cover image Pravda Ha Ha: True Travels to the End of Europe

Pravda Ha Ha: True Travels to the End of Europe

Rory Maclean. Bloomsbury, $27 (368p) ISBN 978-1-4088-9652-5

The hopes of 1989 have dimmed into illiberal authoritarianism according to this tragicomic view of post-communist Europe. British travel writer Maclean (Stalin’s Nose) reprises a journey he made after the fall of the Berlin Wall into the democratic ferment of Eastern Europe, a region now mired in klepto-capitalism, quasi-dictatorship, and ethnonationalism. He spends much time in a semibarbarous Russia, firing assault rifles and eating a hallucinogenic mushroom species—dubbed “Putin’s Pecker”—with an oligarch; viewing a tank parade; and visiting the Internet Research Agency, headquarters of Russian social media subversion. Other stops include Estonia, where the population eternally prepares for guerilla war against Russian invaders; Hungary, where homeless vagrants spout diatribes against an imaginary migrant menace; and Poland, where sleek media professionals do the same. Threaded throughout is the author’s engagement with a Nigerian migrant trying to get from Moscow, where nuns allegedly amputated his toe, to England. Maclean combines vivid reportage (“Moscow unfolded like a flipbook... newly gilded onion domes, low-slung Maseratis and Little Potato fast-food stalls.... Fuming policemen swaggered across the broad boulevards, their truncheons knocking against their jackboots”) with unabashed soapboxing (“I yelled at the drunks... saying that lies had to be exposed and evil held at bay”). The result is an engrossing travelogue that’s both trenchantly observant and deeply felt. (Jan.)