In the month of November, 2006, Alexander Litvinenko walked into a hotel to have a drink with two fellow Russians. They ordered drinks, he ordered radioactive tea. More than two weeks later, his heart stopped. The puzzling and tragic death of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko made headlines around the world and six years after, the renowned investigative journalist William Storr takes the reader on a fantastical literary journey from which they may never return: the life and poisonous times of Alexander Litvinenko.
The story Storr aims to tell is one of empathy. His intricate storytelling achieves the impossible: he makes the reader care. Storr sets the reader up to develop empathy for Litvinenko, his life, his work, his wife, and his ultimate tragic death. Although the details surrounding Litvinenko’s death is murky, his life journey is not. Storr shows the reader how Litvinenko lived as a young man, joining the army at seventeen and later becoming part of the KGB. However, Litvinenko soon realised he distrusted the Russian government as it became a warped, corrupt organisation where individual interest were served. Litvinenko became a known dissident and whistle-blower, choosing to stand against certain decisions made by government organisations. Ultimately, many believed he was poisoned to be silenced. Storr takes the reader even further by laying out the labyrinthine surrounding Litvinenko’s death, and the lethal poison used to ensure it. After Litvinenko became violently sick and was hospitalised, Polonium-210 was found in his bloodstream, turning his blood ‘bad’ and causing him to die an agonising death.
Storr turned a mysterious and tragic case into a fantastic piece of literature. He kept the story human, and brought the reader to the experiences of Litvinenko – the outward struggle he felt between justice and patriotism, and the inward struggle he went through as poison tore his body apart. The in-depth research Storr did and the people he spoke with gave the article a much-needed soft side, balancing fact with emotion. The combination of journalism and storytelling is clearly visible and makes for an engaging and thought-provoking piece that will definitely stay with readers.