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On Wall Street

Keith Gessen, 20 October 2011

... When the protesters started occupying Wall Street, I was busy (sort of), and, to be honest, reluctant. I hate this stuff. I hate standing in the same spot, hemmed in by police barricades, shouting stupid slogans. ‘No justice/No peace’: really? ‘Whose streets?/Our streets!’ Well, yes and no. The futility too is a little frustrating. I have attended protests against the bombing of Kosovo; the bombing of Belgrade; the invasion of Afghanistan; the invasion of Iraq ...

Remembering Boris Nemtsov

Keith Gessen: Boris Nemtsov, 19 March 2015

... It would be​ hard to imagine a less likely political martyr than Boris Nemtsov. He was loud, brash, boastful, vain and a tireless womaniser. My favourite story about him came from a Moscow journalist who once shared a cab with Nemtsov and a photographer whom he’d been wooing to no avail. It was late at night and he fell asleep. The photographer was the first to be dropped off, and Nemtsov suddenly woke up ...


Keith Gessen: Watching the Rouble Go Down, 20 November 2008

... The financial crisis – or, as we like to call it here, ‘the effects of the American and European financial crisis on Russia’ – has taken a little while to get going, but it’s going now. Yesterday my grandmother sat me down for a serious conversation: she wanted to know if she should take her rouble-denominated life savings out of the Sberbank and put them into dollars ...


Keith Gessen: In Odessa, 17 April 2014

... The last time​ I was in Odessa my passport was stolen. It was the summer of 1995, and hot. Odessa, sometimes called a mini-Petersburg on account of its handsome 19th-century centre, was a ruin. The opera house was a ruin; the famous boardwalk along Primorsky, which runs at right angles to Eisenstein’s famous steps, was a ruin. Gambrinus, the legendary bar, was still operating in a basement off Deribasovskaya, and you could get a beer and a bowl of shrimps for two dollars while two old Jewish musicians played a kind of wised-up klezmer, but I seemed to be the only person in town with two dollars to spare ...

His Generation

Keith Gessen: A Sad Old Literary Man, 19 June 2008

Alfred Kazin: A Biography 
by Richard Cook.
Yale, 452 pp., £25, March 2008, 978 0 300 11505 5
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... Alfred Kazin published his first and best book of literary criticism, On Native Grounds, in 1942, when he was 27 years old. It told, in highly wrought, dramatic prose, the story of American literature from what Kazin called ‘the opening struggle for realism’ in the 1890s to 1940. It was written over the course of four years but reads as if it had been done in white heat over six weeks; each written page represents the compression of a thousand pages read ...

Cell Block Four

Keith Gessen: Khodorkovsky, 25 February 2010

The Quality of Freedom: Khodorkovsky, Putin and the Yukos Affair 
by Richard Sakwa.
Oxford, 426 pp., £55, May 2009, 978 0 19 921157 9
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... Khodorkovsky in court in 2005 In Moscow, the second trial of the former oil and banking tycoons Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev has now been going on for nearly a year. The trial itself, which is doggedly examining a series of esoteric and possibly imaginary economic crimes while skating over more serious – and also possibly imaginary – suggestions of violent criminality, has not been very interesting ...

Why not kill them all?

Keith Gessen: In Donetsk, 11 September 2014

... Mikhail Mishin​ is a small, fit man with a couple of gold teeth in his mouth. He grew up in Makeevka, a large town next to Donetsk, and for several years played professional football, rising to the Ukrainian Second League before eventually quitting at the age of 28. After a few tough years, his father helped him find work in the sports section of city government ...


Joanna Biggs: Keith Gessen, 22 May 2008

All the Sad Young Literary Men 
by Keith Gessen.
Heinemann, 242 pp., £11.99, May 2008, 978 0 434 01848 2
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... and literary in 1998? This terrible moment in the history of being young is where 33-year-old Keith Gessen begins his first novel. Mark, Keith and Sam, our three sad young literary men, are just out of college. They gather at the apartment in Queens Mark shares with his girlfriend, Sasha, they temp, go to ...

I was warmer in prison

Vadim Nikitin: ‘A Terrible Country’, 11 October 2018

A Terrible Country 
by Keith Gessen.
Fitzcarraldo, 352 pp., £12.99, July 2018, 978 1 910695 76 0
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... 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. The novel’s hero – also named Andrei – is similarly torn. From his home in New York he promises his older ...

How to Be Ourselves

Stefan Collini: Mark Greif, 20 October 2016

Against Everything: On Dishonest Times 
by Mark Greif.
Verso, 304 pp., £16.99, September 2016, 978 1 78478 592 5
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... the sometimes recondite intellectual sources on which it drew. Although its founding editors – Keith Gessen, Mark Greif, Benjamin Kunkel and Marco Roth – have also been prolific contributors, the journal has never had a single voice. But it has had a recognisable character or style: East Coast urban (its home, physically and spiritually, is ...

On Not Going Home

James Wood, 20 February 2014

... an Australian to London, a German to Manchester. It brought one of n+1’s founding editors, Keith Gessen, as a little boy, from Russia to America in 1981, and now takes him back and forth between those countries (a liberty unknown to émigrés like Nabokov or Sergei Dovlatov).Recall Lukács’s phrase ‘transcendental homelessness’. What I have ...

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