future—even if, interestingly, he has nothing to say about the ways in which EU’s cheerleaders distort Europe’s past.
MacLean’s book is immensely readable. The history and politics of Eastern Europe are tackled here with humor and dry wit. MacLean is not writing a textbook but rather a series of richly detailed anecdotes about his experiences. This is perhaps the major fault of the book: MacLean assumes that his experiences of Eastern Europe are universal. His experience of Russia, for example, as solely corrupt and hopeless may not necessarily be fair to the people who actually make their lives there. However, this might also be a lesson of the book. Memory, MacLean suggests, goes a terribly long way to shape the way we view the world around us. In other words, memory becomes narrative, and narrative becomes the deciding factor in who writes history, and how. Pravda Ha Ha, in this way, is less a history of Eastern Europe than it is a history of Rory MacLean, and there are certainly worse histories you could read.
MacLean...is an unabashed anecdote hunter—Alice in dezinformatsiya wonderland. What he fails to demonstrate in investigative tenacity, he makes up for in hyper-coloured absurdity and gleeful caricature ... MacLean writes with the cadences of a fable ... Such rhetoric does a disservice to the complexity of the story...a rhetoric that mistakes our disinformation symptoms for the disease.
MacLean is a fine sleuth ... MacLean is compassionate, and he balances his stories of powerful men and women—a minor oligarch, an American banker—with those of the dispossessed. Much of this ambitious book is not an easy read, with stories of forced labor, human trafficking and worse in Europe’s heart of darkness ... MacLean tends to overwrite...and he uses too many adjectives. He also has a fondness for cliché...and for a dash of purple prose ... But he has a keen sense of place.
Pravda Ha Ha is perhaps the wildest travel book I’ve come across ... But he moves so quickly that we never get to really know anyone or anyplace, and this makes for easy but ephemeral reading. It’s formulaic travel journalism: Go somewhere for a couple of days, meet some people, ask them questions, report the interesting things they say. And like most contemporary travel writers, MacLean gives himself a starring role in his narrative ... In his story, MacLean is a defender of journalistic integrity, an exposer of hypocrisy and a proponent of truth. But in shaping his characters into caricatures of sinister nationalists and brave liberals, MacLean dodges the tougher, more nuanced questions.
In this timely look at the former Soviet Union, British travel writer Maclean... brings the current reality of Russians to light with vivid descriptions of visits with various characters and their views on life and the future, which at first seem surprising, but quickly fall into a recognizable pattern ... the author writes with heart and draws in readers with his captivating experiences ... Fans of travelogs, history buffs, and those with an interest in Russia and the former U.S.S.R. will thoroughly enjoy.
Having used his characteristic talent of drawing insight from those he meets, the author offers fascinating profiles throughout ... Not just a travelogue, this is a consistently engaging yet fearsome book that effectively traces the rise of national identity as a myth that paves the way for racism, xenophobia, and even genocide ...
Another engrossing book from an author who is much more than just a travel writer.