First, an all-important commercial note. This week a novel of mine, The Hedge Fund, the first of a trilogy, came out as an Amazon/Tree Farm Book. As I described it on Facebook, this thriller opens as “a social comedy, about a well-fixed academic family in St. Petersburg, FL, one of the daughters of which marries the son of a Cuban financial gangster. The attempt by the new in-laws to clean out their relatives, who battle back, picks up velocity steadily and turns into a page-turner that ends in Havana.
The book has very heavy literary support – Liz Smith, Thomas Powers, etc. –and remains by turns very funny, very sensual, very moving and exciting.” Modestly priced at $11.95 as one of my offerings on the Amazon Books section under my name, none of you avid followers will be able to live with yourselves unless you send for this novel immediately, read it with enormous enjoyment, and contribute a comment indicating your joy to the Amazon response page. I am depending on all of you. There was a cover of Mad Magazine years ago featuring a solemn mongrel with a giant horse pistol pressed to his forehead. The subscript ran: “If you don’t buy this magazine, we will shoot this dog.” It is in this spirit I urge all of you to acquire The Hedge Fund.
Now -- with the election yesterday of Petro Poroshenko, the Chocolate King, as president of Ukraine the crisis in Kiev appears to be building down. Vladimir Putin seems to have signed off on the outcome. Poroshenko has manifest pro-European sympathies while maintaining extensive business interests in Russia, an oligarch for all seasons. How he can negotiate a Russian reconsideration of the status of Crimea, which he asserts he intends to do, should test the Chocolate King’s magical powers.
Much of the global psychodynamics that seem to lie under this situation originate with Putin’s need to establish his status as the leader of an ex-Superpower, the exponent of a nation that was – and intends to become again – a contender. This is a recurrent impulse within the Russian leadership. Many years ago, when I was newly rearrived in the States and struggling to build a career as a free-lance writer, I happened to be visiting the Greenwich Village digs of my then-pal the novelist Dan Wakefield. The phone rang. “It’s for you,” Wakefield whispered. “William Shawn.” Shawn was the legendary executive editor of The New Yorker, the hottest literary ticket in Manhattan just then. “A show of force like this,” Wakefield muttered, “was not necessary.”
Shawn had come across a sketch my agent was circulating just then and wanted me to stop by the magazine’s murky offices. This led to several afternoons exploring one-on-one my interests and background, what I was into that might interest the magazine. Shawn was a small, bald, shrewd, musty, probing, excessively earnest fellow. It happened that a delegation of female Soviet apparachniks were due in New York the next week, and since I knew some Russian perhaps I should join their party and write up something about that.
I did as requested. The women were there for business, which I soon surmised was winkling out examples of capitalism in collapse which they could bring back to their colleagues on the Supreme Soviet. They were increasingly disappointed as the sites we visited – Wall Street, an apartment in Harlem so well appointed , with contemporary jazz on the eight-track – transcended anything around Moscow just then. I called the piece “In Quest of Squalor” and submitted it to Patricia Nosher, Shawn’s assistant.
It happened that Yuri Gagarin, the first Soviet Cosmonaut – the first human – to circumnavigate the globe in a space capsule was visiting New York. There was a reception for him at the Soviet consulate to which I was invited. There was a lot of collective anxiety around Washington just then that the Soviets had overtaken us and now were emerging as the dominant player in space. Gagarin himself turned out quite friendly and unpretentious, but the Soviet officials around him were strutting their stuff. The brief post-war dominance of the corrupt , undisciplined, self-indulgent United States had come and gone, Marxism would dominate the future. All this not that long before the first American landed on the moon.
Many of these same themes appear to be revisiting the media today. From Tea Party activists and gun nuts in Idaho to fundamentalist preachers and hard-right Israeli politicians, a distaste for the ecumenical remains of The American Century is palpable. Individualism is destroying us. Vladimir Putin agrees. “It is therefore an ideological battle,” a recent article in Der Spiegel asserts – translation mine – “in which Russia according to the vision of its president fights against the superficiality of materialism, against the collapse of values, against the feminization and weakening of society, which results from the loosening of traditional bounds, in short: against everything unRussian.”
Putin represents a return to reactionary values of the twenties and thirties, the writer asserts – in a word, to fascism, with its emphasis on “hardness,” racial superiority, sacrifice for the nation. A lot of this, of course, is reasserting itself in the Muslim jihadists roiling up so much of the planet. Die for some exalted clique of your coreligionists, the virgins are waiting.
Our media are picking this up. A piece by Andrew Higgins in the May 21 New York Times notes the Western European sympathies on the far right with Putin’s pronouncements. “Some of Russia’s European fans, particularly those with a religious bent, are attracted by Mr. Putin’s image as a muscular foe of homosexuality and decadent Western ways. Others…are motivated more by geopolitical calculations that emphasize Russia’s role as a counterweight to American power.”
My generation has attended this blood-soaked opera before. It culminates in Hiroshima and Auschwitz.