Putin’s Russia, the rise of a dictator by Darryl Cunningham

Putin’s Russia: The Rise of a Dictator by Darryl Cunningham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My goodness, this is a heck of a book. I finished it and had to make a mixture of ‘wait, what’ faces at the wall to calm down. Putin’s Russia has been on my wavelength for a while (I very much enjoyed Sensible Footwear: A Girl’s Guide from the same publisher) and I finally managed to pick up a copy of it at a recent comics fair. I was not disappointed. Cunningham delivers a searing and unrelenting breakdown of how Putin has become who he is and the people who have been pushed – often violently – out of his way.

One of the benefits of Cunningham’s approach, a nuanced mixture of text and art that is graphic non-fiction and fiercely acute acute, is how he works chronologically. He draws together all of these events that can seem isolated and disconnected from a distanced perspective to make you realise how everything actually fits. Everything is connected. And everything is basically horrible. Like, my god, there’s some horrible stuff spoken about here. Cunningham is very good in how he gives you the space to let it all sink in. He lets you breathe, in a narrative full of tightness and discomfort, he lets you breathe.

I can see why some may ask for more here; it is slender, and I did want more but I think much of that is from just being greedy with Cunningham’s style. I enjoy what he does and I want more. There is a restraint about some of his moments but I think, really, the book gains a lot of strength from that. You can almost feel the form and aesthetic strain at the leash and the idea that there is more to say, that the book itself is appalled and disgusted by much of the story it has to tell, can be almost palpable.

A precisely told and deeply well-crafted story, this is an exemplary expression of graphic non-fiction and what it can do. Smart, smart stuff.

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