Making It in Capitalist Moscow A Russian-American graduate student struggles for authenticity in Keith Gessen’s novel “A Terrible Country.”

At the age of 23, the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy was something of a train wreck. A handsome young man of privilege, he gambled away part of his inheritance at cards. He became an accomplished drinker and an even more accomplished womanizer. His prolific hedonism landed him in the venereal disease clinic at the University of Kazan, where he studied law for two years before dropping out. Desperate to turn his life around, he enlisted in the Russian army and fought in the Caucasus, the mountain range at Russia’s southern border, an experience that would inspire his semi-autobiographical novella (and critical self-reflection), The Cossacks. For Tolstoy’s hero, leaving behind his cozy existence as a young aristocrat in Moscow, life with the Cossacks is a fantasy of authenticity and rugged simplicity. They promise a path towards his own moral regeneration. (Read more…)