“The Mage of the Kremlin” crowned by the French Academy

Posted Oct 27, 2022, 4:03 PMUpdated Oct 27, 2022, 4:08 PM

“The Mage of the Kremlin”, just crowned Grand Prix du Novel of the French Academy, is a cold and burning novel at the same time. Like a shot of vodka. Its author, Giuliano da Empoli, essayist and former adviser to Matteo Renzi, plunges us into the brilliantly tortuous psyche of a certain Vadim Baranov, fictional alter ego of Vladislav Surkov, Vladimir Putin’s spin doctor until 2021.

For one night, the so-called “Kremlin mage” confides to the narrator how he contributed to the erection of the statue of the “tsar” in 2001, when he was only the pale and unknown fifth prime minister of Boris Yeltsin. How, “poet among wolves”, coming from the artistic avant-garde and reality TV, he will forge the concept of “verticality of power”, help to disguise a dictatorship as a democracy and will become the unscrupulous artificer of disinformation exacerbating and channeling the rage of the people through algorithms. The cantor of chaos, in short.

The novel takes us on a dizzying saga of Poutinian power: from early punk elation when “you could go out and buy cigarettes and wake up two days later in a half-naked Courchevel chalet surrounded by sleeping beauties” to the glaciation of a power that is intoxicated by its absolute exercise and dreams of being eternal, ever more solitary with, in the end, a labrador as its only adviser.

Optical illusion

But beyond the laser X-ray of the Putin system with guest “tsars” his servile courtiers, his sated oligarchs, his fallen exiles, his escort girls, his geeks and his marginalized in demand of recognition, “Le Mage du Kremlin” makes us feel the icy breath of Russian power. An empire which intertwines all the narrative threads of the great Russian novel: from Ivan the Terrible to the “troll factories” in a frightening trompe-l’oeil telling “the glorious story of a people never conquered”. And whose war, as the news tragically reminds us, constitutes the only horizon for hoping to regenerate.

Driven by burning topicality, this modern and visionary book also has the timeless grace of a classic. Giuliano da Empoli’s erudition, style and storytelling bring this raw and brutal gesture to a level of metaphysical purity. It’s Machiavelli’s “The Prince” traversed by the mists of John le Carré, inhabited by the tranquil vibrato of Russian literature. Until its snowy, almost peaceful finale, like a distant echo of Sting’s song: “I hope the Russians love their children too. »

The Mage of the Kremlin

French novel

by Giuliano da Empoli

Editions Gallimard

288 pages, 20 euros

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“The Mage of the Kremlin” crowned by the French Academy

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