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Book Review

Oli and the Forty Garkhs
Ian Mitchell

Garkhov’s Diary
Stephen Dewar
Amazon-Kindle £6.44

lder readers will remember “samizdat”, a Soviet-era practice whereby writers of unpublishable books circulated them unofficially in typescript, often by getting anyone who read one to type it out again, making a further five carbon copies while doing so. With Xerox machines under lock and key, that was viral marketing, USSR-style.

Now that capitalism has come to Russia, we have more copiers and printers than we can make sensible use of. Not only that, books can be disseminated through the internet. And if a stray typescript were to survive from the Second Age of Man, we could instantly run it through an Optical Character Reader, word processor and spell-checker before sending it off to a commercial publisher anywhere in the world. You would think that makes it easier to get material published than it was in Soviet times. WRONG! The story of Stephen Dewar’s book is an interesting illustration of the fact that capitalism has its own controls.

Stephen is an old Moscow hand, who will be known to many PASSPORT readers. He sent his manuscript out to a range of publishers and received universally negative replies, probably because they did not read it. Publishers today depend on literary agents to undertake that unpalatable, pre-Murdoch chore. Books? Who’s interested in books? Not publishers: they are interested in business, and preferably show-business.

My literary agent, in London, once told me that anything she submits to a publishing house is assessed by a 26-year old girl who would prefer to be looking at Hello! magazine. So how does a modern author with something original to say get published? The answer is: do exactly what Stephen Dewar has done and use Amazon, which now has a selfpublishing division called CreateSpace.

For a fee of about $50, you can get your own title formatted for publication and advertised on Amazon’s web-site for sale through Kindle, the paper-free book presentation gadget. For slightly more you can get it published on a print-to-order basis in hard-copy. On 22 June this year it was announced that an American crime writer called John Locke was the first person to sell a million copies of a book through Kindle alone. This is nothing like the old, embarrassing vanity publishing operations of yestercentury.

So what has Stephen Dewar got to tell us which the Hello!-reading dolly-brains of the modern publishing industry have not yet woken up to? By a nudge-nudge process he acquired the private diaries of a Russian nouveau riche, called Oleg (“Oli”) Garkhov for much of 2004. His book is an edited collection. This is a flavour of their content:

“One of my private lines rang. A strange man said, ‘I represent your wife, Natasha. We know you murdered her bodyguards in a vicious attempt to frighten and intimidate her. You’re in deep trouble. Now, make a sensible offer or else you know what to expect.’ I nearly fell off my chair with horror, but, as is my extraordinary custom, I quickly recovered. ‘Don’t be stupid,’ I quavered. ‘It was the police who killed Natasha’s thugs. It was nothing to do with me!’ But the man said, ‘On the contrary, it’s the police who saw you do it. I have seven signed eyewitness statements from police officers proving you did it.’ I believed him. You can buy anything in Russia, especially the police.”

Oli Garkhov circulates in a world peopled by Khodorkovsky, Berezovsky, Guzinsky, Vekselberg, Potanin, Abramovitch and all the other Russians who might feature in Hello! He sends his son to Eton, of course, communicates with Putin on the subject of his re-election, and has his girl-friend’s poodle fed to his dobermans after she gets bored of it and removes the diamond-studded collar.

Dewar skillfully creates a picture of a man who wants to dominate people around him but does not know how to do so, other than by spending money. This is an interesting evocation of the period that might be called “post-Soviet baroque”, which lasted from the time of the 1998 default to the 2008 crash, and which, in the class to which Oli Garkhov belongs, featured bumptiousness, conceit, arrogance, ignorance and anti-social extremes of wealth. Oli’s problem is that he fails to understand why these qualities, especially the last, do not endear him to the societies he aspires to belong to, particularly upper-crust Britain.

Dewar deftly illustrates his hero’s lack of savoir faire when he goes grouseshooting. After spending £100,000 on a pair of Holland and Holland guns, Oli writes this in his diary:

“17 August: We flew into a place called Edinburgh, which Boris assured me was in Scotland. I just hoped nobody was there to see we had only a Boeing 737 and not a 797 or 888 or whatever my useless Swiss banker is supposed to be getting for me.”

The reader is left wondering why a man so obsessed with showing off should arrive in Scotland five days after the opening of the grouse season. Of course nobody will be there to see his wimpy little Boeing 737: they will all be back home in Herefordshire or Oxfordshire, leaving only healthy, high-flying birds for the Irish building contractors, Cockney property developers and better- off friends of the keepers to shoot. What on earth is the point of sending your son to Eton if he can’t keep you right on grouse-moor etiquette? You can buy anything in Britain except class.

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