A Terrible Country
January 9, 2019 10:42 AM - by Keith Gessen - Subscribe

When Andrei Kaplan's older brother Dima insists that Andrei return to Moscow to care for their ailing grandmother, Andrei must take stock of his life in New York. His girlfriend has stopped returning his text messages. His dissertation adviser is dubious about his job prospects. It's the summer of 2008, and his bank account is running dangerously low. Perhaps a few months in Moscow are just what he needs.

Marcel Theroux: "If the last two bizarre years have taught us anything, it’s that Russia is never irrelevant."

Francine Prose: "...a Russian novel that only an American could have written."
posted by tofu_crouton (3 comments total)
My first impression of this book was that it's zippy. By the end of chapter 1, he's in Moscow. By the end of chapter 2, he's discovered that his grandma has dementia and he has no wifi. These zippy chapters add up into a travelogue, reading almost like a friend's blogs or email updates. Based on Goodread reviews, a lot of readers found this part a slog on the way to the "real plot" that takes up the second half of the book. I personally enjoyed it, finding it refreshing after some of the other things I've been reading lately.

The second half of the book on the other hand... at first, things seemed to be looking up. Andrei was finally taking the advice I had been mentally shouting at him all along! That was my mistake, though, I was thinking of him as a character who could control his own fate, but instead a metaphor. I found his actions at the very end to be out of character for who he had become, but they were necessary for the plot to circle around the way Gessen required to make his plot. Alas.
posted by tofu_crouton at 10:52 AM on January 9, 2019

Yes! The ending was strange.

I study the region and I'm faculty so I wasn't sure if others would enjoy this as much but I dug it.
posted by k8t at 6:57 PM on January 20, 2019

I really enjoyed this as well, also found it zippy and engaging. I related a ton to the description of interacting with an elderly grandparent experiencing dementia, and ultimately wasn't too surprised by Andrei's final act of hopeful naiveté that ends up ruining everything for him. I was yelling at him in my head, but also cringing because I could see my own trustful inclination doing the same for me.

As someone who doesn't know a huge amount about Russia (and less about the USSR), other than what I've seen depicted in the media and the scant Russian literature I've read (Master and Margarita is a top fave), I liked the overall picture of Russia as a complicated, brutal place where people still manage to eke out lives.
posted by grette at 8:14 PM on February 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

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