What We Are Reading Today: The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin

Updated 08 May 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin

The swearing-in of Vladimir Putin for his fourth term as president of Russia was not a scenario envisaged in 1999 when his only administrative experience was as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg.

But for the oligarchy bent on molding Russia’s political figure to its own designs, he was perfect. Suddenly the boy who had scrapped his way through post-war Leningrad schoolyards, dreaming of ruling the world, was a public figure, and his popularity soared.

But he was not the progressive Russia an infatuated West thought they were getting. With ruthless efficiency Putin dismantled the country’s media, wrested control and wealth from the country’s burgeoning business class, and decimated the fragile mechanisms of democracy.

Within a few brief years, virtually every obstacle to his unbridled control was removed and every opposing voice silenced, with political rivals and critics driven into exile or the grave.

As a journalist living in Moscow, Masha Gessen experienced this history firsthand. 

Drawing on previously untapped information and sources, her horrifying and spellbinding account of how this “faceless” man maneuvered his way into absolute — and absolutely corrupt — power will stand as a classic of narrative non-fiction.


Book Review: Recalling a magic carpet ride through South Asia

Updated 21 October 2018
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Book Review: Recalling a magic carpet ride through South Asia

BEIRUT: This evocative title, which conjures up images of the iconic Silk Road, is only a foretaste of what you experience in the book. “Beyond That Last Blue Mountain” recalls the extraordinary journey of Harriet Sandys. At 19, realizing she was completely unqualified, she wondered what a girl from her background could do. Hearing about her brother’s trip to Afghanistan and reading Wilfred Thesiger’s “Desert, Marsh and Mountain” and Eric Newby’s “A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush” fired her imagination, and she decided to make that journey.
Four years later, in 1977, a letter inviting her to visit the archaeological sites of Afghanistan changed the course of her life.
After learning how to repair oriental carpets, she worked for the Afghan Refugee Information Network and decided to assess the situation of Afghan refugees at the North-West Frontier. Touched by their extraordinary stoicism, she organized exhibitions of Afghan embroideries and carpets and opened a shop.
However, many of the NGO carpet-weaving programs produced rugs of inferior quality which were unsellable. Harriet wanted to find an alternative project that women could do at home. The Ikat silk-weaving project was born. Over 12 years, she traveled through Pakistan, setting up the project despite problems and setbacks. She miraculously recovered from bacterial meningitis and pursued her humanitarian aid projects in Iraqi Kurdistan and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
After her departure, the silk-weaving project, contrary to all expectations, thrived thanks to the courage of Saleh, a 17-year-old boy she had trained in Peshawar. He brought the project back to Afghanistan and became a master weaver. The Afghan fashion event held in London in 2011 highlighted one of his creations, a stunning dark-green silk evening dress decorated with calligraphy.
“Oriot,” as she was affectionately called, defied danger, traveling in and around war zones with almost no financial support.
“Had I pondered too long and too hard on all the dangers and difficulties I might have encountered … I would have remained a secretary, regretting missed opportunities,” she said. Brave, humble and compassionate, Harriet Sandys touches our hearts in this moving true story.