I was warmer in prison

Vadim Nikitin

  • A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen
    Fitzcarraldo, 352 pp, £12.99, July, ISBN 978 1 910695 76 0

One of my parents’ favourite Soviet films is called Autumn Marathon. Its main character, an academic translator, is living a double life. Out of divided loyalties rather than greed or excitement, Andrei spends most of his time running frantically between his home, his office at the university and the apartment of his typist, who is also his mistress. Each night, the drawbridges connecting these different parts of Leningrad are raised, threatening to leave the hero stranded. In its opening credits, Autumn Marathon calls itself a ‘sad comedy’. It is an equally apt description for A Terrible Country, Keith Gessen’s loosely autobiographical account of a not-so-young Russian-American graduate student’s ambivalent year in Putin’s Russia.

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