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In novelist Victor Pelevin’s pungent satire on contemporary Russia, “The Sacred Book of the Werewolf,” its narrator, a 2,000-year-old shape-shifter, kisses Alexander, a brutish but alluring officer with the FSB, the Russian security service — who is a werewolf, like all his colleagues. In doing so, she unwittingly transforms his inner animal from that of a sleek grey wolf into a black dog that is at first rejected by, and then finally returns to, his former FSB employers.

As an invocation of post-Soviet Russia under the heirs of Mikhail Gorbachev, Vladimir Putin in particular, it is a necessary text in understanding both Putin and Russia today. The world Pelevin describes is one where there are no absolutes of truth or even reality — only what people say is true. The country’s new wealth is summoned as if by magic out of the soil by the howling servants of the state. Historic continuity with the Soviet past is visible in the expressions of Alexander and his colleagues: “Faces that used to be around a lot in the old days.”

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