‘A Terrible Country’ is a great novel that sheds light on life in Moscow

n a recent New York Times editorial, author Keith Gessen — who was born in Moscow in 1975 and moved to the U.S. with his family when he was 6 — confessed to feeling confused about the way the land of his birth has figured in the headlines lately.

“Having lived in Russia, I know in my bones how complicated a place it is,” he wrote. “Living in Russia is not a nonstop exercise in getting arrested, tortured, shot. People go about their lives. They buy groceries, look at their phones, go on dates, get married. They go to work in the morning, look for parking, try to get to the gym. They tell jokes.”

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. Its 33-year-old narrator, who shares some of Gessen’s history (born in Moscow in 1975, moved to the U.S. at age 6) is sensitive, alert, but not always clued in. “I wasn’t really an idiot,” he says. “But neither was I not an idiot.” Through his eyes we get glimpses of the authoritarian undertow of Putin’s Russia while always staying grounded in the grind of ordinary Muscovite existence. (Read more…)