Long Reads Pick of the Week: None Dare Call It a Conspiracy

Since I spend so much time reading long-form non-fiction online, I’m going to link to my favourite one every week for anyone who’s interested in similar reading.

In 2009, Conde Nast allowed this story to appear in print but refused to publish it online or distribute it in Russia for fear of retribution. The story details the intrigue behind the Moscow apartment bombings in 1999 that allowed Vladimir Putin’s rapid ascension to power.

The murky world of Russian politics, and the absolute authority which those who wield power openly enjoy, comes second only to the insanity that is North Korea. You can read the article here.

putin

In a presidential poll taken in August 1999, Putin had garnered less than 2 percent support. By March 2000, however, riding a wave of popularity for his total-war policy in Chechnya, he swept into office with 53 percent of the vote. The reign of Vladimir Putin had begun, and Russia would never be the same.

It is a riddle that lies at the very heart of the modern Russian state, one that remains unsolved to this day. In the awful events of September 1999, did Russia find its avenging angel in Vladimir Putin, the proverbial man of action who crushed his nation’s attackers and led his people out of a time of crisis? Or was that crisis actually manufactured to benefit Putin, a scheme by Russia’s secret police to bring one of their own to power? What makes this question important is that absent the bombings of September 1999 and all that transpired as a result, it is hard to conceive of any scenario whereby Putin would hold the position he enjoys today: a player on the global stage, a ruler of one of the most powerful nations on earth.

Immediately after the bombings, a broad spectrum of Russian society publicly cast doubt on the government’s version of events. Those voices have now gone silent one by one. In recent years, a number of journalists who investigated the incidents have been murdered – or have died under suspicious circumstances – as have two members of Parliament who sat on a commission of inquiry. In the meantime, it seems that most everyone whose account of the attacks ran counter to the government’s version now either refuses to speak, has recanted his earlier statements, or is dead.

None Dare Call It A Conspiracy by Scott Anderson, Longform

Rhyme and Reason: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Rhyme and Reason is where the excerpts I enjoy, from books I’m currently reading, come to live.

The Secret Garden has been on my to-read list for a very long time, and on my tablet since last November. I started reading it earlier this week on the train back home from a weekend in Goa. The only reason I got around to it was because I had already finished the book I was carrying (Money for Nothing by P. G. Wodehouse) on the same train ride and had nothing else to read. And I’m so glad I had this book because I’m absolutely loving it. It has just the right balance of childlike wonder, gentle storytelling, magical descriptions, and a couple of kids who have to deal with the consequences of their spoiled brattiness, and are thus hugely interesting characters. This scene in particular made me laugh because of the way the main character and original brat, Mary, refuses to let her cousin (and new brat-in-chief), Colin, get his way as he’s accustomed to. You can read the book on Project Gutenberg here.

the secret garden

She thought it was the middle of the night when she was awakened by such dreadful sounds that she jumped out of bed in an instant. What was it—what was it? The next minute she felt quite sure she knew. Doors were opened and shut and there were hurrying feet in the corridors and some one was crying and screaming at the same time, screaming and crying in a horrible way.

“It’s Colin,” she said. “He’s having one of those tantrums the nurse called hysterics. How awful it sounds.”

As she listened to the sobbing screams she did not wonder that people were so frightened that they gave him his own way in everything rather than hear them. She put her hands over her ears and felt sick and shivering.

“I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do,” she kept saying. “I can’t bear it.”

Once she wondered if he would stop if she dared go to him and then she remembered how he had driven her out of the room and thought that perhaps the sight of her might make him worse. Even when she pressed her hands more tightly over her ears she could not keep the awful sounds out. She hated them so and was so terrified by them that suddenly they began to make her angry and she felt as if she should like to fly into a tantrum herself and frighten him as he was frightening her. She was not used to any one’s tempers but her own. She took her hands from her ears and sprang up and stamped her foot.

“He ought to be stopped! Somebody ought to make him stop! Somebody ought to beat him!” she cried out.

Just then she heard feet almost running down the corridor and her door opened and the nurse came in. She was not laughing now by any means. She even looked rather pale.

“He’s worked himself into hysterics,” she said in a great hurry. “He’ll do himself harm. No one can do anything with him. You come and try, like a good child. He likes you.”

“He turned me out of the room this morning,” said Mary, stamping her foot with excitement.

The stamp rather pleased the nurse. The truth was that she had been afraid she might find Mary crying and hiding her head under the bed-clothes.

“That’s right,” she said. “You’re in the right humor. You go and scold him. Give him something new to think of. Do go, child, as quick as ever you can.”

It was not until afterward that Mary realized that the thing had been funny as well as dreadful—that it was funny that all the grown-up people were so frightened that they came to a little girl just because they guessed she was almost as bad as Colin himself.

She flew along the corridor and the nearer she got to the screams the higher her temper mounted. She felt quite wicked by the time she reached the door. She slapped it open with her hand and ran across the room to the four-posted bed.

“You stop!” she almost shouted. “You stop! I hate you! Everybody hates you! I wish everybody would run out of the house and let you scream yourself to death! You will scream yourself to death in a minute, and I wish you would!” A nice sympathetic child could neither have thought nor said such things, but it just happened that the shock of hearing them was the best possible thing for this hysterical boy whom no one had ever dared to restrain or contradict.

He had been lying on his face beating his pillow with his hands and he actually almost jumped around, he turned so quickly at the sound of the furious little voice. His face looked dreadful, white and red and swollen, and he was gasping and choking; but savage little Mary did not care an atom.

“If you scream another scream,” she said, “I’ll scream too—and I can scream louder than you can and I’ll frighten you, I’ll frighten you!”

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Long Reads Pick of the Week: The Monster Next Door

Since I spend so much time reading long-form non-fiction online, I’m going to link to my favourite one every week for anyone who’s interested in similar reading.

Beatrice Munyenyezi claimed she was a refugee from the Rwandan genocide. Federal agent Brian Andersen suspected she was someone far more sinister.

The article features a chilling portrayal of the Rwandan genocide – when over 100 days in 1994, more than eight hundred thousand people were slaughtered by Hutu extremists – and an investigation of a woman who, detectives believed, had conned her way into claiming political asylum in the USA. You can read the article here.

beatrice

Beatrice Munyenyezi’s Rwandan ID card

One evening, Andersen and Assistant U.S. Attorney John Capin were taking the long and bumpy road back to their hotel in Kigali. They had been up since 4:30 a.m., interviewing eyewitnesses who described atrocity after atrocity, including stories of children being hacked to death. Suddenly, Andersen turned to his friend. He realized there was one person who had repeatedly been mentioned that day and during the previous month of interviews. It wasn’t much to go on—only a nickname, spoken more than a decade later in frightened whispers.

They called her Commando, or the Commander, and for good reason. She ran what one witness called a “particularly brutal” Hutu-controlled roadblock in front of the Hotel Ihuriro, and she had a reputation for swift and ruthless violence that startled even the young Interahamwe paramilitary men, who admitted to killing hundreds on her orders.

Under later court testimony, several witnesses placed the Commander at the roadblock, where she decided who lived or died, based on their identity cards. They also placed her at the scene of numerous atrocities. But there was one horrific incident that was retold by ex–Hutu military members. It was the story of the nun. No matter who told the grisly tale, it always began with her screams.

The Monster Next Door by Michele McPhee, Boston Magazine