Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Casino Moscow

That is the title of an excellent book on Russia and Eastern Europe during the 1990s, when the area was known as the Wild East. The subtitle is A Tale of Greed and Adventure on Capitalism's Wildest Frontier, and it is indeed a good read.

The author is Matthew Brzezinski, a descendant of Polish landowners who found himself at loose ends in the early 90s after his Montreal construction business went bankrupt. Like many young people at that time, he headed east to see what was happening now that the Soviet Empire had collapsed.

He certainly found a lot of adventure. He barely survived a home invasion and beating in Kiev, and sometimes dining at Moscow's top restaurants was almost as dangerous. As a reporter for the Wall Street Journal in Moscow he had access to many oligarchs and other top people. His girlfirend and now wife Roberta was even better connected, and he tells of how the size of his yacht dreams varied with her potential commissions on deals.

It all came crashing down in 1998 when Russia defaulted on its external obligations and its stock market collapsed. Then the foreign investors discovered that it was a lot easier to make money in the Wild East than it was to take that money out of the country.

I have long regretted that I did not visit Russia in the decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union, when it was so exciting. Now it seems much tamer, but still always interesting. Through this book, though, I was able to get a good idea of what it must have been like. 


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