Raising Raffi, by Keith Gessen
Fatherhood is another country: a place where the old concerns are swept away, where the ordering of time is reconstituted, where days unfold according to a child’s needs. Whatever rulebooks once existed for this sort of thing seem irrelevant or outdated. Overnight, Gessen’s perception of his neighborhood changes: suddenly there are flocks of other parents and babies, playgrounds, and schools that span entire blocks. Raffi is enchanting, as well as terrifying, and like all parents, Gessen wants to do what is best for his child. But he has no idea what that is.
Written over the first five years of Raffi’s life, Raising Raffi examines the profound, overwhelming, often maddening experience of being a dad. Gessen traces how the practical decisions one must make each day intersect with some of the weightiest concerns of our age: What does it mean to choose a school in a segregated city? How do you instill in your child a sense of his heritage without passing on that history’s darker sides? Is parental anger normal, possibly useful, or is it inevitably authoritarian and destructive? How do you get your kid to play sports? And what do you do, in a pandemic, when the whole world seems to fall apart? By turns hilarious and poignant, Raising Raffi is a story of what it means to invent the world anew.
Praise for Raising Raffi:
“My brother wrote a book about my nephew, and this book made me laugh and tear up. It’s a book about love: the love of a father for his child, of course, and also the love of an adult son for his parents (our parents), the love an emigre feels for the language (Russian) and culture (Soviet Jewish emigre) of his home. It’s a book about the way love makes us feel powerless one minute and strong the next. It’s a beautiful book, and you should read it.” —Masha Gessen
“Until recently, fatherhood was, in many places, an arm’s-length affair. In Raising Raffi, Keith Gessen puts the emerging phenomenon of engaged fatherhood on the literary map, with a raw, wry, introspective chronicle of the first five years of dad life. It is a story of Macy’s engagement rings, missing heartbeats, vaginal geysers, playground violence, Russian children’s literature, racially segregated schools, and more. It raises profound questions about what it means to raise a boy when the old ways of being a man have been discredited and the new ones have yet to saturate. If you are a father, want to be a father, have a father, or are thinking of leaving the father of your children, then this book is for you.” —Anand Giridharadas
“In this beautiful book, a father’s love and anxiety test themselves against the sometimes-dubious popular philosophies of parenting, the memories of Gessen’s own upbringing and the harsh interruption of real world events. Parents who have doubted themselves and tried to untangle the mystery of young humans—in other words, all parents—will recognize themselves in this vulnerable and finely wrought memoir.” —Megan K. Stack
“The book is good.” —Slate
Keith Gessen is the author of A Terrible Country, All the Sad Young Literary Men and a founding editor of n+1. He is the editor of three nonfiction books and the translator or co-translator, from Russian, of a collection of short stories, a book of poems, and a work of oral history, Nobel Prize-winner Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl. A contributor to The New Yorker and The London Review of Books, Gessen teaches journalism at Columbia and lives in New York with his wife and sons.