National Book Award winner Masha Gessen tells an important story for our era: How the American Dream went wrong for two immigrants, and the nightmare that resulted.
On April 15, 2013, two homemade bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston marathon, killing three people and wounding more than 264 others. In the ensuing manhunt, Tamerlan Tsarnaev died, and his younger brother, Dzhokhar, was captured and ultimately charged on thirty federal counts. Yet long after the bombings and the terror they sowed, after all the testimony and debate, what we still haven’t learned is why. Why did the American Dream go so wrong for two immigrants? How did such a nightmare come to pass?
Acclaimed Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen is uniquely endowed with the background, access, and talents to tell the full story. An immigrant herself, who came to the Boston area with her family as a teenager, she returned to the former Soviet Union in her early twenties and covered firsthand the transformations that were wracking her homeland and its neighboring regions. It is there that the history of the Tsarnaev brothers truly begins, as descendants of ethnic Chechens deported to Central Asia in the Stalin era. Gessen follows the family in their futile attempts to make a life for themselves in one war-torn locale after another and then, as new émigrés, in the looking-glass, utterly disorienting world of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Most crucially, she reconstructs the struggle between assimilation and alienation that ensued for each of the brothers, incubating a deadly sense of mission. And she traces how such a split in identity can fuel the metamorphosis into a new breed of homegrown terrorist, with feet on American soil but sense of self elsewhere.
Journalist Gessen (Words Will Break Cement) tackles the making of a terrorist, tracing the lives and family history of the Boston Marathon bombers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The study traces their roots through their mother Zubeidat's family in Dagestan and their father Anzor's in Kyrgyzstan, where Stalin exiled the Chechens after WWII. Anzor and Zubeidat moved briefly to Chechnya, where Dzhokhar was born in 1993; the family later fled Russian air raids and landed in Cambridge, Mass., in 2002. Piecing together various interviews with associates of the family, Gessen paints Tamerlan as "an exemplary child" "destined for greatness," rudderless and possibly radicalized by a 2012 visit to Dagestan; his younger brother, Dzhokhar, was the "sweet kid" turned "campus pot dealer." The bombing is the backdrop to a larger conversation on the lawless implications of the War on Terror, including terrorist-recruiting FBI sting operations that give credence to a compelling theory that Tamerlan was a recruit "gone rogue." The book is both meticulously researched and provocative, and Gessen asks courageous questions about the dark side of the justice system, providing a vital counternarrative to the account of the bombing given by mainstream media.