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A Terrible Country

By: Keith Gessen

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Imprint: Viking

Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9780735221314

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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 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.
Gessen evokes not only convincingly, but indispensably, something exceedingly rare in modern American fiction: genuine male vulnerability. There's enough heart here to redeem every recent male novel that's aimed for it and found solipsism instead. The poise, alas, falters in the book's final stretch.... The last 50 pages of the book read like a hasty after-action report, and Andrei should be pretty miffed with his author for imposing on him a denouement, and diminution, not only rushed but, in part, difficult to believe. Yet even here the novel manages to offer hard-won insight into an impossible place. I don't know if “A Terrible Country” is good fiction, but you won't read a more observant book about the country that has now been America's bedeviling foil for almost a century.
—New York Times
Gessen's second novel, "A Terrible Country," brilliantly captures the daily rhythms, allures and challenges of Moscow life in 2008-2009. It's as personable a book as it is political.... "A Terrible Country" is wily, seductive and deeply affecting. Its hybrid narrator � half insider, half outsider � sheds light on a society that, more than ever now, we need to understand better. It's a great book with a great heart � and a whole heap of rueful regret � at the core of it.
—Seattle Times
Gessen, author of 2008's "All the Sad Young Literary Men," has done marvelous work here. "A Terrible Country" is a contemplative and compassionate novel about what it means to return to a place that is no longer home, and a fiercely political book about what oppressive regimes do to societies. There are few writers that do either as well as Gessen does both.
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
Readers of A TERRIBLE COUNTRY, Russian-born American writer Keith Gessen's kindhearted second novel, will be relieved to know that, while it inevitably --- and smartly --- engages with contemporary Russian politics, it's primarily a story about the bonds of family loyalty, and an especially appealing one at that.... There are few reading experiences more satisfying than sharing time with a character who grows on us, despite his flaws --- or perhaps even because of them --- as we live his story. Andrei Kaplan is such a character, and Keith Gessen makes us happy to have made his acquaintance.
—Bookreporter.com
Through his volunteer work as an English translator for his hockey-goalie friend's socialist newsletter, Andrei eventually gains a girlfriend, but "A Terrible Country" is not a love story. It's a novel about this young academic at a crossroads becoming refamiliarized with Russian customs and history through his 90-year-old grandmother.... The only wholly created character, loved and seen and wondered about, made vivid again and again, is the grandmother.... The novel's best, sturdiest theme is that life is, if not attractive, then at least possible in that “Terrible Country” of Russia.
—Christian Science Monitor
Gessen is a writer of spare sentences; he's more of a Chekhov than a Nabokov. There's little thunder, no off-piste mental excursions, no sense of a writer stropping his razor. His sort of plain writing is difficult to pull off. There is a fine line between elegant simplicity and mere meagerness. As this novel pushes forward, however, Gessen's patience, his ability to husband his resources, begins to pay off.... [T]his earnest and wistful but serious book gets good, and then it gets very good.... This artful and autumnal novel, published in high summer, is a gift for those who wish to receive it.
—New York Times
Mr. Gessen continues in that depressing trend among American writers for diaristic first-person accounts favoring banal verisimilitude over drama and imaginative reach... Andrei, a nice but unexceptional young man, is the book's least interesting character, yet his comparatively trivial preoccupations — finding wi-fi, scoring a girlfriend—dominate every scene.... Having prepared the ingredients for an epic, Mr. Gessen has fashioned another work of narrow confessional realism that trucks in mundane observations and rueful ironies - something that feels, unfortunately, very American indeed.
—Wall Street Journal
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