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A Terrible Country

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  2,369 ratings  ·  408 reviews
A literary triumph about Russia, family, love, and loyalty--the first novel in ten years from a founding editor of n+1 and author of All the Sad Young Literary Men

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 mes
Kindle Edition, 352 pages
Published July 10th 2018 by Viking
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3.88  · 
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 ·  2,369 ratings  ·  408 reviews

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Jun 12, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley

Andrei emigrated with his parents from Russia at the age of six. Now, he's 33 and returning to Moscow to take care of his 89 year old grandmother, who’s suffering from some dementia. And who’s lonely because all her friends are dead. The book takes you to 2008 Moscow. You feel like you there and Geisel does a good job of making you feel the time and place. I did feel I got a better understanding of Russian “capitalism”.

This is a grim book. And slow moving. Flashes of brilliance, like when it di
While I was reading this memoir-like novel about a Russian emigré's return to Moscow to spend time with his grandmother, I kept thinking about Andreï Makine's Dreams of My Russian Summers, another memoir-like novel in which the narrator returns to spend time with his grandmother. I have to say that there were many times I wished I was rereading that beautiful book instead.

But this was a bookgroup choice and I try to read what is chosen so I kept on reading in spite of feeling that Gessen's book
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This is one of the books that was lingering on my stack at home from the Tournament of Books long list. It's is the story of Andrei, an ABD in Russian Studies in 2008 just as universities are cutting Russian Studies programs and his job and romance prospects are bleak. His brother asks him to return to Russia to care for their grandmother, and that's where the story begins.

I liked this more than I expected. Andrei is a sympathetic and imperfect character who seems to be a product of circumstanc
Steven Z.
Aug 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
At a time when Russia, Putin, conspiracy, and collusion dominate the news cycle it is wonderful to escape into a work of fiction that is absorbing, appealing to human emotion on many levels, and sadly, a comment on the reality of Russia today. As useful and engrossing as Keith Gessen’s new book A TERRIBLE COUNTRY is, it creates the anxiety and frustration that one associates with Putin’s Russia. Gessen is a Russian translator of poetry and short stories, but also of Nobel Prize winner Svertlana ...more
Paul Fulcher
This is a terrible country. My Yolka took to America. Why did you come back?” She seemed angry.

A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen is published in the UK by perhaps my favourite of all publishers, Fitzcarraldo Editions, but is an odd fit for the "ambitious, imaginative and innovative writing" in which they normally excel.

It tells the story, set in 2008 of Andrei a thirty-something graduate in Russian literature and history. As he tells us in the novel's opening passage:

In the late summer of 200
Sep 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To justify another 5-star rating for my beloved blue publisher, especially because this title seems to receive more criticism than some others (and I can see where it’s coming from), here are some of my subjective reasons for the grade:

- It’s written in refreshingly short, easy sentences, that still convey a lot about such big topics. Zero pretense.

- It’s structured wonderfully. Everything is there for a reason.

- I’m rarely moved emotionally by novels, but this almost brought me to tears with a
Dec 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Andrei’s life in New York is not what you would call successful. His girlfriend has just dumped him, he barely earns enough to survive from his online teaching job and his dissertation adviser seems to have no confidence in his future job prospects at all. So when his brother Dima calls and asks him to travel back to Russia, where he was born before emigrating to America when he was six, and look after their elderly grandmother, the decision almost seems to be made before the question is asked. ...more
Jaclyn Crupi
Mar 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Terrible Country is a wonderful book. Using tropes from the Russian masters who came before him, Gessen, with humour and razor-sharp observations, shines a light on life in contemporary Russia. It’s completely fascinating and funny and just so damn good I could barely stand it. If you like your fiction big and bold then this is for you. The prose may not set your world on fire but it has its moments and you’ll forgive it for the insights, access and revelations of this clever storyteller.
Feb 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"So there was my life - a series of errands for Dima punctuated by a series of rejections by Russians and a slate of activities with a roommate - my grandmother - who only remembered the ones she didn't like."

At first glance, this pretty much sums it up. For hundreds of pages, we are treated to the daily interactions, and rather mundane conversations, of a fairly limited cast of characters. It's well-written, very coherent, and mildly interesting, and we develop a clear picture of the lives they
Gumble's Yard
Jun 17, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
Keith Gessen was born in Russia of Jewish parents, who emigrated to the US when he was still a child – and is now an author, journalist (specialising in Russia), book-critic, translator and journal editor.

This is his second novel – and comes with by George Saunders and Elif Batuman, authors respectively of the 2017 Booker winner and one of the best books of 2018.

It is published by Fitzcarraldo Editions – one of the leading UK small presses and most notably recent winner of the 2018 Man Booker I
Alison Hardtmann
Jan 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-book
. . . I felt the terrible freedom of this place. It was a fortress set down in a hostile environment. On one side the Mongols; on the other the Germans, Balts, and Vikings. So the Russians built this fortress here on a bend in the Yauza River, and hoped for the best. They built it big because they were scared. It was a gigantic country, and even now, in the twenty-first century, barely governed. You could do anything, really. And amid this freedom, this anarchy, people met and fell in love and t ...more
Diane S ☔
Review soon.
3.5 stars
Tournament of Books Play-in Round

Comments forthcoming.
Mar 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a young immigrant from the Soviet Union, i related to the book a lot. Russia may have capitalism but it doesnt mean the corruption went away. Only the people who have connections and money survive Russia. Anyone interested in how Russia continues to operate should read this book. I recommend it to anyone but especially former soviet citizens
I may be rounding up a bit here, but I really enjoyed this engaging and often funny book backed by a deep knowledge of Russian literature, history and culture. It was interesting to read about Putin's Russia from the oddly endearing voice of a struggling academic with roots in both Russia and America. A very good book full of nice little touches.
Aug 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book about what it means to return to a place that is no longer home. Reading it brought back memories of Tommy Orange’s “There there”, or, more specifically, of Gertrude Stein’s quote about Oakland, “there is no there there” from which Orange’s book drew its title. For both Stein and the narrator of A Terrible Country, the place they thought they knew is now very different.

The men too fit a pattern. Big, kasha fed, six feet tall, stuffed into expensive suits, balancing themselves on s
Apr 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's a bummer I didn't review this months ago when I read it (god, that is just my constant refrain, isn't it?). I kept waiting until I had time to really think about it and do it justice, which never happens, so here we are, six months later, as I try to piece together something intelligent.

Anyway I've been pretty wary of Gessen since All the Sad Young Literary Men, which I found decidedly meh. But then I read his incredibly moving New Yorker essay, "Why Did I Teach My Son to Speak Russian?" i
May 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the better books on the TOB shortlist. Not only does the writing flow with great characterization (the grandmother is a standout) but we learn some things about modern day Russia and our current political climate. In some ways Gessen's love letter to his grandmother (and yes I do believe the book is a tad auto-biographical) is also a warning to an America that believes itself immune to the corruption of unrestrained capitalism that has perverted Russia. It gave me pause to think a ...more
Erin Glover
Andrei is one lost puppy floundering around in New York in 2008 after his girlfriend dumps him. When his brother Dima calls him to come take care of their 89-year-old grandmother in Moscow for just a little while, he says what the hell and jumps on a plane to Moscow where he lived as a child. He’s supposed to be working on his dissertation for the Slavic Language Department at the university where he holds a crappy job, but he can’t narrow down his topic. He thinks he’ll learn about the Soviets ...more
Dec 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, tob-2019
3.5 rounded down
Jul 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
Although I enjoyed this book, a memoir like novel of a grandson's return to Moscow to look after his ailing grandmother (he left at the age of 6 for America), I do feel it could do with some serious editing. It is repetitive (perhaps correctly as his grandmother is losing it gradually and repeats herself a lot), and too long. The 'I' persona learns a lot about life under Russian 'capitalism' (it's 2008/9 and Putin is Prime Minister during the financial crash), but doesn't seem to understand the ...more
Big Al
Jan 11, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
A Terrible Narrator
Danielle Tremblay
A man returns to Moscow to take care of his grandmother and discovers Putin's Russia, its new prosperity and its old problems.

I have not read Gessen's previous novel, but it seems that the author began this one where he finished the previous one, in 2008, and that the main character, Andrei Kaplan, has a certain something of the sometimes unpleasant "lost boys"of his first novel.

After eight years of graduate studies and a doctorate in "Russian Literature and Modernity," Andrei, 33, is struggling
Fikayo Adebolajo
Aug 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
When I stumbled on this book, reading the description and summary, I made the purchase with trepidation, (it just seemed to much of a high praise for a name I’ve never even heard).
Now that I’ve completed it I just might have found myself a new favorite author in Keith Gessen.

Not only is the prose for this work solid, it is a captivating and relatable story written with the perfect dose of humor.

As a foreign national hosted by another country, It’s nice to know there are some universal sentiments
❤Marie Gentilcore
Jul 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, audiobook
I loved this book! It’s been nearly a week since I finished and I miss it still and wish there was more. It is a novel but it reads like a memoir. It starts off with Andrei coming back to Moscow to take care of his grandmother while his older brother is out of the country. Andrei was born in Russia but immigrated to the US when he was a child and has been living there for the past twenty years of so. The story takes place in 2008 and I feel like I really got to know Putin’s Russia along with And ...more
Martha Kate
Jan 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was lulled into complacency, following the hapless Andrei through his mundane tasks in modern-day Moscow, until the sucker-punch of the final 50 or so pages. Well done, comrade Gessen. Recommended.

I read this for my Tiny Book Club and because it is one of the three books of the play-in round at The Tournament of Books. I expected the novel to be interesting and it was. I don't know why I am so drawn to Russia but I have read many, many books set there as well as written by Russian authors old and current. Perhaps because for all my life they have been our chief enemy.

A Terrible Country is somewhat subdued in comparison to all those other novels but in its quiet way gave me a feel for wh
Carmel Hanes
I have mixed feelings about this book. What I enjoyed: learning a bit about Russian culture and physical environments, and the political history and social ramifications of those changing theologies and practices. I eventually enjoyed the growing attachment between Andrei and his grandmother, which became more tender and real as they spent time together. The eventual decisions that were made captured the often agonizing choices between bad and worse, although this was shown without a great deal ...more
From BBC radio 4:
In the summer of 2008 as the global financial crisis erupts, Andrei Kaplan moves from New York to Moscow to look after his ageing grandmother.

His older brother Dima has left the country in something of a hurry after his bid to run a network of gas stations on a new highway was rejected. It had been Dima who used to keep an eye on their grandmother but now, as Andrei once again fails to secure an academic job in the US, it falls to him to take his turn.

Baba Seva is approaching 90
Sarah Tittle
This book started out with a great premise: young academic going nowhere is America decides to return to Russia, the country of his birth, to care for his grandmother and perhaps jumpstart his academic career. The protagonist is likable, charmingly self-deprecating and somewhat hapless. He’s not your typical young male narrator (see The Nix for male narrator I most love to hate). But after this promising start the story starts to meander, as if the author is trying to find a thread. Andrei (or A ...more
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Do you have to know about Russia to like this book? 3 13 Sep 02, 2018 08:38PM  

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Keith Gessen was born in Moscow in 1975 and came to the United States with his family when he was six years old. He is a co-founder of the literary magazine n+1 and the author of the novels All the Sad Young Literary Men and A Terrible Country. He has written about Russia for the London Review of Books, n+1, the Nation, the New Yorker, and the New York Times Magazine, and has translated or co-tran ...more
“To cook and clean yourself is intolerable. But to have someone else do it is exhausting.” 0 likes
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