How Russian Democracy Didn’t Come to Be: ‘The Future Is History’

I wanted to write a story about how Russian democracy didn’t come to be,” Masha Gessen said.

We were discussing Gessen’s “The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia,” a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction. In the book, Gessen tells the story of Russia’s post-Soviet evolution through the intertwining stories of seven Russians. Four of her protagonists were born in the last decade of the Soviet Union’s existence and came of age during the period of chaotic potential that followed. Three are intellectuals who strove to study and succeed in their chosen disciplines, only to discover after the USSR’s collapse that they had been living and working in an intellectual vacuum.

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The book started, in Gessen’s words, as “a polemic on this idea of trauma.” Gessen quickly realized that to fully realize her ideas, she needed a literary format conducive to greater intimacy. The subject was intimate to her: Born to a Jewish family in Soviet Russia, Gessen immigrated to the United States with her parents as a teenager in the early 1980s, She returned to Russia as a journalist and activist in the early 1990s, then moved back to the United States in 2013 to escape the Russian government’s crackdown on LGBTQ people and families.

Masha Gessen Discusses ‘The Future Is History’ – The Forward