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This excerpt from Judo: History, Theory, Practice comes from the always reliable "Readings" section of Harper's; a day might not go by that I do not think about it.  The type is quite small; I hope you are able to read it.

"The Spy Who Shoved Me," Harper's, May 2007

First of all, the prose is simply marvelous.  The affect and manner would seem reminiscent of the cheekier work of Nabokov or George Saunders were this not intended to be completely serious.  I do wonder whether the in-translation feel is intentional or unintentional, whether it is an accurate rendition of what may have been a Russian original – it does not say whether Putin's contributions were written in Russian or English; the lack thereof does seem to suggest that it was written in English – or simply an artless byproduct of its having been translated.  Either way, I like it; nay, I love it.

It's an easy laugh, to be sure, but a good, hearty, exquisitely easy laugh. There are several parts that I particularly enjoy, many of which need no explanation: that, first and foremost, English-speakers should "realize" that Putin is a judo master; the unsubtle disdain for Putin's "more menial roles"; the insight that "Judo may not be the answer to the economic woes of Russia."  But I hope this is not enjoyed merely on a primitive, sarcastic, and condescending manner; I hope to get across that I truly find this to be an outstanding work of literature, albeit one of the kind that neither Putin nor George Russell, Jr., the preface-writer, nor any of the "others" left unmentioned had in mind.

The final paragraph is just a wonder; it is what makes this rise above becoming the cheap source of just-for-yuks superciliousness that low-brow Internet memeism may have potentially turned it into.  The entire fantasied setting is just extraordinarily poignant and funny and very relatable in the precision – if not the particularities – of its outsize ambitions.  I wonder whether Putin related this future unreal conditional event to Russell, Jr. or whether Russell, Jr. simply thought it a visceral scene to impart to his readers.  I wonder whether this is a true dream that Putin sincerely fosters, one that he only allows to be divulged in historico-theoretical guides to judo practice.  I laugh every time I begin this piece, and by the end I'm nearly heartbroken.

Daniel Soar offers a wonderful review of the actual book in the London Review of Books; you may read it by following the link here.

“You MUST frame this. ”
Posted over 6 years ago
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