The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy by Masha Gessen

The Brothers is not Masha Gessen's best book, but it sure is an interesting and quick read, like most of Gessen's stuff.

It may be incomplete and not investigative enough (published before the final sentence was pronounced for the surviving marathon bomber), the storyline may be not too polished – but nonetheless the first two parts (out of the total of three) are page-turners.

The first is history – in particular, Chechnya and Dagestan history – well, rather the Tsarnaevs family story against the Soviet background – and later growing up in Boston of the two future perps.

The second focuses on the day of the marathon and how friends, family, cops etc reacted to the fact that two perfectly ordinary boys turned out butchers.

The trial part of the book is its weakest. It has tons of non-pertinent data, discussions, thoughts etc – but mostly, it's just pure speculation by the author. Why did they do it? Radicals? Oppose U.S. Foreign policy? Like hell we find out. The cops and FBI did quite a number of strange and spooky things? Well, who could've guessed otherwise. Capital punishment is wrong? Damn it ,in this very case I'm fully on board with the most liberal state of MA who has decided to put this curly baby to sleep with a proper pinch of potassium chloride in each of his arms. Собаке собачья смерть. A cur's death for a cur.

 

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Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot by Masha Gessen

When Masha Gessen's new book about Pussy Riot appeared on amazon in January, I bought that in a blink of an eye, but decided – I will hold off reading it till the moment when the audiobook is available as well, so that I can alternate reading and listening – after The Man Without a Face I realized that Gessen's stuff is best taken this way.
 
Great book! The more I read Masha, the more I realize I need to put all her previous books in my to-read list and catch up.
 
Given this is my reading blog, and not my Facebook page, I decided I won't spam it with too much liberal propaganda and atheism. Still, I want to make a few things clear – I am a hardcore atheist, who on top of that loves contemporary art, was always thrilled by all of Voina's actions (these guys rocked Auchan, huh – BTW, a great fiction book on Voina by Valery Panyushkin), and who found the trial of the three girls a complete aberration of law and common sense, coupled with ugly rape of the secular state by the church.
 
Gessen split her book in three parts, and each talks about and symbolizes one thing. Part one, the most interesting for me, is about Art. Short bios of the girls, formation of Voina, their actions and reactions. Voina rocked.
 
Part two, which was most known to me, as I have read court transcripts online as the case was broadcast, should have been called The Witchhunt. I had a long drive ahead of me this weekend, it was night time and lots of rain, the windscreen was dim and foggy – and the narrator's voice from my audiobook reconstructed the horror of the fake soviet style trial, the mockery of Russian justice. It's Miller's The Crucible staged live, with only exception they don't burn the witches alive in the frigging 21st century. Oh, at least that.
 
Part three, I would call it Gulag. Because today's Russian corrective colonies are just that, slave labour and no human rights. And then more slave labour. Also, to piggyback on Sochi toilets with no partitions between seats – well, obviously that's the way Russian jails are built. Surprise, surprise!
 
Anyway, the world has now seen a nice face of Russia, smiling and heavily made up, all shiny in the glittering snow and ice – and this book gives a great overview of the other side of the coin, both in freedom and behind bars, the side where no czar face or two-headed eagle is engraved. And it slowly gets murky, depressing, and heartbreaking. And, of course, it is as real as the gold medals and the new slopes.
 

The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen

After seeing this book being sold in virtually every European airport newsstands in the course of the past two years, I finally decided to get down to reading it – actually, reading and listening to it, 50/50 style – just at the same time as its author published a new book about Pussy Riot.

As Gessen has always been an avid and harsh critic of the regime, I expected something extremely one-sided – and, to an extent, it was. Frankly, for a person that follows Russian politics more or less regularly, it had nothing new nor gave any new insights – so in a sense, indeed it was aimed at international audiences, not the local Gessen readership body. My gut feel, though, that this ain’t the reason why this book was never published in Russian – as I would love to give it to my wife’s 77yo granddad to read, in order to provide a one-sided answer to his no less one-sided Channel One view of the world.

If I start the count, it would be the enumeration of buzzwords: KGB, Gorbatchev, dissidents, the 1991 Putch, Gaidar times, October 1993, the first Chechen war, Berezovsky, Yeltsin losing popular support, the successor plan, who is Mr. Putin, the Moscow and Volgodonsk bombings, the notorious Ryazan FSB “training”, замочить в сортире, the second war, the President for the people, Gusinsky and NTV, Berezovsky in exile, Kursk, Nord-Ost, the Soviet anthem yet again, Yushenkov, Beslan, Politkovskaya, Ramzan, Litvinenko, Khodorkovsky, Baikal Finance Group, Browder, Magnitsky, the Gelenjik palace, a short Medvedev intermission, the list goes on and on and on. For foreign readers, though, it seems to be a neat collection of whatever bad happened in Russia in the past decade or so.

The one thing that, surprisingly, was very new and interesting to me, was Gessen’s very detailed view on Putin’s first post-USSR boss St. Pete’s mayor Anatoly Sobchak. Apart from a conspiracy theory that Mr. Sobchak was poisoned (ummm, though I find anything possible, this is kind of hard to believe), Gessen portrays Sobchak as an anti-liberal goon that tricked the old dissidents that brought him to power and who seeked no reforms – he rather was after raw political power, not exactly Game of Thrones style, but close. This view of Mr. S seems to go in line with whatever recollections I have of the gentleman, despite some recent propaganda to the contrary.

And secondly, the book’s epilogue, written around the time of and about December 2011 protests, now reads a bit naive and sad. “It is a tiny moment of great change,” – Gessen writes. Oh well.

P.S. … and now I love amazon’s audible.com and whispersync audiobooks! Yikes!