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The Future Is History
Cover of The Future Is History
The Future Is History
How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia
WINNER OF THE 2017 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN NONFICTIONFINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARDS WINNER OF THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY'S HELEN BERNSTEIN BOOK AWARD NAMED A BEST BOOK OF 2017 BY...
WINNER OF THE 2017 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN NONFICTIONFINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARDS WINNER OF THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY'S HELEN BERNSTEIN BOOK AWARD NAMED A BEST BOOK OF 2017 BY...
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  • WINNER OF THE 2017 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN NONFICTION
    FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARDS
    WINNER OF THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY'S HELEN BERNSTEIN BOOK AWARD
    NAMED A BEST BOOK OF 2017 BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, LOS ANGELES TIMES, WASHINGTON POST, BOSTON GLOBE, SEATTLE TIMES, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, NEWSWEEK, PASTE, and POP SUGAR

    The essential journalist and bestselling biographer of Vladimir Putin reveals how, in the space of a generation, Russia surrendered to a more virulent and invincible new strain of autocracy.
    Award-winning journalist Masha Gessen's understanding of the events and forces that have wracked Russia in recent times is unparalleled. In The Future Is History, Gessen follows the lives of four people born at what promised to be the dawn of democracy. Each of them came of age with unprecedented expectations, some as the children and grandchildren of the very architects of the new Russia, each with newfound aspirations of their own—as entrepreneurs, activists, thinkers, and writers, sexual and social beings.
    Gessen charts their paths against the machinations of the regime that would crush them all, and against the war it waged on understanding itself, which ensured the unobstructed reemergence of the old Soviet order in the form of today's terrifying and seemingly unstoppable mafia state. Powerful and urgent, The Future Is History is a cautionary tale for our time and for all time.
 

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  • From the book one

    Born in 1984

    Masha

    On the seventieth anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, Masha's grandmother, a rocket scientist, took Masha to the Church of St. John the Warrior in Central Moscow to be baptized. Masha was three and a half years old, which made her roughly three years older than all the other children in the church that day. Her grandmother Galina Vasilyevna was fifty-five, which made her roughly the age of most of the grown-ups. They were old-fifty-five was the retirement age for Soviet women, and you could hardly have found a fifty-five-year-old who was not yet a grandmother-but not so old that they remembered a time when religion was practiced openly and proudly in Russia. Until recently, Galina Vasilyevna had not given religion much thought. Her own mother had gone to church, and had had her baptized. Galina Vasilyevna had studied physics at the university and, though she graduated a few years before a course on the "foundations of scientific atheism" became a graduation requirement at all colleges, she had been taught that religion was the opium of the people.

    Galina Vasilyevna had spent most of her adult life working on things that were the very opposite of religion: they were material, not at all mystical, and they flew into space. Most recently, she had been working at Scientific Production Unit Molniya ("Lightning"), which was designing the Soviet space shuttle Buran ("Blizzard"). Her task was to create the mechanism that would allow the crew to open the shuttle's door after landing. Work on the shuttle was nearly finished. In another year, Buran would take flight. Its first test flight would be unmanned, and it would be successful, but Buran would never fly again. Funding for the project would dry up, and the mechanism for opening the space-shuttle door from the inside after landing would never be used.

    Galina Vasilyevna had always been extraordinarily sensitive to the subtle changes in the moods and expectations of the world around her-a most useful quality in a country like the Soviet Union, where knowing which way the wind was blowing could mean the difference between life and death. Now, even though all things appeared to be on track in her professional life-it was still a year until Buran took flight-she could feel that something was cracking, something in the very foundation of the only world she knew-the world built on the primacy of material things. The crack was demanding that other ideas, or better yet, another foundation, appear to fill the emptiness. It was as though she could anticipate that the solid and unmystical thing she had spent her life building would fall into disuse, leaving a metaphysical void.

    Galina Vasilyevna may have learned that religion was the opium of the people and she may have been told, along with the rest of the country and the world, that the Bolsheviks had vanquished organized religion, but, having lived in the Soviet Union for more than half a century, she knew that this was not entirely true. Back in the 1930s, when she was a child, most Soviet adults still said openly that they believed in God. The new generation was supposed to grow up entirely free of the superstitions of which religion was merely a subset and of the heartache that made religion necessary. But then, when Galina Vasilyevna was nine, the Second World War began. The Germans were advancing so fast, and the Soviet leadership appeared so helpless, that there was nothing left to believe in but God. Soon enough, the Soviet government seemed to embrace the Russian Orthodox Church, and from that point on, the Communists and the clergy fought the Nazis together. After the war, the church went back to...

Reviews-

  • Library Journal

    May 1, 2017

    Activist Russian American journalist Gessen, author of the best-selling The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, charts the emergence of a new brand of autocracy in Russia today by charting the lives of four people born at the time communism fell. Entrepreneurs or intellectuals, they grew up ready to break boundaries, with big hopes and dreams that have been stripped away by the state.

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    August 28, 2017
    Gessen (The Brothers), the esteemed Russian-American journalist, takes an intimate look at Russia in the post-Soviet period, when the public’s hopes for democracy devolved within a restricted society characterized by “a constant state of low-level dread.” She structures the book around the experiences of four principal individuals who came of age in the aftermath of the U.S.S.R.’s collapse: Masha, whose activism led her to become a “de facto political prisoner”; Seryozha, the grandson of Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev, the politician who spearheaded the reforms of the Gorbachev era; Lyosha, a homosexual academic in a homophobic society; and Zhanna, the daughter of murdered opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Three other figures also make regular appearances: psychoanalyst Marina Arutyunyan, sociologist Led Gudkov, and far-right ideologue Alexander Dugin. Readers gain a deeply personal view into “what it has felt like to live in Russia”—Lyosha, for instance, has had to grapple with media that “equated pedophilia and sexual violence with homosexuality”—and are presented with unique perspectives on the country during “the privations of the 1980s, the fears of the 1990s, and... the sense of shutting down that pervaded the 2000s.” Throughout, Gessen expounds on Russia’s development into a “mafia state” with elements of totalitarianism—a state fueled by a revanchist nationalism wherein each member of society must become “an enforcer of the existing order.” She presents the somber peculiarities of modern Russia in a well-crafted, inventive narrative. Agent: Elyse Cheney, Elyse Cheney Literary.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from August 15, 2017
    A brilliant if somber look at modern Russia, a failed democracy, by prizewinning journalist Gessen (The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy, 2015, etc.). First there were the serfs, and then "Homo Sovieticus," the gloomily obedient men, women, and children who waited in bread lines and slaved in mines and factories. Are they the avatars of the good old days? With Vladimir Putin's rise and increasingly absolutist rule, there may be something to the old saw that the Russian soul craves authoritarianism. Yet, as Gessen, who has written extensively on Putin, writes, that may flat out not be so. As she notes in this urgent chronicle, examining the Russian character through sociological instruments was frowned on, even banned, until the late 1960s, when Yuri Levada, who turns up at several points in this long narrative, began to look at how ordinary Russians thought about their society. For one thing, later surveys showed that although some wanted "rockers," "hippies," and "pederasts" (read: homosexuals) to be "liquidated," a far larger number advocated tolerance, especially younger Russians. Those younger Russians are the focus of the author's character-driven approach, a kind of nonfiction novel that compares favorably to the work of Svetlana Alexievich. One of Gessen's cases in point, a still-youngish woman named Masha, has learned to work every angle thanks to a resourceful mother who, among other things, figured out ways to "teach Soviet Jews to beat the anti-Semitic machine." By all rights, Masha, entrepreneurial and smart, ought to be in the forefront of Russian development, but having run afoul of Putin's regime, she is effectively a nonperson, "a de facto political prisoner." So it is with Zhanna, whose father, opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, was gunned down on a Moscow bridge in 2015, "with the Kremlin as the backdrop for the murder." All Gessen's players harbor the low-level dread on which totalitarian regimes thrive--and all, a refrain has it, believe that their country is dead. A superb, alarming portrait of a government that exercises outsize influence in the modern world, at great human cost.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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