Well-researched book that presents the story of the brothers Tsarnaev in the context of their upbringing in Chechnya, Dagestan, Kyrgyzstan, then debunks the American dream myth of immigration. Gessen spends a lot of time talking to people who knew the family, mother Zubeidat the go-getter who raises perfect children (until they get to the US), father Anzor working at various jobs to support the family. Backstory I never knew about Stalin’s forced exile of the Chechnyans to Kyrgyzstan which annihilated many of the ethnic group as they were packed into trains and led away much like the Nazi solution for Jews only a few years prior. Only the world never heard about this purging, behind the Iron Curtain. As the USSR fell apart in the 1990s, Chechnya was the only republic/region to claim independence out of the 89 individual pieces. Naturally this would not do, so Russians blockaded Chechnya then dropped bombs from unmarked planes and amassed troops at the border (1994). This is when the Tsarnaevs fled to the US.
The book humanizes Tamerlan and Jahar by coloring in details that don’t fit in with our normal idea of someone who would have explosives tear up the Boston Marathon. Gessen continually points out research that says people capable of these actions can act quite normal, having parsed their experience of life onto two different tracks. She refers to this splitting again when talking about Jahar’s friends not believing that it was him on television, although they clearly could see that the photo was of him. We try to dissuade ourselves of that which seems impossible.
Gessen also tackles the issue of Ibragim Todashev’s mysterious death at the hands of the FBI/police, and even raises serious issues that could point to FBI-involvement in the actual bombing itself, trying to test the limits of imposing martial law in the US. Other holes in the FBI story: owner of hijacked SUV made contradictory statements about timing and sequence of events, police accounts of the chase call for incredible feats “cars turning around on a dime on narrow streets, individual cops being in three places at once, or on what appear to be thirty-six hour shifts, or both-and the explosive device that was supposedly thrown by one of the brothers in the middle of a tiny residential street harmed no one and damaged nothing.” Not to mention the fact that the FBI has a recent pattern of hatching plots (see Newburgh Four), also poor reputation (see Whitey Bulger and other drug-related crimes). More coincidence – 3 months after the Waltham triple murder (supposedly committed by Todashev) another person killed in same barbaric manner – 60 year old Gail Miles killed in Roxbury on Dec 3, 2011, a former police officer who made history becoming the first black woman on the force and then made history again 16 years later suing the department for racial and gender discrimination. “One of the men she accused of harrassment was Jeff Pugliese, the officer who would later engage Tamerlan in the one-on-one firefight on Laurel Street in Watertown. No one was ever charged in her murder, and the crime itself has not surfaced significantly in the Boston media since the initial few days of coverage – highly unusual lack of profile for the killing of a former police officer.”
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, both law enforcement and the American press corps focused their efforts on finding out who radicalized Tamerlan or both of the Tsarnaev brothers, and when and where. The possibility that their actions were driven by simple ideas acquired without any concerted outside help, that, as Gadzhiev said, Tamerlan “simply objected to U.S. foreign policy” like hundreds of thousands of other people, but unlike the overwhelming majority of them, decided to use a bomb to express his opposition-this terrifyingly simple idea was never on the table.