Nothing but the Truth: Selected Dispatches by Anna Politkovskaya

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Nothing but the Truth: Selected Dispatches by Anna Politkovskaya

Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Luci Davin
Reviewed by Luci Davin
Summary: Selected later writings of a campaigning Russian journalist before her murder in 2006
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 480 Date: January 2011
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099526681

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Anna Politkovskaya worked for the Russian newspaper Novaya gazeta, becoming particularly famous for her critical reports on the wars in Chechnya, on Putin, on state corruption and on life in Russia under his regime. She never avoided controversy and received a number of death threats before she was murdered in October 2006. She had reason to know these were no idle threats – one of her articles here entitled Is Journalism Worth the Loss of a Life? reports the attempted murder of one of her colleagues.

The articles in Nothing but the Truth, first published in 2008, are selected from a larger volume No Good Reason and translated into English by Arch Tait. They are of course selected and arranged with the benefit of hindsight. Another posthumous publication, A Russian Diary, focused on the problems of life in Putin’s Russia. The pieces in this book were written between 2000 and 2006, and the majority of them are on Chechnya.

These articles are passionate, angry and sad. More than half the book is about the Chechen wars and the governments involved. Politkovskaya was very critical of everyone involved, Russians and Chechens, and very importantly, their politicians – especially President Vladimir Putin and the Chechen Presidents Akhmad and Razman Kadyrov (formerly Chechen militia leaders who supported the Putin regime from 2000 onwards). She writes in detail of genocide and torture in Chechnya, of men, women and children, and of the experiences which led Chechens to become terrorists themselves after seeing the brutality meted out to their families. She writes very sharply, with the mixture of anger and wit which distinguishes her journalistic voice, about both Kadyrovs, describing Kadyrov junior asan outstandingly fast-learning pupil of his senior Moscow comrades. I would like to learn more about Chechnya and then reread some of these pieces. They are a bit grim for late night reading though.

Politkovskaya also wrote about the repercussions of the war for people back in Moscow, including a crisis when a theatre audience were held hostage by Chechens. She didn’t just report, she became involved in trying to mediate, although she wasn’t able to avert the tragic outcome. There are some pieces about Moscow though clearly most of this writing appeared in A Russian Diary. There are also some articles about the world outside Russia, including a look at Danish prisons (in which she is amazed at the enlightened treatment of prisoners), interviews with Russian exiles in London and more frivolous travel writings about Paris and Australia.

Nothing But the Truth was published as a tribute volume and the selection of work is chosen in the light of her fate. I would have rated this book a full 5 stars on the strength of her writing, although I would quite like to have been able to read more of her earlier work and of her pieces on other topics. However, I was quite disappointed to find that more than 60 pages at the end of the book were taken up with other people’s words about her. The stories about her by her separated husband and her best friend were interesting, but the amount of quotations from politicians around the world and others, detracted a bit from the power of her writing, especially as they were often clichéd and of dubious sincerity. I think she would have been amused by some of them, but I would sooner have read more of her work, and for the book to end with stronger material.

There are a few pages of photographs in the centre of the book – they are not their to illustrate her horror stories about Chechnya, but are personal photos of Anna in childhood, with her family, and finally on supermarket CCTV on the day of her death. They do add a nice personal touch.

Overall, this is a powerful, thought provoking book which makes me want to learn far more about Chechnya and about Putin’s Russia. I will certainly be looking for some of her other work.

Thank you to Vintage for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Two books on war reporting in a number of wars including those in Chechnya are Frontline by David Loyn and War Stories by Jeremy Bowen.

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Buy Nothing but the Truth: Selected Dispatches by Anna Politkovskaya at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Nothing but the Truth: Selected Dispatches by Anna Politkovskaya at


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