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A literary triumph about Russia, family, love, and loyalty--the first novel in ten years from a founding editor of n+1 and author of All the Sad Young Literary Men When Andrei Kaplan's older brother Dima insists that Andrei return to Moscow to care for their ailing grandmother, Andrei must take stock of his life in New York. His girlfriend has stopped returning his text mes A literary triumph about Russia, family, love, and loyalty--the first novel in ten years from a founding editor of n+1 and author of All the Sad Young Literary Men When Andrei Kaplan's older brother Dima insists that Andrei return to Moscow to care for their ailing grandmother, Andrei must take stock of his life in New York. His girlfriend has stopped returning his text messages. His dissertation adviser is dubious about his job prospects. It's the summer of 2008, and his bank account is running dangerously low. Perhaps a few months in Moscow are just what he needs. So Andrei sublets his room in Brooklyn, packs up his hockey stuff, and moves into the apartment that Stalin himself had given his grandmother, a woman who has outlived her husband and most of her friends. She survived the dark days of communism and witnessed Russia's violent capitalist transformation, during which she lost her beloved dacha. She welcomes Andrei into her home, even if she can't always remember who he is. Andrei learns to navigate Putin's Moscow, still the city of his birth, but with more expensive coffee. He looks after his elderly--but surprisingly sharp!--grandmother, finds a place to play hockey, a cafe to send emails, and eventually some friends, including a beautiful young activist named Yulia. Over the course of the year, his grandmother's health declines and his feelings of dislocation from both Russia and America deepen. Andrei knows he must reckon with his future and make choices that will determine his life and fate. When he becomes entangled with a group of leftists, Andrei's politics and his allegiances are tested, and he is forced to come to terms with the Russian society he was born into and the American one he has enjoyed since he was a kid. A wise, sensitive novel about Russia, exile, family, love, history and fate, A Terrible County asks what you owe the place you were born, and what it owes you. Writing with grace and humor, Keith Gessen gives us a brilliant and mature novel that is sure to mark him as one of the most talented novelists of his generation.


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A literary triumph about Russia, family, love, and loyalty--the first novel in ten years from a founding editor of n+1 and author of All the Sad Young Literary Men When Andrei Kaplan's older brother Dima insists that Andrei return to Moscow to care for their ailing grandmother, Andrei must take stock of his life in New York. His girlfriend has stopped returning his text mes A literary triumph about Russia, family, love, and loyalty--the first novel in ten years from a founding editor of n+1 and author of All the Sad Young Literary Men When Andrei Kaplan's older brother Dima insists that Andrei return to Moscow to care for their ailing grandmother, Andrei must take stock of his life in New York. His girlfriend has stopped returning his text messages. His dissertation adviser is dubious about his job prospects. It's the summer of 2008, and his bank account is running dangerously low. Perhaps a few months in Moscow are just what he needs. So Andrei sublets his room in Brooklyn, packs up his hockey stuff, and moves into the apartment that Stalin himself had given his grandmother, a woman who has outlived her husband and most of her friends. She survived the dark days of communism and witnessed Russia's violent capitalist transformation, during which she lost her beloved dacha. She welcomes Andrei into her home, even if she can't always remember who he is. Andrei learns to navigate Putin's Moscow, still the city of his birth, but with more expensive coffee. He looks after his elderly--but surprisingly sharp!--grandmother, finds a place to play hockey, a cafe to send emails, and eventually some friends, including a beautiful young activist named Yulia. Over the course of the year, his grandmother's health declines and his feelings of dislocation from both Russia and America deepen. Andrei knows he must reckon with his future and make choices that will determine his life and fate. When he becomes entangled with a group of leftists, Andrei's politics and his allegiances are tested, and he is forced to come to terms with the Russian society he was born into and the American one he has enjoyed since he was a kid. A wise, sensitive novel about Russia, exile, family, love, history and fate, A Terrible County asks what you owe the place you were born, and what it owes you. Writing with grace and humor, Keith Gessen gives us a brilliant and mature novel that is sure to mark him as one of the most talented novelists of his generation.

30 review for A Terrible Country

  1. 3 out of 5

    Liz

    Andrei emigrated with his parents from Russia at the age of six. Now, he's 33 and returning to Moscow to take care of his 89 year old grandmother, who’s suffering from some dementia. And who’s lonely because all her friends are dead. The book takes you to 2008 Moscow. You feel like you there and Geisel does a good job of making you feel the time and place. I did feel I got a better understanding of Russian “capitalism”. This is a grim book. And slow moving. Flashes of brilliance, like when it di Andrei emigrated with his parents from Russia at the age of six. Now, he's 33 and returning to Moscow to take care of his 89 year old grandmother, who’s suffering from some dementia. And who’s lonely because all her friends are dead. The book takes you to 2008 Moscow. You feel like you there and Geisel does a good job of making you feel the time and place. I did feel I got a better understanding of Russian “capitalism”. This is a grim book. And slow moving. Flashes of brilliance, like when it discusses what the switch from communism to capitalism has met for the average person or how those folks manage to live in Moscow with little money. Then, long dry patches when it was all I could do to keep reading. The ending shows how little Andrei still understands Russia, despite living there for a year. The relationship between Andrei and his grandmother is done well, beautifully articulating the slow descent of someone into dementia. So, I’m torn with how to rate this book. Settling on a three star, which doesn’t really reflect the love/hate relationship I had with this book. My thanks to netgalley and Viking for an advance copy of this book.

  2. 3 out of 5

    Paul Fulcher

    This is a terrible country. My Yolka took to America. Why did you come back?” She seemed angry. A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen is published in the UK by perhaps my favourite of all publishers, Fitzcarraldo Editions, but is an odd fit for the "ambitious, imaginative and innovative writing" in which they normally excel. It tells the story, set in 2008 of Andrei a thirty-something graduate in Russian literature and history. As he tells us in the novel's opening passage: In the late summer of 200 This is a terrible country. My Yolka took to America. Why did you come back?” She seemed angry. A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen is published in the UK by perhaps my favourite of all publishers, Fitzcarraldo Editions, but is an odd fit for the "ambitious, imaginative and innovative writing" in which they normally excel. It tells the story, set in 2008 of Andrei a thirty-something graduate in Russian literature and history. As he tells us in the novel's opening passage: In the late summer of 2008, I moved to Moscow to take care of my grandmother. She was about to turn ninety and I hadn’t seen her for nearly a decade. My brother Dima and I were her only family; her lone daughter, our mother, had died years earlier. Baba Seva lived alone now in her old Moscow apartment. When I called to tell her I was coming, she sounded very happy to hear it, and also a little confused. My parents and my brother and I left the Soviet Union in 1981. I was six and Dima was sixteen, and that made all the difference. I became an American, whereas Dima remained essentially Russian. As soon as the Soviet Union collapsed, he returned to Moscow to make his fortune. Since then he had made and lost several fortunes; where things stood now I wasn’t sure. But one day he Gchatted me to ask if I could come to Moscow and stay with Baba Seva while he went to London for an unspecified period of time. As for me, I wasn’t really an idiot. But neither was I not an idiot. I had spent four long years of college and then eight much longer years of grad school studying Russian literature and history, drinking beer, and winning the Grad Student Cup hockey tournament (five times!); then I had gone out onto the job market for three straight years, with zero results. By the time Dima wrote me I had exhausted all the available post-graduate fellowships and had signed up to teach online sections in the university’s new PMOOC initiative, short for “paid massive online open course,” although the “paid” part mostly referred to the students, who really did need to pay, and less to the instructors, who were paid very little. It was definitely not enough to continue living, even very frugally, in New York. In short, on the question of whether I was an idiot, there was evidence on both sides. Although clearly fictional, Gessen has drawn on his own experiences ('One of the seeds for the book came from conversations I had with my own grandmother when I lived with her in Moscow under circumstances a little bit like those in the book' - from a New Yorker interview) and stylistically Gessen has written the novel as Andrei's memoir, emulating the style very successfully, including even a what-happened-next Epilogue that rings so true I took some convincing this was a fictional novel. From the same interview Gessen explains his approach:I love nonfiction, and I really love oral history. I like fiction that is made up, but I really love fiction that is thinly veiled autobiography. Each form has its rules, not even so much in terms of truth and falsity (although nonfiction should certainly be true) but, rather, in its pacing, its tolerance for coincidence (sometimes greater in nonfiction than in fiction, paradoxically), and even its tone. I think if I’d had enough material for a memoir, I’d have written a memoir. But I didn’t—my life in Russia was even less interesting than Andrei’s. But I did want it to sound like a memoir. My ultimate model while writing the book was Tolstoy’s novel “The Cossacks,” but the books I most enjoyed reading while writing this one were memoirs of people’s sojourns in a foreign place for a certain period of time.But perhaps the attempt to sound like a memoir is too successful as the memoir style extends to both form - the writing is not particularly literary and at time's rather crude - and content - with overly tedious detail (as he himself says, Andrei's life really isn't that interesting) and unnecessary anecdotes. And unfortunately, a high proportion of Andrei's observations simply on life in Russia consist of the idiot abroad style 'but in America we...' comments (even down to ice hockey tactics, a topic with which he is obsessed). As Andrei himself observes: I wasn't in America. That's the lesson I kept being taught, although I didn't seem willing to learn it. the problem being that the reader has to experience the pain of Andrei being taught the lesson. In the last quarter of the book, it takes a more political turn as Andrei gets involved in a protest movement. But a rather odd one that somehow believes the cure to Russia's ills isn't better democracy but rather Marxism (didn't someone try that before ... ). In the Epigraph, he records the disappointment of his fellow protesters when anti-Putin protests finally become more widespread, partly that they were no longer in Moscow but what was worse the protests were fundamentally liberal rather than socialist in character, appealing to free speech and voting rights rather than economic justice. Although Andrei does have an astute observation on the liberal opposition to Putin which, read in 2018, also neatly skewers the liberal opposition (and yes that includes me) to his increasingly widespread international bedfellows such as Trump, Brexiteers and Corbynistas: I had forgotten the tone that Russian opposition always took - “aggrieved” wasn’t the right word for it. It was sarcastic, self-righteous, full of disbelief that these idiots were running the country and that even bigger idiots out there supported them. And finally in the last 30 pages of the novel, the reader's interest is grabbed as the story comes together and the pace of the narration accelerates to a disturbing end. There are elements that provide an interesting look into life in Russia in 2008, but ultimately a disappointing novel. 1.5 stars rounded to 2 because of the publisher.

  3. 3 out of 5

    Gumble's Yard

    Keith Gessen was born in Russia of Jewish parents, who emigrated to the US when he was still a child – and is now an author, journalist (specialising in Russia), book-critic, translator and journal editor. This is his second novel – and comes with by George Saunders and Elif Batuman, authors respectively of the 2017 Booker winner and one of the best books of 2018. It is published by Fitzcarraldo Editions – one of the leading UK small presses and most notably recent winner of the 2018 Man Booker I Keith Gessen was born in Russia of Jewish parents, who emigrated to the US when he was still a child – and is now an author, journalist (specialising in Russia), book-critic, translator and journal editor. This is his second novel – and comes with by George Saunders and Elif Batuman, authors respectively of the 2017 Booker winner and one of the best books of 2018. It is published by Fitzcarraldo Editions – one of the leading UK small presses and most notably recent winner of the 2018 Man Booker International Prize with Flights. Fitzcarraldo Editions (their words) specialise in contemporary fiction and long-form essays ….. it focuses on ambitious, imaginative and innovative writing, both in translation and in the English language . Their novels are (my words) distinctively and beautifully styled, with plain, deep blue covers and a "French-flap" style. Fitzcarraldo previously publishged Kirill Medvedev’s It's No Good in translation by Gessen. This book is written in the style of a memoir and although fiction is inspired by some of Gessen’s own experiences – living with his elderly Grandmother in Moscow. The book is narrated in the first person by Andrei Kaplan – who left Moscow with his parents aged 6 in 1981 (exactly like Gessen) and who has struggled to find his way in the US as a Russian literature/history academic – failing to find a tenured teaching or post-graduate position he does low paid on-line teaching. In the later Summer of 2008 he is contacted by his 10-year older brother who has had to flee Russia to some state related problems with one of his business ventures and wants Andrei to go to Moscow to look after their elderly grandmother (an academic who survived the trials of the Communist years only to have much of her remaining wealth taken from her when her second husband’s oil explorations are expropriated by the state) and to keep an eye on the next door flat which Dima rents out as an investment. The book is seemingly set down by Kaplan at a later date reflecting on his time in Moscow over the year or so from 2008 – as the financial crisis strikes first the US but then Russia. Dima (under financial pressure himself) urges him to return to the US so they can sell the two flats – something Andrei resists as he finds himself increasingly unwilling either to abandon the Russian roots he is rediscovering or the (to him) moving and tragic figure of his Grandmother. Both Moscow and his Grandmother are fundamentally changed from Andrei’s childhood memories and cause Andrei to reflect on his assumptions and beliefs, and to think through his loyalties to friends, family, academia and to countries. Andrei has an idea of using his visit to further his reputation in Russian studies by interviewing and profiling locals and via some pick up ice-hockey he plays finds himself drawn towards a crowd of left wing, literary dissidents who while not communists, believe that he new ills of Russia stem not from a Russian-specific crime and oligarchy led distortion of capitalism but instead from the fundamental inequity and injustice which underpins capitalism – a view which is initially new to Andrei (as a Russian émigré he was fundamentally anti-communist) but which clearly appeals to him as a better explanation of his and his family’s lives. The original inspiration for the book was Gessen’s experience of living with his elderly Grandmother in Moscow – and the interactions between Andrei and his grandmother are particularly poignant. She is suffering from age-related dementia - lending a deliberately banal and repetitive tenor to much of their conversations as she often cannot even remember who Andrei is or understand some of the changes she is witnessing, and her distress is regularly underpinned by the loss of her Summer dacha as a result of her husband’s difficulties, and the emigration of her only daughter to the US where she then died of cancer (often causing her to say that she has been abandoned by her friends and family – something Andrei finds both heart ending and distressing). Andrei’s original hope to gain insights into Communist Russia from his Grandmother are thwarted by her patch memory, but her own sense of the modern Russia’s flaws are strongly expressed and when lucid she urges him to leave the “terrible country” before it is too late - a warning which looks more like a prophecy as Andrei’s life in Moscow unravels in the last part of the book with lasting consequences not for him but for those he leaves behind when he returns to America. Overall this is an interesting and easy to absorb novel, presenting a view of the development of Russian society.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Review soon.

  5. 3 out of 5

    Steven Z.

    At a time when Russia, Putin, conspiracy, and collusion dominate the news cycle it is wonderful to escape into a work of fiction that is absorbing, appealing to human emotion on many levels, and sadly, a comment on the reality of Russia today. As useful and engrossing as Keith Gessen’s new book A TERRIBLE COUNTRY is, it creates the anxiety and frustration that one associates with Putin’s Russia. Gessen is a Russian translator of poetry and short stories, but also of Nobel Prize winner Svertlana At a time when Russia, Putin, conspiracy, and collusion dominate the news cycle it is wonderful to escape into a work of fiction that is absorbing, appealing to human emotion on many levels, and sadly, a comment on the reality of Russia today. As useful and engrossing as Keith Gessen’s new book A TERRIBLE COUNTRY is, it creates the anxiety and frustration that one associates with Putin’s Russia. Gessen is a Russian translator of poetry and short stories, but also of Nobel Prize winner Svertlana Alexievich’s VOICES FROM CHERNOBYL. Gessen like his sister Masha Gessen the author of A MAN WITHOUT A FACE: THE UNLIKELY RISE OF VLADIMIR PUTIN was born in Russia and raised in the United States, has an affinity for the Russian people who he believes are suffering from the Putin bargain, “you give up your freedoms, I make you rich. Not everyone was rich, but enough people were making do that the system held. And who was I to tell them they were wrong? If they liked Putin, they could have him.” Gessen, like his main character Andrei Kaplan seems to be in a permanent state of semi-exile, somewhat naive, and in search of something-an academic position, a sense of who he really was perhaps. He writes in a somewhat John Updike style as he describes Andrei as a person who cannot seem to achieve the academic success that his peers have attained. He has a PhD in Russian literature, but cannot earn a faculty position at the university level. As a result he earns a living by teaches online courses, communicating through his blog. Since the money is not sufficient to live in New York, and his girlfriend Sarah has just broken up with him he accepts his brother Dima’s request to return to Moscow to take care of their aging grandmother. At the same time, Dima left Russia under strange circumstances for London, the reason of which becomes clearer later in the novel. Upon his arrival in Moscow, Andrei learns that certain promises his brother had made were not true, but he resolves to try and learn as much from his grandmother, Baba Seva Efraimove Gekhtman about the Stalinist era as a basis for a journal article. The scent of Stalinist Russia is put forth through his grandmother who suffers from dementia, much more so than Dima had let on, but despite this affliction the reader is exposed to aspects of Stalinist Russia and how it evolves into Putin’s Russia. The same housing crisis that existed during Stalin’s regime remains. We witness the uneven distribution of wealth and the Putin kleptocracy. The FSB, much like the KGB in Soviet times seems everywhere among many examples. It is interesting how Gessen uses the location of Baba Seva’s apartment, the center of Moscow, close to the Kremlin, Parliament, and FSB headquarters to explain the daily plight of Russians. The novel takes place in 2008 as Andrei arrives at the time Russian troops are supposedly withdrawing from Georgia. The 2008 financial crash is introduced and one can see how the Russians believe that the effect on Russia’s economy is the fault of the United States. Andrei is miserable in this setting and his life seems meaningless. He has no wife or children, he feels helpless in caring for his grandmother, he suffers from a lack of sleep and exercise, constantly searching to play in hockey games, and is forced to deal with the inane comments from students on his online blog. For Andrei Moscow seems quite boorish as he is rejected by women, fears FSB types, and a bureaucracy that results in long lines for himself and his ailing grandmother. The transition from Stalinst tactics to that of Putin are clearly portrayed as his uncle has lost his life’s work as a geophysicist to Russ Oil, a conglomerate run by Putin’s cronies. Russ Oil will also reappear as an enemy of Andrei’s brother Dima as they create a monopoly for gas station expansion on a new highway. Putin’s mastery of the media emerges clearly. “The world may see him as a cold bloodied killer, a ruthless dictator, a grave digger of Russian democracy. But from the Russian perspective, well, he was our cold blooded killer, our ruthless dictator, our gravedigger.” The book begins rather pedantically, and as the story develops the style grows from one of simplicity with little to challenge the reader mentally to a substantive view of Putin’s Russia, and the personal crisis that Andrei is experiencing. This is accomplished as the author introduces a number of new characters; hockey goalies, oilmen, academics, and oppositionist writers. However, the most important character remains Baba Seva who embodies the complex nature of Russian politics and society. She lost her country home to capitalism, but received her apartment thanks to her work on a Stalinist propaganda film of course due to the removal of another family from their home. Bab Seva had been a historian at Moscow State University, but as a Jew it appears she lost her position because of Stalin’s Doctor’s Plot in 1953. Perhaps the best line in the novel is when Andrei refers to living in an apartment so close to the KGB/FSB, it “was like living down the street from Auschwitz.” The question that Gessen asks through a female who rejects Andrei’s advances, is his main character really cut out to live in Russia? The remark haunts Andrei as he tries to fit in somewhere in Russian society. It seems he does so finally when he catches on to a losing hockey teams and plays games six nights a week. More importantly he will make friends on the team. Those friendships and the return of his brother Dima shift the focus of the story. Andrei will finally acquire a subject to write a paper and publish, one of his motivating goals upon returning to Moscow. The subject is in the form of Sergei an intellectual who has a theory concerning the development of capitalism in Russia and its links to Putin’s kleptocracy. Andrei hopes an article might lead to an academic position. He develops a strong friendship with Sergei, in addition to beginning a relationship with Yulia, another member of “October,” a small opposition group to Putin that Andrei has become part of. Russia is a complicated topic. But Gessen combines sharp analysis with Updike type writing style. This approach belies a deep knowledge of Russian history and literature. The book is an important contribution as it allows its reader insights and a glimpse into a country that is very impactful for America and the world. Election hacking has been occurring in the United States and Europe for at least a decade, as have killings of people who oppose Putin outside Russia, murderous actions in Syria, and the list goes on and on. What is clear is that the United States must play close attention to Putin’s Russia, because their machinations are not going to end (particularly with the current administration in power) and we as a society must come to grips with that fact and pressure our government to take action to mitigate what has and will continue to occur. Gessen’s contribution to this task is a wonderful novel that describes Russia as a country that constantly wore down its people as they went along with their daily pursuits.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sonya

    As a young immigrant from the Soviet Union, i related to the book a lot. Russia may have capitalism but it doesnt mean the corruption went away. Only the people who have connections and money survive Russia. Anyone interested in how Russia continues to operate should read this book. I recommend it to anyone but especially former soviet citizens

  7. 5 out of 5

    Danielle Tremblay

    A man returns to Moscow to take care of his grandmother and discovers Putin's Russia, its new prosperity and its old problems. I have not read Gessen's previous novel, but it seems that the author began this one where he finished the previous one, in 2008, and that the main character, Andrei Kaplan, has a certain something of the sometimes unpleasant "lost boys"of his first novel. After eight years of graduate studies and a doctorate in "Russian Literature and Modernity," Andrei, 33, is struggling A man returns to Moscow to take care of his grandmother and discovers Putin's Russia, its new prosperity and its old problems. I have not read Gessen's previous novel, but it seems that the author began this one where he finished the previous one, in 2008, and that the main character, Andrei Kaplan, has a certain something of the sometimes unpleasant "lost boys"of his first novel. After eight years of graduate studies and a doctorate in "Russian Literature and Modernity," Andrei, 33, is struggling to live in New York with a meager salary for online education. So when his older brother calls him to tell that he must leave Moscow, his business plans have brought him legal trouble, he asks Andrei to come and take care of their 89-year-old grandmother Baba Seva. This seems like a promising alternative that could even strengthen his resume. He begins his trip to Russia, wanting to pay special attention to his grandmother, who is physically healthy but suffers from "middle-grade dementia". He wants to listen to her stories of Stalinist Russia, because he thinks it will be good for his career. But he soon realizes that it will not happen because she remembers nothing of it. And he came to understand that it was not the kind of attention she needed or wanted anyway. As Andrei settles into his daily routine, he rediscovers his past and learns about his brother and parents and the new Moscow. He is also struck by how much everything in Moscow has changed since his last visit, several years earlier; especially the wealth he sees everywhere in the city. He is then accepted by a group of socialists who show him where he can find what he needs or wants at lower costs. They discuss together Putin's form of capitalism and the "market's dictatorship". They organize political demonstrations and share a strange nostalgia for the Soviet era. All this brings Andrei away from his grandmother more and more often. Small crises occur throughout the novel, but nothing as scary as what happens in the last 30 pages. What leads Andrei to say that as important as family ties are for us, there is only little we can do for our loved ones. We can't spare them much suffering or prevent them from dying. All we can do is try to get close to them from time to time. The current events also make him wonder how prosperity and political violence can coexist. And he comes to the conclusion that they are doing very well together, as they have always done. Gessen's writing is usually straightforward and well suited to his tongue-in-cheek humour. His prose can sometimes seem repetitive, but it sadly reflects Baba Seva's deteriorating state of health, who is losing her hearing and memory. So she and Andrei are forced into repetitive exchanges. But I think that they show a literary quality, because they make me think of a kind of modernist theatre: the same dialogue each time, but in a slightly different context or on a different note, with a certain dose of irritation from the protagonist. The sober style of the author suits the unremarkable action and the often banal existence of Andrei; which helps to highlight the real difficulties and dangers that other people face. Gessen was born in Moscow and lived part of his childhood there. It seems obvious that this story is semi-autobiographical. The themes are relevant, interesting and sometimes touching. The author expresses affectionate sympathy for the smallest actors in the historical and political scene. Anyone interested in the way of life and daily living of Russians will find in this novel what they are looking for. Thanks to Goodreads giveaways for a hardcopy of this book.

  8. 5 out of 5

    ❤Marie Gentilcore

    I loved this book! It’s been nearly a week since I finished and I miss it still and wish there was more. It is a novel but it reads like a memoir. It starts off with Andrei coming back to Moscow to take care of his grandmother while his older brother is out of the country. Andrei was born in Russia but immigrated to the US when he was a child and has been living there for the past twenty years of so. The story takes place in 2008 and I feel like I really got to know Putin’s Russia along with And I loved this book! It’s been nearly a week since I finished and I miss it still and wish there was more. It is a novel but it reads like a memoir. It starts off with Andrei coming back to Moscow to take care of his grandmother while his older brother is out of the country. Andrei was born in Russia but immigrated to the US when he was a child and has been living there for the past twenty years of so. The story takes place in 2008 and I feel like I really got to know Putin’s Russia along with Andrei as he learns to navigate his way around. I really liked his grandmother too, she was a hoot, a really fun character to read. Must read more by Mr. Gessen.

  9. 3 out of 5

    Jill Dobbe

    I enjoyed this book about Russia from someone who was born there, lived there for a time, and speaks the language. Reading about the author's Russian grandmother, and his relationship with her, was the highlight of the book for me. His writing was honest, true-to-life, and at times, very entertaining. The author knows a great deal about Russian literature and expounds, in parts, on famous authors and poets. He gives interesting details about getting around Moscow and how expensive the food, cloth I enjoyed this book about Russia from someone who was born there, lived there for a time, and speaks the language. Reading about the author's Russian grandmother, and his relationship with her, was the highlight of the book for me. His writing was honest, true-to-life, and at times, very entertaining. The author knows a great deal about Russian literature and expounds, in parts, on famous authors and poets. He gives interesting details about getting around Moscow and how expensive the food, clothing, and alcohol is, as well as, how cold it gets. He also writes about his love for hockey and his friendships with some of the players. He gives readers a good look at what life is like for the average citizen living in Moscow. I found Gessen's writing to be sensitive, humorous, and richly detailed. A Terrible Country is an interesting and enjoyable read for those readers who like to immerse themselves in other cultures, and learn a little bit about a foreign country.

  10. 3 out of 5

    Jennifer

    3.5 stars. In A Terrible Country, the main character, Andrei Kaplan, like the author is Russian born and from a young age was raised in America. The year is 2008 and 33 year old Andrei is called back to Russia by his older brother, Dima, to look after their 88 year old grandmother who lives in a "Stalin" apartment in the heart of Moscow, while Dima is away in London on business for an indeterminable time period. Andrei, a recent Russian Literature Ph.D. graduate with no solid job prospects and a 3.5 stars. In A Terrible Country, the main character, Andrei Kaplan, like the author is Russian born and from a young age was raised in America. The year is 2008 and 33 year old Andrei is called back to Russia by his older brother, Dima, to look after their 88 year old grandmother who lives in a "Stalin" apartment in the heart of Moscow, while Dima is away in London on business for an indeterminable time period. Andrei, a recent Russian Literature Ph.D. graduate with no solid job prospects and a failed relationship rents out his Brooklyn apartment and heads to Moscow. The story is written as a memoir in a quirky prose that follows Andrei's meanderings and attempts to make his way in Moscow, finding friends, a girlfriend, and finding a place to play hockey. He has an endearing relationship with his grandmother, Baba Seva, which I loved. She is very funny. I enjoyed the many other characters, particularly Andrei's academic rival, Fishman. Not without its flaws, the writing style of memoir seemed to deviate to more of a fiction writing style by creating so many unbelievable situations happening one after another that towards the end were conveniently wrapped up before giving us just a couple of more problematic issues that get somewhat resolved. At times, the writing is repetitious and the author would explain things to the reader which I found unnecessary. Overall, I found A Terrible Country to be a moving story that incorporated daily life in Moscow from an outsider's perspective in conjunction with the political climate in 2008.

  11. 3 out of 5

    Patricia Doyle

    A Terrible Country is the story of Andrew/Andrei, who was born in Moscow and immigrated to the United States as a child. Now an adult , he leaves New York to return to Russia to care for his 80-something-year-old grandmother. The book follows Andrei and his struggles to acclimate, but, mostly, it’s about conditions in Russia. If you like intellectual discussions regarding Russian politics and philosophies, Socialism, Revolution, Capitalism, Marxism, Fascism, Anarchism, the pros and cons of gover A Terrible Country is the story of Andrew/Andrei, who was born in Moscow and immigrated to the United States as a child. Now an adult , he leaves New York to return to Russia to care for his 80-something-year-old grandmother. The book follows Andrei and his struggles to acclimate, but, mostly, it’s about conditions in Russia. If you like intellectual discussions regarding Russian politics and philosophies, Socialism, Revolution, Capitalism, Marxism, Fascism, Anarchism, the pros and cons of government versus private education, public housing, failed enterprises, and more, then this is the book for you. ATC is brilliantly written and, although I admit to skimming over some of those discussions mentioned above, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this candid story about life in Russia. I followed along with Andrei’s challenges as he cared for his aging grandma, finally found hockey games to play along in, formed friendships, became more comfortable with the Russian language, learned to navigate Moscow and the Russian countryside, and settle in as not-quite-so-foreign. Thank you to NetGalley and Mr. Gessen for the opportunity to read and review A Terrible Country.

  12. 4 out of 5

    James

    This was an amiable page-turner for most of the book, but it felt more like a long New Yorker article than a novel, if you see what I mean. I like that the author attempts to inject political urgency and ideas into the novel form, which seems to me like an important thing to do just now. I also LOVE the ending (spoilers below). The characters, though, never quite came alive to me, for some reason. *** SPOILERS The best part of this book is the total obtuseness the narrator shows at the end. He bet This was an amiable page-turner for most of the book, but it felt more like a long New Yorker article than a novel, if you see what I mean. I like that the author attempts to inject political urgency and ideas into the novel form, which seems to me like an important thing to do just now. I also LOVE the ending (spoilers below). The characters, though, never quite came alive to me, for some reason. *** SPOILERS The best part of this book is the total obtuseness the narrator shows at the end. He betrays everyone and takes an academic job in completely willful ignorance of where the money for it had come from (Yulia told him but I suppose in a final act of kindness did not spell it out). Why is the country terrible? Maybe because people like Andrei swoop in, betray decent principles, and then get lauded for it back in the metropole.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tonstant Weader

    Andrei is treading water in his career, moderating online forums for university classes in Russian literature while never landing his own teaching job. So, when his brother Dima called to ask Andrei to fly to Moscow and stay with their grandmother while he took care of business concerns, Andrei saw it as an opportunity. Perhaps he could mine his grandmother for information suitable for an article or two. He could certainly do his job there since it was all online. When he arrives, he discovers hi Andrei is treading water in his career, moderating online forums for university classes in Russian literature while never landing his own teaching job. So, when his brother Dima called to ask Andrei to fly to Moscow and stay with their grandmother while he took care of business concerns, Andrei saw it as an opportunity. Perhaps he could mine his grandmother for information suitable for an article or two. He could certainly do his job there since it was all online. When he arrives, he discovers his grandmother is sliding into dementia and depression. He does his best and is a loving grandson. He also discovers it is a bit more difficult to work on the internet than he thought, but he manages. He struggles for a time until he meets people that he clicks with and then really settles into being a Muscovite intellectual/radical. After the first chapter of A Terrible Country, I googled to see if it really was a novel because it reads like a memoir. That was not the last time. This book feels uncannily real. One of the things that makes it so real is the small-scale of the drama. Settling in to a city, helping his grandmother, playing hockey, trying to find some friends, finally finding some friends. Even the crisis that brings the story to an end is pretty ordinary, naivete and the myopia of privilege lull Andrei into a grievous wrong and it is all so very real. I liked Andrei and even tough-guy Dima is a good grandson. I loved the grandmother. I love that Andrei disappoints me, because you know, that is what feels authentic. A Terrible Country will be published on July 10th. I received an e-galley of A Terrible Country from the publisher through Edelweiss. A Terrible Country at Penguin Random House Keith Gessen on Twitter ★★★★ https://tonstantweaderreviews.wordpre...

  14. 3 out of 5

    Barry Smirnoff

    A very entertaining novel about a 33 year old American, Andrew Kaplan, whose family left Russia in 1981. In 2008, Andrew, the youngest child, returns to Moscow. His 89 year old Grandmother still lives in an apartment that Stalin gave her because of her work on a Soviet film. His brother had previously returned to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union and had been living in the appartment across the hall from Grandma. He has gotten into trouble with the villain of this novel, the "Giant" Russ A very entertaining novel about a 33 year old American, Andrew Kaplan, whose family left Russia in 1981. In 2008, Andrew, the youngest child, returns to Moscow. His 89 year old Grandmother still lives in an apartment that Stalin gave her because of her work on a Soviet film. His brother had previously returned to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union and had been living in the appartment across the hall from Grandma. He has gotten into trouble with the villain of this novel, the "Giant" Russian and connected corporation Russoil. He had to get out of Russia before being arrested, so he went to London. But Grandma was starting to develop senility, so Andrew(Andrei), returned to the city of his birth to take care of her "temporarily". He is a graduate student in Slavic Studies whose job hunt was not going well and whose girl friend had just left him. He arrives in Moscow with his computer and hockey equipment, to continue his search for a "real" job while he teaches a computer course in Russian Literature. He begins to settle in to his new Moscow environment, meeting people who play hockey at night, while spending his days buying one coffee at an internet cafe across the street from the headquarters of the Soviet/Russian Secret Police. He makes friends and becomes involved with a Russian woman, who is involved in the opposition movement. This all plays out with many interesting twists and turns. I recommend this book to anyone with an interest is current Russian affairs.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Roxanne

    Hmmm...truth be told I picked this book up after seeing George Saunders and Nell Zink's cover praise. While the book was worth reading, Gessen makes you care about his main character's sweet loyalty to his dementia addled Grandma and the knowledge I gleaned about modern day Moscow, the writing became a little too predictable. Again I did really enjoy thinking about communism vs. socialism vs. capitalism, especially in light of a recent study I heard that correlates a country's happiness factor be Hmmm...truth be told I picked this book up after seeing George Saunders and Nell Zink's cover praise. While the book was worth reading, Gessen makes you care about his main character's sweet loyalty to his dementia addled Grandma and the knowledge I gleaned about modern day Moscow, the writing became a little too predictable. Again I did really enjoy thinking about communism vs. socialism vs. capitalism, especially in light of a recent study I heard that correlates a country's happiness factor being tied to income equality (hint: the US nor Russia make the top 10). At any rate, worth the read for current events and empathy of elder care.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Zach

    Magnificent. A truly moving and funny and beautiful novel about that time in America where it was possible to connect to Wi-fi but also possible to not have a cell phone. Except this book is about an American living in Putin's Russia just as the American economy explodes in 2008. I finished it too quickly and now wish he'd published the much-longer draft.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Chris Roberts

    The horrid book cover is useless, extraneous, exploding into a papery cloud, covering everything in a glossy confetti and there is much joy in the sight and feel of it. Readers display time and space disaffect, it's all done with mirrors, yes, smoky mirrors, the storyline played out in false-real-time. Chris Roberts, Lord-God-King

  18. 5 out of 5

    Anatoly Molotkov

    Excellent and authentic - a moving story, told with humor and empathy.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Diane Payne

    If the notes from the editor weren't included in the ARC, the book may have been a bit more pleasant to read. The notes were distracting because I'd find myself questioning the responses, wondering about the page numbers, the accuracy of the wording. To some degree, the book felt more like a memoir than a novel, and that may have been because of the tacked on epilogue. I enjoyed the grandmother and narrator's engagement the most. Some of the supposedly thrilling episodes felt flat and forced, u If the notes from the editor weren't included in the ARC, the book may have been a bit more pleasant to read. The notes were distracting because I'd find myself questioning the responses, wondering about the page numbers, the accuracy of the wording. To some degree, the book felt more like a memoir than a novel, and that may have been because of the tacked on epilogue. I enjoyed the grandmother and narrator's engagement the most. Some of the supposedly thrilling episodes felt flat and forced, until the end when (I don't want to give away spoiler alerts) when the narrator questions his role in what happened to his friends. Overall, the book was somewhat engaging and amusing.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Matilda

    So many layers to this book..I didn't realized it was breaking my heart until I got the last few pages and couldn't stop crying. This is an easy read that you really don't wanna put down and captures the confusion of growing up and understanding your family. I thought it was completely autobiographical for a while and then I learned it was fiction...but that's okay the voice is real and true.

  21. 3 out of 5

    Liz

    Visit my blog at https://cavebookreviews.blogspot.com/ Andrei Kaplan, a perpetual student of Russian literature, succumbs to his brother pleas to return to Moscow for a short time to take care of their grandmother and help him settle some real estate issues. Andrei, becomes Andryush, an affectionate name given to him by his grandmother, Seva Efraimovna. Seva's expertise in Russian literature allows for lively conversations with Andryush, in addition to playing anagrams where Seva always beat Andr Visit my blog at https://cavebookreviews.blogspot.com/ Andrei Kaplan, a perpetual student of Russian literature, succumbs to his brother pleas to return to Moscow for a short time to take care of their grandmother and help him settle some real estate issues. Andrei, becomes Andryush, an affectionate name given to him by his grandmother, Seva Efraimovna. Seva's expertise in Russian literature allows for lively conversations with Andryush, in addition to playing anagrams where Seva always beat Andrew. Eva taught Andrei Pushkin. Andrew, still working at a university in NYC, taught 3-4 sections of online students in the MOOC program (Massive Open Online Courses offered by top schools to anyone who wanted to participate online). Andrew had barely enough to live on but gingerly went about trying to find the Russia he left when he was a child when he moved to Boston with his family. Just traversing the widely spaced open streets of Moscow was a huge challenge and it took Andrew a good enough amount of time to find people to socialize with and to play hockey with, his great love. He had trouble finding Wi-Fi, but coincidentally he stumbled on a place across from the KGB building, called The Grind and he spent time there working on communication with his students and reading their work. Everyone Andrew came across was worried about the USA financial collapse and if electing Barack Obama was the right thing to do in those perilous times. With some like-minded students and his hockey friends, Andrew created a life that seemed to work. He never had any money and finding food for him, and his grandmother was always foremost on his mind, along with a young woman named Yulia who Andrew developed a lovely relationship. He fell in love. After a year in Mosco and many adventures, Andrew begins to think clearly about where Putin is going with his power plays and that leaves Andrei with some big decisions to make. This brilliant novel gave me an excellent look into a world I would like to know better. Thank you, NetGalley, and Viking for allowing me to read this advance galley. Publish date is July 10th 2018.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kimberley

    I received an advanced eGalley of "A Terrible Country", by Keith Gessen, via NetGalley. Thank you to both. Andrei is in a rut. His degree in Russian Literature hasn't netted him the academic career he wants, his girlfriend recently broke up with him, and he's sulking the days away following the accomplishments of others in his field, on Facebook. So, when his older brother Dima asks him to return to Russia to care for their ailing grandmother, he agrees because he figures what else have I got to I received an advanced eGalley of "A Terrible Country", by Keith Gessen, via NetGalley. Thank you to both. Andrei is in a rut. His degree in Russian Literature hasn't netted him the academic career he wants, his girlfriend recently broke up with him, and he's sulking the days away following the accomplishments of others in his field, on Facebook. So, when his older brother Dima asks him to return to Russia to care for their ailing grandmother, he agrees because he figures what else have I got to lose? He packs up what little belongings he has, sublets his apartment, and spends what's left of his savings on a passport, and a ticket to Moscow. He hopes to parlay his time there into something which will look attractive to a university in America, so that he'll be infinitely more employable upon his return, particularly in a field that is (at that point in time) seemingly dying. However, once Andrei arrives in Moscow, he finds things aren't as easy as he'd imagined. Life is hard, and the biting cold makes it harder. His grandmother remembers him but she's depressed and lonely. And he can't seem to connect with anyone because they don't know what to think of him, and he's not sure they would like him much if they could because, after all, as an American, he's an outsider. A chance meeting, at an academic dinner, brings Yulia (a passionate revolutionary) into his life, and from there he begins to find his footing--and a group of people with whom he can relate and have fun --but this is a "terrible country", so nothing good is ever meant to last. This book has plenty of interesting tidbits about the way Russia was beginning to evolve under the leadership (or tandemocracy) of Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin (who served as Medvedev's Prime Minister) at the time, and how the rise of "the haves" began to effect the livelihood (what little there was) of the "have nots". The social order was in question and the citizens of Russia were passionately connected to one ideology or another. References to communism and socialism are often spoken of throughout this book because it has a huge bearing on the lives of every single person within. Not unlike the states, Russia was going through a gentrification of sorts, at that time. That made for a lot of broken ideas about what type of rule best suits a country of poor (yet proud) people. Andrei arrives with all the knowledge of an academician, but quickly finds that books don't speak of reality, and it makes for an even tougher indoctrination into a culture that is already unforgiving. At times I was riveted, but during others I felt like I was following a "Seinfeld" episode; there is a good bit of mundanity in this story as well (ex. an entire chapter is focused on finding a pair of slippers). While such tangents offered a bit of comic relief, and shone an even brighter light on how much the political enveloped every part of the Russian day-to-day, I could've done without it. There are a lot of wonderful bit characters. Sergei, Nikolai, Yulia, "the soldiers" in the apartment next to Andrei's grandmother, Dima, and Seva (Andrei's 89-year old grandmother). All add something to the reading experience, as well as to Andrei's evolution from an unfocused, disillusioned, academician to a more pragmatic individual. The book comes to its end rather abruptly, and ties up a lot of loose ends in what seems an incongruous way--based on how much detail was used on lesser things (i.e. the slippers)--but it was an otherwise decent read.

  23. 3 out of 5

    Merri Monks

    Keith Gessen's A Terrible Country is a work of fiction, but it reads more like a memoir. Some of it is likely based on the experiences of his family, who emigrated from Russia, as I've read in the books of his sister, Masha Gessen. I listened to the audio book over the course of several weeks, and performed by Ari Fliakos, it is an excellent production of a well-written and emotionally affecting novel. Andrei, a graduate student in Russian and Slavic Studies, returns to Moscow in the summer of Keith Gessen's A Terrible Country is a work of fiction, but it reads more like a memoir. Some of it is likely based on the experiences of his family, who emigrated from Russia, as I've read in the books of his sister, Masha Gessen. I listened to the audio book over the course of several weeks, and performed by Ari Fliakos, it is an excellent production of a well-written and emotionally affecting novel. Andrei, a graduate student in Russian and Slavic Studies, returns to Moscow in the summer of 2008 to care for his ailing grandmother, and because his life has come to somewhat of a standstill in New York. His older brother Dima, who had been living across the hall from their grandmother, has run into difficulties with the Putin regime, albeit because of his business/capitalistic enterprises. The repression of said regime is revealed in the details of Andrei's day-to-day life. He eventually becomes involved with a socialist organization and falls in love with Yulia, one of its members. Gessen explores Andrei's identity--Russian-born, old enough when his family left Moscow to still remember the Moscow of his childhood, Andrei experiences a strong sense of identification with the members of October, the Leftist study group. He finds a group of men with whom to play hockey on a regular basis, and as his love for Yulia grows, he wants to stay in Moscow, immersed in the familiarity of what remains of Soviet society. His grandmother fequently warns him, "Andrei, this is a terrible country." And by the novel's end, we learn why she has repeatedly warned him of this. Andrei and his family are Jews, and in one remarkable scene, Andrei hopes to find new friends for his grandmother and approaches a group of old women sitting on a bench in the courtyard of his grandmother's building. They make multiple anti-Semitic remarks. Andrei's grandmother had previously told him that she had no desire to be friendly with them because of their anti-Semitism, yet he naively approaches them anyway. As Yulia remarks, sadly, near the end of the novel, "Andrei, you are such an American. You still believe in the power of words." And in many ways, it is Andrei's American naivite that creates both minor and major difficulties for him throughout Gessen's novel. I was suprisingly drawn into this novel, and the listening experience, in the hands of an excellent performer, was extremely engaging. I say surprisingly because the perspective of a young white man of relative privilege would not ordinarily have this narrative power for me. But I found this novel of contemporary Russia, under Putin's iron fist, to be fascinating and peopled with characters that greatly interested me. I initially chose to read it because I have read and admired some of Masha Gessen's books, but Keith Gessen is also a talented writer, and one whose previous book I plan to read, and hopefully, will have the chance to read whatever he writes in the future. Highly recommended.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Cecil Paddywagon

    It's strange, but I was captivated by this book, even though it was... well, boring. Boring in that the life of Andrei Kaplan, who narrates, doesn't quite lead an exceptional life. He's underemployed, lacking direction, and, when not taking care of his (brilliantly imagined) ailing grandmother, he's generally spends his time in a single coffee shop (buying the cheapest item each time). But he's in Moscow, after all, which, despite being largely indifferent (or outright hostile) to his presence-- It's strange, but I was captivated by this book, even though it was... well, boring. Boring in that the life of Andrei Kaplan, who narrates, doesn't quite lead an exceptional life. He's underemployed, lacking direction, and, when not taking care of his (brilliantly imagined) ailing grandmother, he's generally spends his time in a single coffee shop (buying the cheapest item each time). But he's in Moscow, after all, which, despite being largely indifferent (or outright hostile) to his presence--not to mention prohibitively expensive--is oozing with intrigue and history. And, as he settles into his new situation, he finds himself increasingly surrounded by interesting people, and we get the sense that Andrei both admires them and is intimidated by them--why can't he be an interesting person, too? Like everyone else, he is at the mercy of the winds much larger than him, although, in his case, he seems to be stuck in the doldrums. Eventually, after being taken in by a group of leftists, he is finally given his chance to be swept up into a "fascinating life"... but let's just say it doesn't quite come naturally. Gessen manages to create something truly rich out of the mundane. While reading this book, things unfold so slowly (at least up until the very end) that it almost feels like we're watching it happen in realtime. Andrei tries to find affordable coffee, Andrei goes to the grocery store and learns to cook Russian food, Andrei goes out clubbing with some expat neighbors, and, in one of the most memorable scenes, Andrei manages to fix a clogged sink. Andrei develops feelings for various women, loses interest, regains interest, loses interest again. He plays hockey. And yet, through these otherwise quotidian affairs, we somehow learn about Russian history and the transition from communism to neoliberal kleptocracy, the things that changed and the things that remarkably didn't. The nature of such change is a prevailing theme, reflected in the lives of the characters that inhabit this book, albeit on a smaller scale. Russian writers and poets before and after the revolution, Andrei's grandmother and her octogenarian friends before and after the fall of communism, Andrei himself as he undergoes a political awakening... There were some contrivances and conveniences, to be sure (by the end of the book, one gets the sense that, due to the sheer number of chance encounters, the entire population of Moscow is populated by only a handful of people), but, overall, this book is a real achievement. It's understated, in an almost old-fashioned way, but, importantly, though it certainly doesn't shy away from life's bleaknesses (in homage to the Russian classics the protagonist studies and teaches), it is bounding with heart. I feel like I've just spent a year in Russia and I thank Gessen for taking me there.

  25. 3 out of 5

    Nathan

    http://www.washingtonindependentrevie... Keith Gessen has excellent timing. His new novel, A Terrible Country, lands amid a strong national interest in his birth country, Russia. This is the kind of book that publishers rush into the hands of readers while the demand is high. It would be wrong, though, to treat this as just another Soviet story. While politics act as a force in much of the novel, it is not the politics of world leaders, but rather those of the everyday citizen; specifically, the s http://www.washingtonindependentrevie... Keith Gessen has excellent timing. His new novel, A Terrible Country, lands amid a strong national interest in his birth country, Russia. This is the kind of book that publishers rush into the hands of readers while the demand is high. It would be wrong, though, to treat this as just another Soviet story. While politics act as a force in much of the novel, it is not the politics of world leaders, but rather those of the everyday citizen; specifically, the split-identity wrought by immigration. Gessen seems to ask: Where do we find ourselves when who we are stretches across oceans and continents? Andrei Kaplan is coming back to Russia, but it is not to a place he knows very well. Born in Moscow in the 1970s, Andrei, at the bequest of his scheming brother, Dima, is returning to his birthplace to take care of his ailing grandmother, affectionally called Baba Seva. It is 2008, and Putin has not regained power yet. There is a strong pull for Andrei in Russia. His life in the States is in disarray. He has lost his job, his girlfriend, and his parents. There is little left to cling to in America, and change is a great driver even if it means sharing space with his grandma and enduring, to his chagrin, a lack of good Wi-Fi and recreational hockey. Andrei sees an opportunity to start over and become the Russian he has never truly been. Gessen creates terrific opportunities for Andrei to discover Russia and employs “outsider humor” to great effect. Andrei struggles with the language, with disastrous attempts at joining local hockey teams, with the chaos and danger of Russian nightlife, and, most importantly, in his attempts at finding companionship. He is his own foil, a character we genuinely feel for and identify with. Andrei’s initiation into a group called October, named after the Communist revolution of 1917, is his most significant attempt at becoming part of the culture. It allows him to find the companionship he craves and makes him believe that he, too, can become Russian in character instead of just birth. Gessen, for his part, does a remarkable job of showing us the fault in Andrei’s plan. The last third of the novel is a testament to what it means to try to belong. Andrei finds out that belonging cannot be superficial, that it’s a dynamic, relational process involving more than just the needs of the person who wants in. Andrei, despite his best intentions, cannot change his identity, nor the identity of the country he desperately tries to assimilate into. It is a heartbreaking epiphany, which Gessen builds out masterfully. The best moments in A Terrible Country happen between Andrei and Baba Seva. She is a link that connects the Russia of the past with Andrei’s parents and with himself. She serves as an excuse for Andrei to stay in the country and a grounding testament to what Russia once was. Andrei begins the novel as her roommate, but they grow to be a real family. The bond between the two strengthens as Baba Seva starts to fail. She is the one who repeatedly tells Andrei that Russia is “a terrible country” and that he should leave. A fall down the stairs begins to unmask the struggles of the country, which brings new insights for Andrei. As he begins to integrate more with the locals, Baba Seva begins to deteriorate into dementia. As Gessen heaps struggle after struggle onto his protagonist, it becomes clear that birthplace and language do not equal being local. Russia and Andrei bleed each other, and Andrei must ask himself who he truly is and where he really belongs. It is not an easy answer, and it is not a pleasing answer, but Gessen courageously lifts the mask with a complex sense of humanity. A Terrible Country has been years in the making. Gessen’s first novel, All the Sad Young Literary Men, was published a decade ago. In the meantime, he has become a leading literary voice in the United States, helping to create a connection between his birth country, Russia, and his home country, the United States. With its humor, empathic characterization, and great timing, this book is a hell of an important read.

  26. 3 out of 5

    Paul

    If "A Terrible Country" were a memoir, I might have spared in an extra star. Mr. Gessen isn't a particularly talented writer, but he's at least chosen to write about two fascinating subject, Soviet history and Putin-era Russia. If he chooses to explore these topics from the perspective of a whiny dullard, well, at least he's being honest. However, he intends "A Terrible Country" as a novel, which means he thinks we'll enjoy spending 443 novels inside the head of Andrew Kaplan, yet another embitt If "A Terrible Country" were a memoir, I might have spared in an extra star. Mr. Gessen isn't a particularly talented writer, but he's at least chosen to write about two fascinating subject, Soviet history and Putin-era Russia. If he chooses to explore these topics from the perspective of a whiny dullard, well, at least he's being honest. However, he intends "A Terrible Country" as a novel, which means he thinks we'll enjoy spending 443 novels inside the head of Andrew Kaplan, yet another embittered failed academic (at least the narrator of "Confessions of the Fox" offered the novelty of being transgender) whose token claim to distinction is that he was born in Moscow, where he returns at the age of 33 (that might sound metaphorical, but trust me, Gessen doesn't have enough imagination for even that kind of heavy-handed symbolism) in 2008 to care for his ailing grandmother. Grandma Seva, age 89, who lived through World War II and the Stalin era, would be a moving, tragic figure in any other novel, but in "A Terrible Country," she's merely a symbol of Kaplan's inadequacies (which are legion -- no wonder the poor lady is so frail). Over the course of a year, Kaplan teaches online classes, complains about the price of everything, is lured into a group of political dissidents with no discernible agenda, and plays hockey. Lots and lots of hockey. Much of which he describes with the unmodulated specificity of the stranger sitting next to you on the train who pretends to strike up a conversation with you just so he can enjoy the sound of himself talking. Why the hell is this a novel? The answer, I think, comes about a third of the way through, when Kaplan's arch-nemesis, a more successful professor named Alex Fishman, shows up in Moscow for the apparent purpose of monopolizing a dinner party to which our humble narrator has been invited. Fishman seems to be modeled on someone whom Mr. Gessen despises but hasn't the guts to insult by name, so he reduces him to a caricature. It's not a new trick, but it's been done by better writers in better books. Even some of the positive reviews of this book call it "boring." I sure won't argue that point.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Audrey

    This review is based on an ARC of A Terrible Country which I received courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher (Viking). I can't say that I have ever read anything like this book (in a good way)! A Terrible Country is about a post-grad student who is struggling with finding his career niche when, given the opportunity, he moves back to his birth country of Russia to care for his grandmother. This novel reads like a memoir, and not knowing any better I would even assume that it was one. The prose This review is based on an ARC of A Terrible Country which I received courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher (Viking). I can't say that I have ever read anything like this book (in a good way)! A Terrible Country is about a post-grad student who is struggling with finding his career niche when, given the opportunity, he moves back to his birth country of Russia to care for his grandmother. This novel reads like a memoir, and not knowing any better I would even assume that it was one. The prose is my favorite part of this book. Gessen writes very pragmatically and fleshes out details to the highest amount without overwriting. At first, I was worried that the narration wouldn't hold steady for the length of the novel, but it did--at least up until the very end. I felt that the finale was a little bit abrupt. What with all the detail that went into every other aspect of this story, the outcome of things for the grandmother (a major character in this book) could have been drawn out just a tad bit longer, in my opinion, to do justice to her character. Now, though I liked the writing, at times I felt a little bogged down with political discussion. I'm just not a very political person, so I found myself skimming over these parts. From around the middle of the book and onward the story seemed to get a little repetitive and uneventful. As for the characters... I really liked the development of Andrei, the main character. At first, he was a bit of an asshole, but I think once he started finding himself and his place in life, his character became more bearable. The relationship with Yulia I did not understand; I just didn't feel the supposed connection between the two. I really adored Grandma Seva and her story. All the other characters I did not care enough about to take note of. Overall, the minor characters were mostly forgettable. A Terrible Country is a quaint little story, but though I enjoyed it, it could have been better. Goodreads Summer Reading Challenge 2018: Read the World: a book that takes place in a country--or focuses on a culture--other than your own

  28. 3 out of 5

    Terzah

    Before I left for Peace Corps service in Russia in 2001, a soon-to-be-former co-worker told me in a fatherly way that he feared my idealism would be dented by Russia, with its complex legacy of pride and poverty. It was the early days of Putin, and no one suspected mine would be the last Peace Corps group to travel there, that we would be sent home one year later in the midst of what was supposed to be a two-year stay. I didn't have enough time or good enough language skills to damage or be dama Before I left for Peace Corps service in Russia in 2001, a soon-to-be-former co-worker told me in a fatherly way that he feared my idealism would be dented by Russia, with its complex legacy of pride and poverty. It was the early days of Putin, and no one suspected mine would be the last Peace Corps group to travel there, that we would be sent home one year later in the midst of what was supposed to be a two-year stay. I didn't have enough time or good enough language skills to damage or be damaged by Russia. But seventeen years later, I understand my former co-worker's worry. Keith Gessen's book is set six years after my abrupt departure from Russia, when Putin's reality was clearer and the U.S. had just elected Obama. It's the story of the son of Russian emigres, a man born in Moscow but raised in the U.S., who returns to the city of his birth to care for his grandmother. He's there for a year just as I was--but as this heartbreaking novel recounts, for him, that's plenty of time to both damage and be damaged. This is the classic story of the American abroad who, bumbling in his optimism and despite his fluency with the language (a trait I did NOT share with him during my own stay in Russia), fails to understand what's going on around him, and because of that fails those he loves, including his grandmother. I liked the understated writing. The impact of some of the sadder scenes registered itself quietly, the way sadness often does in real life. I also liked the lessons this book has to teach about the conflicting philosophies that continue to tear Russia apart. Is Putin dangerous because he and his cronies are secret Communists, or because they are actually the opposite of that, taking capitalism to its logical (and devastating) extreme? I'm not sure what the answer to that is. But I came away from this novel with a more nuanced perspective on Russia. There are no easy solutions, no good answers to impatient questions that begin with "Why don't they just...."

  29. 3 out of 5

    Cflack

    A dryly humorous and at times touching story about a young man at a professional dead end who accepts his brother’s request to move back to Moscow to take care of his ailing 89 year old grandmother. Andrei encounters a Moscow very different from his memories of the city as a child. There is much more consumerism – lots of cafes and shopping for people with money, but there are still people like his grandmother, an ex-academic, who are not a part of the new capitalism. Although the grocery stores A dryly humorous and at times touching story about a young man at a professional dead end who accepts his brother’s request to move back to Moscow to take care of his ailing 89 year old grandmother. Andrei encounters a Moscow very different from his memories of the city as a child. There is much more consumerism – lots of cafes and shopping for people with money, but there are still people like his grandmother, an ex-academic, who are not a part of the new capitalism. Although the grocery stores have plenty of items to sell, many people like his grandmother do not have the money to buy the new bounty so they go from one small market where cheese is the cheapest to the next where bread is cheaper. Andrei connects with an activist group, through one of his hockey friends. This group believes that capitalism under Putin and his cronies is worse for most Russians than communism was – although they are surrounded by “plenty” the safety net is gone and most people did not benefit. They believe that going back to its socialist roots is the way to improve the lives of most Russians. Andrei feels good about being part of “October” – it makes him feel like he is standing up for ideals and associating with people who do as he flounders and tries to make a name for himself in academic circles back in the US. He feels good associating with Sergei and sees what it means to sacrifice a job for your beliefs and follow your conscious. However when faced with similar choices Andrei makes his own decisions. I enjoyed the novel for the strong sense of every day life in modern Russia and the distinctive cast of characters surrounding Andrei – his hockey buddies, Emma Abramovna Baba Seva’s best friend, Sergei the goalie who gave up his paying teaching job to teach free community based classes, Boris(?) who is building his own dacha and Yulia the activist/girl friend. However, the soul of the novel is Baba Seva a survivor of religious, political and economics suffering. Even with her dementia getting worse her warmth and intellect shine through and carry the novel.

  30. 3 out of 5

    Delway Burton

    I am going on a tour of Russia in September and read this book, along with others, in prep. The title is somewhat of misnomer other than this admonition was often repeated by the protagonist's grandmother who is 89 and lived through Stalin. Russia is complex, has a powerful, but often pathologic culture, has offered the world so much, but have caused many of their own problems. At first I thought this was autobiographical, but later found it was fiction. The author is a Russian Jew who immigrate I am going on a tour of Russia in September and read this book, along with others, in prep. The title is somewhat of misnomer other than this admonition was often repeated by the protagonist's grandmother who is 89 and lived through Stalin. Russia is complex, has a powerful, but often pathologic culture, has offered the world so much, but have caused many of their own problems. At first I thought this was autobiographical, but later found it was fiction. The author is a Russian Jew who immigrated to America at a young age. His brother in the story, who was older, returned to Russia as an adult to make his fortune. In doing so, he ran afoul of the powers that be. The story teller returns to his childhood home when his brother flees to London to take care of their 89 yo grandmother, a former academic, who lived through Stalin. At first he doesn't know what to think of Moscow, a city of vast contrasts, and has no friends. Slowly he gains them from playing hockey and then falling in with a group of somewhat naive activists. He has a love affair but quickly comes to realize the way things work in the new Russia. Interestingly the Russians don't see themselves as European although they emulate Europe at every level (since Peter the Great). The story is bitter sweet at its conclusion. I think the title should be A Very Sad Confused Country.

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