Barry Yourgrau is the author of several collections of surreal short fiction, including Wearing Dad’s Head and Haunted Traveller, and a memoir, Mess. He appeared in The Sadness of Sex, a film adaptation of his book of the same name, and has written for The New York Times (including the Book Review), NewYorker.com, and The Wall Street Journal. He is working on a new story collection, Gangster Fables. (January 2018)

Follow Barry Yourgrau on Twitter: @barryyourgrau.

NYR DAILY

The Literary Intrigues of Putin’s Puppet Master

Vladislav Surkov conferring with Vladimir Putin, then prime minister, in Kurgan, Russia, 2012

What really triggered the sensation over Okolonolya, or Almost Zero, was the identity of its author, an unknown named Natan Dubovitsky. Dubovitsky was soon suspected, courtesy of an anonymous tip to the St. Petersburg newspaper Vedomosti, of being a pseudonym for Vladislav Surkov. It was this elite Kremlin adviser, variously called a “political technologist,” the “gray cardinal,” or a “puppet master,” who had created and orchestrated Putin’s so-called sovereign democracy—the stage-managed, sham-democratic Russia, the ruthlessly stabilized, still-rotten Russia that Almost Zero was savaging.