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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Starr Report No Star Among Russian Readers




And there it was. On a bookstand at the Timiryazevskaya metro station, next to bodice-rippers, detective stories and cheap how-to brochures, was "Klinton Levinski," the Russian paperback edition of the Kenneth Starr report.


Alexander Zhitinsky, who runs the small St. Petersburg publishers Gelikon Plyus, undertook perhaps the fastest operation in Russian publishing history by getting 10 translators working on the text as soon as it appeared on the Internet on Sept. 11. This week, the book hit the streets.


But the enterprise appears to have been a total flop.


While paperback editions of the Starr report are selling by the hundreds of thousands in the United States and also are moving rapidly off the shelves in Britain, it is already clear Zhitinsky will have difficulty selling even the 20,000 copies he printed.


Russians, who showed little interest in Monicagate, unless to show support for Clinton, when the media frenzy in the United States first unfolded, seem to have lost all interest in White House passions since the financial crisis hit the country.


Marina Belova, who sells books at Timiryazevskaya for a distribution company called Panorama, said she received four copies of "Klinton Levinski" on Wednesday and by Friday afternoon she had not sold a single copy. She said no one had even thumbed through the book, which has pictures of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky on its cover.


It wasn't that no one was buying books. She sells from 10 to 15 copies a day of each of her bestsellers: translated romances like "Black Velvet" by Patricia Wilson and "Destinies" by Maxine Barry and mysteries by the queen of Russian detective literature, Alexandra Marinina.


At 17 rubles (about $1), the Starr report is twice the price. But that's not its only problem.


"Why do I need other people's dirty laundry?" exclaimed Tatyana Yermakova, a doctor, who came to buy several paperbacks and was asked whether she was interested in the Clinton-Lewinsky saga. "Only a sick, sexually frustrated person could be interested in it!"


Many Western readers found the Starr report shocking because of the detail with which it depicts the sexual encounters between the U.S. president and the former White House intern. It can be an even more shocking read in Russian because of the language's more limited vocabulary for describing sex and the lack of a tradition for describing it in decent terms.But it also appears that Russians have more respect for the president's privacy.


"Broadly speaking, it could be Americans' business," said Alexander Zabotkin, a military officer. "But to be more precise f only Clinton's."


Zhitinsky said he decided to publish the Starr report thinking Russians would find it an interesting psychological study.


"I thought it would be interesting to find out about it firsthand and not from journalists' reports," he said in a telephone interview from St. Petersburg. "I think there is a lot of psychology there: both in the main character and the support characters."


He styled the book in a literary manner, adding an eight-page list of the names and positions of those mentioned in the report, akin to a play's dramatis personae.


Gelikon Plyus is a small company that has published several money-losing editions of St.Petersburg's modern prose writers, while making money on printing business cards and stationary. Zhitinsky had hoped to make some money on Clinton. But today he sees that he failed.


"I am somewhat disappointed," Zhitinsky said. "There is no interest among wholesalers." Normally, a large distributor would buy the whole print run, but he said this didn't happen with "Klinton Levinski."


Zhitinsky says Russia's economic crisis is to blame. "We don't have time for this now," he said. "People are nervous, everybody has their own economic problems. The situation in my publishing house is very bad too."


Belova f an enthusiastic book seller who describes herself as an "omnivorous reader" who reads every book she sells and many more f said she wouldn't touch the Starr report. "Are you mocking me?" she asked with disgust.


But she too thinks that the difficulties of daily life in Russia are the main reason why people do not care about the issues that fascinate seemingly trouble-free Americans.


"Maybe it is a problem for them, I don't know," Belova said. "We have other problems: where to find a job, money, how to feed a family and buy at least something for our children."


That is why she doubts she'll sell any copies of "Klinton Levinski" at all. Instead, she is eagerly awaiting the sequel to "Black Velvet." She said such a book, which her regulars already are asking for, would sell up to 100 copies in the first day.


"That will be good for me and for the readers," she said.