cover image A Terrible Country

A Terrible Country

Keith Gessen. Viking, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2131-4

In Gessen’s exceptional and trenchant novel, floundering 30-something professor Andrei Kaplan flees from New York to Russia, the country of his birth, to reassess his future and take care of his ailing grandmother. Called abroad by his enterprising older brother, Dima, Andrei arrives in Moscow to find the city of his memory surreally changed, his 89-year-old grandmother’s apartment one of the few spaces exempt from a partial Westernization. Andrei’s early attempts to reorient himself to post-Soviet Russian society bring about considerable insight and humor—getting rebuffed by a men’s adult hockey league, getting pistol-whipped outside a nightclub—leading him back to watching old Russian films with his grandmother. Eventually, though, Andrei carves out a place for himself among a group of leftists known as October, whose ranks include Yulia, a devout radical with whom Andrei embarks on a romantic relationship. Gessen (All the Sad Young Literary Men) meticulously forges these bonds before casting them in doubt, as Andrei’s involvement in a protest complicates the new life he has built. While poised to critique Putin’s Russia, this sharp, stellar novel becomes, by virtue of Andrei’s ultimate self-interest, a subtle and incisive indictment of the American character. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, the Wylie Agency (July)