cover image The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia

The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia

Masha Gessen. Riverhead, $28 (528p) ISBN 978-1-59463-453-6

Gessen (The Brothers), the esteemed Russian-American journalist, takes an intimate look at Russia in the post-Soviet period, when the public’s hopes for democracy devolved within a restricted society characterized by “a constant state of low-level dread.” She structures the book around the experiences of four principal individuals who came of age in the aftermath of the U.S.S.R.’s collapse: Masha, whose activism led her to become a “de facto political prisoner”; Seryozha, the grandson of Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev, the politician who spearheaded the reforms of the Gorbachev era; Lyosha, a homosexual academic in a homophobic society; and Zhanna, the daughter of murdered opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Three other figures also make regular appearances: psychoanalyst Marina Arutyunyan, sociologist Led Gudkov, and far-right ideologue Alexander Dugin. Readers gain a deeply personal view into “what it has felt like to live in Russia”—Lyosha, for instance, has had to grapple with media that “equated pedophilia and sexual violence with homosexuality”—and are presented with unique perspectives on the country during “the privations of the 1980s, the fears of the 1990s, and... the sense of shutting down that pervaded the 2000s.” Throughout, Gessen expounds on Russia’s development into a “mafia state” with elements of totalitarianism—a state fueled by a revanchist nationalism wherein each member of society must become “an enforcer of the existing order.” She presents the somber peculiarities of modern Russia in a well-crafted, inventive narrative. Agent: Elyse Cheney, Elyse Cheney Literary. (Oct.)