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The Brothers: The Road to an American TragedyThe Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy by Masha Gessen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read THE BROTHERS to see how a writer tries to answer the big question of: What drives people to commit acts of terrorism? In this case, Masha Gessen tries to answer this question as it relates to the Tsarnaev brothers, who have been held responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing.

This book suffers from an identity crisis. Does it want to be an objective, journalistic account? Or is Gessen trying to build sympathy for the Tsarnaevs? Up until the final chapter, I would say it’s a fairly straightforward, dry, journalistic account. But the last chapter seems to be building sympathy for the Tsarnaevs, and only then does Gessen reveal that she, like the brothers, is a Chechen emigrant to America who lived in Boston. She reveals that she, like the brothers, was a target of FBI surveillance. Her bitterness toward the U.S. government at this point is only thinly veiled.

Gessen’s journey to find answers involved hard work and jetting around the globe, especially to various places in the former USSR where the Tsarnaevs lived. Because she has an intimate relationship to this story, I think the book would have been much more engrossing had she revealed this relationship from the beginning. I would have liked to have seen her on her journey to find answers, and perhaps even get more background on her own story. This would have been a great opportunity for a memoir/biography hybrid. Gessen at times seems to want to go down that route, but doesn’t for some reason, perhaps either out of fear or pressure from her editor or publisher.

With the Jahar Tsarnaev trial fresh in my mind, I found the book to be informative. I learned many things about the case that I hadn’t known before. I admit that her information about FBI and law enforcement tactics in this case and others like it was entirely new to me and raised questions in my own mind. At what point do the tactics legitimately stop terror plots, and at what point do the tactics fall under the category of entrapment? I heard in passing the “entrapment” word when Somali-Americans from Minneapolis were recently arrested, but now I want to read more about those accusations.

I also enjoyed learning more about the history of Chechnya and exactly what caused all the trouble there in the early 1990s. I was unaware of this Chechen diaspora and how many died from relocation efforts. That information puts things into perspective. This is a good book, but with many lost opportunities to be more creative in the approach.

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