A Terrible Country
November 13, 2018
The only job Andrei Kaplan has been able to find since completing his doctorate, is teaching an online, poorly-paid course. So, he agrees to fly to Moscow when his brother promises him a round-trip ticket, hockey games, and his old bedroom with free WiFi in exchange for taking care of their aging grandmother. Andrei imagines the scholarly article he’ll write based on his grandmother’s stories of Soviet intrigue. He imagines himself protesting the Putin regime in the morning, playing hockey in the afternoon, and keeping his grandmother company in the evening. But his Russian is rusty, finding a place to play hockey is difficult, and the grandmother has dementia. As Keith Gessen explains in his wonderful novel A Terrible Country (Viking, 2018), Russia turns out to be something different than he expected. Keith Gessen is the founding editor of the literary journal n+1 and author of All the Sad Young Literary Men. He is also the editor of three nonfiction books and the translator, from Russian, of a collection of short stories, a book of poems, and Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich’s oral history, Voices from Chernobyl. A contributor to The New Yorker and The London Review of Books, Gessen teaches journalism at Columbia and lives in New York with his wife and sons.