In the summer of 2008, Andrei Kaplan moves from New York to Moscow to look after his ageing grandmother, a woman who survived the dark days of communism and witnessed Russia’s violent capitalist transformation. She welcomes Andrei into her home, even if she can’t always remember who he is. Andrei learns to navigate Putin’s Moscow, still the city of his birth, but with more expensive coffee. He looks after his elderly – but surprisingly sharp! – grandmother, finds a place to play hockey, a café to send emails, and eventually some friends, including a beautiful young activist named Yulia. Capturing with a miniaturist’s brush the unfolding demands of family, fortune, personal ambition, ideology, and desire, A Terrible Country is a compelling novel about ageing, radical politics, Russia at a crossroads, and the difficulty – or impossibility – of actually changing one’s life.
‘A cause for celebration: big-hearted, witty, warm, compulsively readable, earnest, funny, full of that kind of joyful sadness I associate with Russia and its writers. Gessen’s particular gift is his ability to effortlessly and charmingly engage with big ideas—power, responsibility, despotism of various stripes, the question of what a country is supposed to do for the people who live in it—while still managing to tell a moving and entertaining human story. At a time when people are wondering whether art can rise to the current confusing political moment, this novel is a reassurance, from a wonderful and important writer.’
— George Saunders, author of Lincoln in the Bardo
‘A Terrible Country is even better than I hoped. By turns sad, funny, bewildering, revelatory, and then sad again, it recreates the historical-psychological experience of returning, for twenty-first-century reasons, to a country one’s parents left in the twentieth century. It’s at once an old-fashioned novel about the interplay between generational roles, family fates, and political ideology, and a kind of global detective mystery about neo-liberalism (plus a secret map of Moscow in terms of pickup hockey). Gessen is a master journalist and essayist, as well as a storyteller with a scary grasp on the human heartstrings, and A Terrible Country unites the personal and political as only the best novels do.’
— Elif Batuman, author of The Idiot
‘Like Primo Levi’s masterpiece If Not Now, When?, A Terrible Country makes the emotional case for an unfamiliar politics. Its critique of the Russian mafia state is balanced by a deeply humanistic attention to common decency. I would not hesitate to recommend this novel to a busy person who otherwise refuses to touch fiction. The only up-to-the-minute, topical, relevant, and necessary novel of 2018 that never has to mention Trump.’
— Nell Zink, author of The Wallcreeper
Keith Gessen is the author of A Terrible Country, All the Sad Young Literary Men and a founding editor of n+1. He edited and co-translated Kirill Medvedev’s It’s No Good, also published by Fitzcarraldo Editions, and translated Nobel Prize-winner Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl. He teaches journalism at Columbia and lives in New York.