Andrei is treading water in his career, moderating online forums for university classes in Russian literature while never landing his own teaching job. So, when his brother Dima called to ask Andrei to fly to Moscow and stay with their grandmother while he took care of business concerns, Andrei saw it as an opportunity. Perhaps he could mine his grandmother for information suitable for an article or two. He could certainly do his job there since it was all online.

When he arrives, he discovers his grandmother is sliding into dementia and depression. He does his best and is a loving grandson. He also discovers it is a bit more difficult to work on the internet than he thought, but he manages. He struggles for a time until he meets people that he clicks with and then really settles into being a Muscovite intellectual/radical.

After the first chapter of A Terrible Country, I googled to see if it really was a novel because it reads like a memoir. That was not the last time. This book feels uncannily real.

One of the things that makes it so real is the small-scale of the drama. Settling in to a city, helping his grandmother, playing hockey, trying to find some friends, finally finding some friends. Even the crisis that brings the story to an end is pretty ordinary, naivete and the myopia of privilege lull Andrei into a grievous wrong and it is all so very real.

I liked Andrei and even tough-guy Dima is a good grandson. I loved the grandmother. I love that Andrei disappoints me, because you know, that is what feels authentic.

A Terrible Country will be published on July 10th. I received an e-galley of A Terrible Country from the publisher through Edelweiss.

A Terrible Country at Penguin Random House

Keith Gessen on Twitter