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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Instant Book, Just Add Zhirinovsky

It is mid-December 1993. Imagine that you are sitting in an editorial meeting at a prestigious London publishers' office discussing pre-Christmas book sales with a pre-Christmas hangover.

Suddenly news comes in about the unexpectedly strong showing of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's misnamed Liberal Democratic party in Russia's first meaningful elections. A frisson of excitement invigorates the conversation. What is the West to make of this popular demagogue? Is he a fascist, the next Hitler, or an opportunistic clown? Will he be the man to unleash the third world war? We need to know ... And so, perhaps, an instant book is conceived. Graham Frazer and George Lancelle, two "experts on Russian affairs," are brought in. And, six months later, "Zhirinovsky: The Little Black Book" hits the British book shelves.

Unfortunately, this strangely structured and thinly researched book is unlikely to shed much light on the vexed question of Zhirinovsky's credibility, durability and electability as Russia's future president. And such is the pace of political change in Russia that by the time it has become available in Moscow's bookshops, it already seems out of date. NATO forces have recently bombed Serbian targets without being nuked or "eliptoned." (The elipton is the new, ecological, secret weapon which Zhirinovsky loves to refer to, which eradicates human brains without polluting the air). And Zhirinovsky has just returned from a tour of America with only a ban from Donald Trump's establishments to enliven the press reports.

Frazer and Lancelle seem to have had difficulty deciding what kind of book to write. The title draws an overt parallel with Mao Tse-Tung's "Little Red Book" which was a self-selected collection of the dictator's thoughts and sayings. However, the "Little Black Book" has a secondary title which is "Making Sense of the Senseless." So one cannot allow Zhirinovsky simply to speak for himself, for his words are inconsistent and often directly contradictory. And, besides, context is needed for the Western reader.

Thus the authors have selected a tri-partite structure. To begin with they provide a potted history of Russia and the Soviet Union. Attempting to explain how a traumatic historical memory has influenced the Russian character, they go on to show how Zhirinovsky has exploited these Russian obsessions to his own advantage. This leads to some textbook examples of bad writing, as well as simply not saying very much: "While suspicion, a craving for security, secrecy, sentimentality and savagery are the raw meat of the Russian's history, their soulfulness and saving-the-world messianism, inherited from Byzantium, are its all-embracing sauces." And presumably Zhirinovsky is the chef.

The second section quotes Zhirinovsky at length and often repetitively under different sub-headings. So if the reader needs reminding of what Zhirinovsky has had to say, he or she will be able to find out again and again.

The authors do not, however, analyze whether there is any logic or rational progression behind Zhirinovsky's often contradictory opinions. As Zhirinovsky has begun to see some of his ideas on foreign policy adopted by Yeltsin's government -- such as a hardening policy on Bosnia and rapprochement with Iraq -- has he become more responsible about his utterances? Frazer and Lancelle do not speculate.

Then, rather idiosyncratically, the book launches into a biographical portrait of its subject on page 131. Relying as it does on secondary sources, "The Little Black Book" can do no more than cover already familiar territory concerning the enigma of Zhirinovsky's Jewish origins. Nor does it shed any new light on Zhirinovsky's probable KGB connections and the questionable integrity of some of the financial backers of his Liberal Democratic Party. However, it steers clear altogether of the unsettling question of Zhirinovsky's sexual orientation.

Indeed, the only talk of sexual orientation comes out of Zhirinovsky's own mouth and provides a good example of the kind of historical analysis we can expect from the man when his creative juices are flowing. "The Bolsheviks came to power during the night by using violence ... and rape." While Stalin, feeding obsessively on the single party, "reminds one of the problem of homosexuality, where there are relationships between representatives of the same sex." Khrushchev, alone and joyless, is described as a masturbator. And as for Brezhnev, Chernenko and Gorbachev's periods in power, "these were times of political impotence. These leaders wanted to perform but could not ... just as in the case of physical impotence."

Should Vladimir Zhirinovsky ever become the president of Russia then he will have been ill-served by this book. Should he, on the other hand, remain a clown on the fringes of Russian politics then he has probably got the book that he deserves. For "The Little Black Book," with its bewildering generalizations, unsubstantiated statistics, and bizarre choice of sources, is a book to be taken lightly.

"Zhirinovsky: The Little Black Book: Making Sense of the Senseless" by Graham Frazer and George Lancelle, Penguin Original Paperback, 173 pages, ?5.99. Available at Zwemmers.