The Wizard of the Kremlin

The Wizard of the Kremlin


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*** Winner of the Grand Prix du Roman award of France and shortlisted France’s most prestigious literary award, the Goncourt Prize. ***

Nick's Review

The Wizard of the Kremlin, centers around the enigmatic character Vadim Baranov, through a chance meeting with a young university student from France. The student is researching the early 20th century Russian writer Yevgeny Zamyatin; whom both have a shared interest. Set in Moscow one night - the meeting takes place at Baranov's residence in his old library. Soon the conversation moves on from Zamyatin, and Baranov reflects on his youth, life in 1990s Russia, and his role in propelling Vladimir Putin "the Tsar" to political success in 1999.

The book begins like a fireside tale from a Dostoevsky novel. The prose it pithy, reminiscing over the Soviet and Russian ructions of a by gone era through the eyes of Baranov’s grandfather; and then on to more contemporary Russian politics and war through Baranov. The novel operates on many levels with its subtleties woven into the fabric of the writing. Baranov, for example, is loosely based on Vladimir Putin's former adviser Vladislav Surkov, also known as “Putin’s Rasputin” per the New York Times.

Baranov's musings on power offer a unique perspective on the inner workings of the Kremlin; and because of Da Empoli's own experience and proximity to power and politics, this book has become the go to book for many western politicians seeking additional understanding of Putin and Russia. The book has also garnered a little controversy in some quarters, with Da Empoli accused of being an apologist for Putin. Da Empoli retorted to this recently in the Financial Times of London saying: “It could have been a good critique of a non-fiction book. But the point of fiction is exactly that: to get into someone’s head.”.

About the Author

Giuliano Da Empoli, 49, is a political essayist from Italy and Switzerland, having previously served as a political adviser to the former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi (2014-16). His new novel The Wizard of the Kremlin, recently translated into English, has received the Grand Prix du Roman award and just fell short of the Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary award, by only one vote after an extraordinary 14 rounds of voting.  

Other Reviews

'A staggering account of the mental makeup and aggressive logic of Vladimir Putin... A story of great literary and historical force that you must read if you want to understand what, from here, seems incomprehensible' - Liberation

'A highly economical, well documented pageturner, describing twenty years in the corridors of Russian power, with a simple, seductive style and unmatched realism' - Frederic Beigbeder

'You cannot put this book down... Fascinating and suffocating. A clinical analysis of the art of authoritarian rule' - France Inter

'An absolutely extraordinary novel... You feel you're sitting on a sofa next to Putin, that you are inside his head' - Patricia Martin

'Of course this novel sheds a revealing light on current geopolitical events. But it will outlive them thanks to its unwavering lucidity and sparkling style' - Le Monde des Livres