Keith Gessen

  • culture August 02, 2011

    Brodsky's Gift

    In the fall of 1963, in Leningrad, in what was then the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the young poet Dmitry Bobyshev stole the young poet Joseph Brodsky’s girlfriend. This was not cool. Bobyshev and Brodsky were close friends. They often appeared, in alphabetical order, at public readings around Leningrad. Bobyshev was twenty-seven and recently separated from his wife; Brodsky was twenty-three and intermittently employed. Along with two other promising young poets, they’d been dubbed “the magical chorus” by their friend and mentor Anna Akhmatova, who believed that they represented a

  • Dystopia & Utopia

    About halfway through the Putin presidency, a funny thing started happening to Russian novelists: They all started writing dystopias. In 2006, Vladimir Sorokin, the legendary deconstructionist novelist, published a traditional dystopian satire about the secret services, A Day in the Life of an Oprichnik; that same year, the literary novelist Olga Slavnikova won the Russian Booker with 2017, and the prodigiously prolific and overweight man of letters Dmitry Bykov published ZhD, set in a future where Russia is at war with a Western force called the ZhDs, who are winning because of their discovery

  • Calamities of Exile

    Edward Said and Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, dissident heroes of two sharply divergent political traditions, had a surprising amount in common. Both came from cultures that had been violently uprooted and dislocated; both were exiled, their lives threatened; both found refuge eventually in the United States—and became outspoken critics of this country. Both fought the regimes they opposed with words and the application of counternarrative. Both wrote famous accusatory tomes—Orientalism (1978), The Gulag Archipelago (1973)—that, through the sheer accrual of evidence, fundamentally altered the worlds