A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen [7/10]

A gently evolving tale with underlying gravity, “A Terrible Country” follows a young American who returns to Moscow to care for his dementing grandmother, at the tail end of the 2010s. It’s a classic tale of innocence awakening, as Keith Gessen’s lovingly detailed pen describes modern Russia contrasted with the grandmother’s memories of the Stalinist/Brezhnevian Soviet era. Our hero is so earnestly lovable and innocent, yet Putin’s Russia is so seductive and dangerous! The plot involves no earth-shattering events, rather our Andrei gradually becomes enmeshed in his new world, to the point where he imagines it’s his new home and that he is Russian, only to find he is, after all, the na├»ve foreigner. Knowing a little about that neck of the woods, I loved the nitty-gritty, well described details, and Gessen’s dialogue is constantly amusing. For the life of me, I can’t quite place “A Terrible Country” against some of my favorite novels over the seventies, but suffice it to say this feels old-fashioned and intelligently so. If you have any interest in Russia, grab this and soak it in.

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