A Terrible Country, by Keith Gessen
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A Terrible Country is the first novel in ten years from n+1 founding editor Keith Gessen. Faced with dismal academic job prospects and a withering personal life, Andrei leaves New York to spend the summer in Moscow to care for his elderly grandmother (and to collect her tales of Stalinist Russia—a research topic that might finally get him a job). But when Andrei arrives, he finds his grandmother’s dementia is worse than he expected. He learns to navigate Putin’s Moscow, still the city of his birth, where everything is too expensive. When he becomes entangled with a group of leftists, Andrei’s politics and his allegiances are tested, and he’s forced to come to terms with the Russian society he was born into and the American one he has enjoyed.
Praise for A Terrible Country
“A cause for celebration: big-hearted, witty, warm, compulsively readable, earnest, funny, full of that kind of joyful sadness I associate with Russia and its writers. Gessen’s particular gift is his ability to effortlessly and charmingly engage with big ideas—power, responsibility, despotism of various stripes, the question of what a country is supposed to do for the people who live in it—while still managing to tell a moving and entertaining human story. At a time when people are wondering whether art can rise to the current confusing political moment, this novel is a reassurance, from a wonderful and important writer.”
—George Saunders, Man Booker Prize-winning author of Lincoln in the Bardo
“Keith Gessen is one of my favorite writers and A Terrible Country is even better than I hoped. By turns sad, funny, bewildering, revelatory, and then sad again, it recreates the historical-psychological experience of returning, for twenty-first-century reasons, to a country one’s parents left in the twentieth century. It’s at once an old-fashioned novel about the interplay between generational roles, family fates, and political ideology, and a kind of global detective mystery about neoliberalism (plus a secret map of Moscow in terms of pickup hockey). Gessen is a master journalist and essayist, as well as a storyteller with a scary grasp on the human heartstrings, and A Terrible Country unites the personal and political as only the best novels do.”
—Elif Batuman, author of The Idiot and The Possessed
“A Terrible Country is an engaging and entertaining novel, full of humor and humility, and always after one thing—the truth of contemporary life. Gessen gives us the people of Moscow—businessmen, anarchists, grandmothers, dissidents, baristas, hockey goalies, prostitutes, and FSB agents—not as fanciful characters but with the full force of the real. His affectionate, clear-eyed portrait of one terrible country has plenty to teach us about our own.”
—Chad Harbach, author of The Art of Fielding
“I loved A Terrible Country, and I loved Andrei, the smart, likable narrator, a struggling American academic with a deliciously wry observational intelligence. I’d follow Andrei’s voice anywhere, but I was especially glad, at this moment, to go with him to post-Soviet Moscow. A fun, funny but sincere novel that explores with real integrity what it means to be an American ex-pat who can always leave, A Terrible Country is one of the most addictive and affecting books I’ve read in a while.”
—Adelle Waldman, author of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.
“A complex portrait of a misunderstood nation. . . . Most of the book’s pleasures are traditional ones, welcome reminders of how much an old-fashioned novel can do. It expands the sympathies of its readers, delicately explores the connection between historical experience and the everyday, and offers a picture of a whole social system and what it does to the people who inhabit it. . . . Gessen weaves together many people’s stories, so that along the way we glean much about Soviet and post-Soviet life. . . . Gessen is as funny as ever.”
—Lidija Haas, Bookforum
“A novel about life under neoliberalism. . . . A Terrible Country is not exactly a hopeful book about political protest, but neither is it a fatalistic one. Instead, it suggests what resistance might mean, not as a slogan, but as a life.”
—Maggie Doherty, Harvard Magazine
“In Keith Gessen’s exceptional and trenchant novel, floundering 30-something professor Andrei Kaplan flees from New York to Russia, the country of his birth, to reassess his future and take care of his ailing grandmother. . . . Andrei’s early attempts to reorient himself to post-Soviet Russian society bring about considerable insight and humor—getting rebuffed by a men’s adult hockey league, getting pistol-whipped outside a nightclub—leading him back to watching old Russian films with his grandmother. . . . While poised to critique Putin’s Russia, this sharp, stellar novel becomes, by virtue of Andrei’s ultimate self-interest, a subtle and incisive indictment of the American character.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)