Fardwor, Russia! A Fantastical Tale of Life under Putin – Oleg Kashin

“I predict we will abolish suffering throughout the living world. Our descendants will be animated by gradients of genetically pre-programmed well-being that are orders of magnitude richer than today’s peak experiences.” ― David Pearce

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Translated by Will Evans, Restless Books, 12 January 2016, 224 pp, ISBN 978-1-632060-39-6 £9.99 paperback

Oleg Kashin is a rather notorious Russian journalist whose open criticism of the Putin government may or may not have motivated unknown assailants to beat him to within an inch of his life back 2010. You’d think such an event would put the dampeners on a guy, but apparently Kashin was undeterred and returned full force to publish his first work of fiction, Fardwor, Russia! A Fantastical Tale of Life Under Putin, in Moscow, just two months later. Now, in a new edition translated by Will Evans, Fardwor, Russia! has been made available for international audiences with a taste for controversial political satire. The ridiculous sci-fi dystopia nestled within the garish pink cover bears more than a slight similarity to Russia under Putin and, with new stories of corruption in the Kremlin making the front page of international news sites each month, it has never been more topical.

The main protagonist of Fardwor, Russia! is Karpov, an enthusiastic young scientist who, with the help of his deceased grandfather, invents a revolutionary new growth serum that actually works. In an old wooden shack, which serves as a makeshift laboratory, Karpov spends his days experimenting on common sewer rats and creating unspeakable monstrosities, while his long-suffering wife, Marina, sits mournfully in their dusty apartment lamenting a life left behind in Moscow.

Delighted with his results, Karpov begins offering the serum to local farmers, promising fully grown livestock in exchange for new-born piglets and calves, before tracking down a circus midget. Unfortunately for poor, deluded Karpov he is wholly unequipped to deal with the full force of his discovery, and before he can reap any rewards all hell breaks loose. The meat industry is furious with the prospect of cheap meat resulting from an abundance of livestock; a dwarf oil oligarch makes use of the serum before running away with Karpov’s wife; and a giant cat goes on a rampage and eats a man’s face and heart. But it is not until the professional scientists get hold of the serum that things get really ugly.

Fardwor, Russia! is wonderfully strange and fantastically frightening, a gruesome yet hilarious tale of genetic engineering gone awry, combined with a grim political parable of the danger of power in the wrong hands. A ludicrous satire with a serious twist – Fardwor, Russia! is a must read those with an interest in Russian politics, or fans of science fiction that borders on the ridiculous.

This review was first posted on WordPress for E&T magazine.

The Whitehall Mandarin – Edward Wilson

“A murderer is less loathsome to us than a spy. The murderer may have acted on a sudden mad impulse; he may be penitent and amend; but a spy is always a spy, night and day, in bed, at table, as he walks abroad; his vileness pervades every moment of his life” ― Honoré de Balzac

the-whitehall-mandarinCritically acclaimed author Edward Wilson returns with another seething spy thriller to add to his repertoire. A teeming broth of secrets, sex and scandals, the Whitehall mandarin is sure to be a hit with mystery fanatics and long standing Wilson fans.

Wilson specialises in spy fiction, with a strong focus on the Cold War, and there is no doubt he is a master of his subject. His novels blend seamlessly between fact and fiction, and The Whitehall Mandarin is no exception. The books alludes to a phenomenal amount of research on the part of the author where the smallest plot detail has been unquestioningly scrutinised and researched.  Through Wilson’s novels the reader travels back in time to rub shoulders with the upper classes, and witness firsthand the scandal which occurs behind closed doors.

Edward Wilson hones in on the year 1957, the Cold War is full swing, and British intelligence unit MI6 are investigating a soviet spy ring operating in London. They call upon secret agent William Catesby to keep a close eye on American cultural attaché Jeffers Cauldwell, who is accused of leaking somewhat compromising photograph of British officials to the Russians. The book begins with Catesby, his boss Henry Bone, and MI5 investigator Jim Skardon crammed onto the roof of a building overlooking St James’s Park, London, observing a secret liaison between Cauldwell and an employee of the British Admiralty. The Whitehall Mandarin follows Catesby on his hunt to uncover the truth in an intricately developed web of secrets, a journey which takes him from the scandals of 1960s London to the muggy jungles of Vietnam.


How strange, thought Catesby, that when you look through a telescopic sight and see another human being fixed in the cross-hairs you end up looking at yourself. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the lens reflection or imagination. You try to concentrate on your target but find your eye superimposed over their eyes. Those other eyes, so blissfully unaware of your unblinking predatory stare, are no longer evil. You feel your hate drop away and realise you can’t do it. It was Catesby’s most shameful secret from the war: he had never been able to pull the trigger. But he had learnt to since.


The Whitehall Mandarin is an intricate and multilayered book with a number of interweaving narratives; the plot is complex, and full of twists and turns. This is not the sort of book you can pick up and put down halfway through a chapter – not if you want to stand any chance of keeping up with the plot anyway – but requires considerable concentration on the part of the reader. Let your mind wander for even a second and you could well find yourself having to reread whole chapters.

Wilson portrays the British upper class as a literal hotbed of corruption and sexual scandal. Before reading the novel I will admit to being clueless as to the different between furries and plushies – in fact in all my innocence I’d never heard of either of these things – I’m now something of an expert on the topic. Did you know, for example, that ‘plushies’ are a rather difficult target for ‘honey-trap agents’? In fact, the scandalous things which the upper classes get up to provide the backdrop for the majority of the plot – this is somewhat epitomised by the photograph of a steamy reconstruction of Poussin’s The Triumph of Pan.

The very nature of spy novels makes them incredibly easy to ruin, so I am wary of sharing much more. But to give you a flavour – expect sex, high speed chases, intricate plot lines, and a beautiful English lady who is not quite what she seems.

The Whitehall Mandarin is a page-turning thriller which will leave you desiring more at the end of each chapter. If you are a fan of spy novels then this is undoubtedly the book for you. It is masterfully researched, stunningly written and, most importantly, utterly believable.

I was sent a free copy of The Whitehall Mandarin by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.