James Meek

James Meek, who has lived in both Moscow and Kyiv, is a contributing editor at the LRB. His latest novel is To Calais, in Ordinary Time.

Blast Effects: In Mykolaiv

James Meek, 18 August 2022

On my way to the Black Sea I spent the afternoon in Kyiv. After downloading the national air-raid warning app I sat in a café. My phone went off at full volume a few seconds before the actual sirens did. I took my cue from the locals: rather than running for shelter, I turned the sound down, embarrassed. Kyivans continued to whizz past on electric scooters. At the far end of the café terrace, a photographer and a model carried on their fashion shoot. Kyiv hadn’t been attacked for weeks, but a fortnight later, it was. My train from Poland to Kyiv had passed through an Arcadian landscape of downs, meadows, ponds and spinneys. We stopped at Vinnytsia. Twenty minutes later, I was in the buffet when somebody looked up wide-eyed from their phone. Just after the train left Vinnytsia, Russia had dropped three missiles on the city, killing 25 people, including three children, and injuring more than two hundred.

Liberal opinion in North America and Western Europe has tended to be gung-ho about pro-democracy protesters storming ruling institutions in other countries, notably Ukraine in 2014. But it’s one thing to imagine, as Barbara Walter encourages her readers to do, the gradual spread of white supremacist, anti-government terrorism across America against a democratic framework, until one day the progressive left, and the people of colour she suggests are likely to be targets of violence, arm and organise for self-protection. It’s another to wake up one morning and find that without any bloodshed or violence, without any seeming change in the smooth running of traffic signals and ATMs and supermarkets, without, even, an immediate wave of arrests or a clampdown on free speech, your country is run by somebody who took power illegally. Something must be done! But what, apart from venting on social media? And by whom? Me?

From The Blog
9 May 2022

The strangest thing about the Victory Day parade in Moscow this year was the absence of victory. Normally it’s there, the victory over Nazi Germany, a safely won triumph, unchangeably in the past, veterans and the glorious dead honoured, the country rebuilt, and in his speech today Vladimir Putin went through the motions of commemorating it. But this year, for the first time since the original Victory, Russian troops are openly fighting a war against the descendants of their Ukrainian former comrades-in-arms, on land whose evocative toponymy casts doubt on Russia’s traditional representation of May 1945.

From The Blog
25 February 2022

It is striking how many commentators in the west have described Vladimir Putin, since he invaded Ukraine, as ‘detached from reality’, when he is not detached from reality. He is reality.

From The Blog
24 February 2022

An airborne assault by Russian paratroopers using dozens of helicopters has seized a cargo airfield to the north-west of the capital. Ukrainian forces have fought back with the limited array of armour and missiles at their disposal. Aircraft have been shot down; tanks have been burned out; civilians killed and injured. In what so far seems like a pinnacle of willed madness, Russian and Ukrainian troops were reported to be fighting over control of the Chernobyl nuclear power station.

Planes, Trains and SUVs: James Meek

Jonathan Raban, 7 February 2008

James Meek’s last, bestselling novel, The People’s Act of Love, published in 2005 to great critical acclaim, was set in 1919, in ‘that part of Siberia lying between Omsk and...

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Dynamite for Cologne: James Meek

Michael Wood, 21 July 2005

James Meek’s early fiction is alert, acrid and funny, and only slightly too insistent on its own quirkiness – as if it were hoping reviewers would call it surreal (they did) and...

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