A Terrible Country

Viking. Jul. 2018. 352p. ISBN 9780735221314. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780735221321. F
OrangeReviewStarIn his debut novel, All the Sad Young Literary Men, Gessen (journalism, Columbia Univ.) penned a passing nod to F. Scott Fitzgerald with an autobiographical tale of three writers struggling to turn their literary ambitions into a lasting legacy. Similar themes from Gessen's life emerge here, as the author ruminates on the complexities of his homeland from the perspective of floundering academic and Russian expat Andrei Kaplan. With few job prospects and the high cost of living in New York City, Andrei returns to Moscow, his birthplace, to care for his grandmother, improve his hockey skills, and decide whether the academic life is worth the trouble. Navigating Russian culture as he moves between his grandmother's recollections of the USSR and his newfound revolutionary friends, he is caught between the ideologies of Putin's Russia and the Western liberalism that underpinned both his upbringing and his education. When the possibility of a romantic relationship presents itself, Andrei discovers his own narrative paralleling that of Mother Russia: cling to a past that is gone or strive for a future that may never materialize?
VERDICT With wit and humor, Gessen delivers a heartwarming novel about the multitudinous winding roads that lead us home. [See Prepub Alert, 1/22/18.]
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