Rudenko’s conversational narrative, written in a gossipy tone, chronicles Zelenkiy’s rise in short, staccato chapters, from his childhood in Kryvyi Rih, a centre of iron mining and metallurgy in the southeast, through his wildly successful career as an actor and comedian and his insurgent campaign for the presidency ... The book is good on the febrile atmosphere of Ukrainian politics, a world of blackmail and double-crossing, where members of a small business-political elite vie for advantage by means legal and otherwise ... The book is written primarily for a domestic audience. Foreign readers will be interested less in the minor characters from Kyiv’s political scene than in the broader forces shaping Zelenskiy’s life and thinking. In its focus on the former, the book frequently loses sight of the latter. Rudenko in general eschews analysis, making clear in the preface that he will focus on facts over 'moralising, prejudice or manipulation' ... But there are some facts that call out for deeper analysis, not least Zelenskiy’s relationship with Russia ... At some point, it is clear, Zelenskiy realised that Russia was negotiating in bad faith and began to turn more decisively to the West, but the book does not shed much light on that process. Also absent is any exploration of the role of religion or history in shaping Zelenskiy’s worldview ... Zelenskiy emerges from Rudenko’s book as likeable, canny and idealistic. As the world has seen, he has charisma and a gift for communication. But, shifting all the time from one persona to another – comedian, actor, businessman, candidate, president – he is also rather elusive.
This 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.
Had Zelensky known then of the atrocities that would soon come to pass following his election victory four months later, would he have chosen to run? This kind of retrospective what-ifery features regularly in Serhii Rudenko’s hastily daubed portrait of a man still living through the most defining days of his life ... The author’s willingness to write about those less glorious episodes in the life of a man who has come to be regarded as a paragon of courage, is laudable. Had this book been started from scratch in March 2022, then surely a more flattering work would have been written. Rudenko’s book, though, was first published in Ukraine last year under the title Zelensky Without Make-Up. Since the start of the war, it has been updated and translated into English to capitalise on his international acclaim ... However, the stitches of this hurriedly fashioned book are glaringly on show. Translators Michael Naydan and Alla Parminova worked 'around the clock' to get the book finished on deadline, say the publishers. I can believe it, given how syntactically and tonally alien much of the book is to standard English ... What’s more bewildering though is that a lot of the book isn’t actually about the person whose name is on the front cover. Told through a series of chronologically jumbled 'episodes', the biography places undue amounts of attention to Zelensky’s coterie of enablers and acolytes, particularly between the time frame of 2019-2020. While this might not be unreasonable for a longer biography, Rudenko’s book has only 200 pages. In one “episode” dealing with his childhood, Rudenko seems almost to become distracted from the facts of Zelensky’s life, meandering off to a detailed description of the boy who sat next to him at school ... This is all the more frustrating because Zelensky is an extraordinary man with an extraordinary life tale. And yet reading this book, one gets little sense of that.
... the question still remains: who is Zelenskiy and what is he really about? Those looking for answers to the Zelenskiy enigma will be disappointed by this hastily written and translated book, which bills itself as 'A Biography'. Written by Serhii Rudenko, a Ukrainian political commentator, it’s not really a life story, but an account of his eventful three years in office ... Actually, that makes it sound a more coherent narrative than it is. Part of the problem is that it’s written for a Ukrainian audience, people who are aware who Garik Martirosyan and Olena Malyashenko are. An added difficulty is the tone, which is often gossipy, knowing, sardonic and sometimes scathing, but in ways that it would require a working knowledge of the Ukrainian political scene to appreciate ... The takeaways from this uneven book are that Ukraine is a flawed democracy and that Zelenskiy, despite his reformist rhetoric, is a product of the system. But he’s hugely preferable to his adversary and if Ukraine manages to resist Putin’s attempt to drag it back into the Russian empire it will in no small way be down to a leader with the strength of character to rise to the daunting moment.
Reading this biography now, in the wake of a war that upended our understanding of both Zelensky and Ukraine, presents his personal history in a new light ... It’s not a tidy chronology: Rudenko takes us back and forth in time, offering us Zelensky’s story as if it were a chocolate box, a morsel at a time. But this is no fairy tale ... He doesn’t take us inside Zelensky’s head; he just gives us the stories behind his presidency.
... fast-paced ... hough many of the people and events will be unfamiliar to non-Ukrainian readers, the author capably shows how Zelensky has displayed an astonishing transformation in the face of continued Russian aggression ... An admiring but not uncritical first look for English-language readers.