CAST OF CHARACTERS
THE TSARNAEV FAMILY
The Brothers: Tamerlan, wife Karima (formerly Katherine Russell), daughter Zahira; and Dzhokhar (later Jahar)
Parents: Anzor and Zubeidat
Paternal grandparents: Zayndy and Liza
Paternal uncles, aunts, and cousins: Ayndy; Malkan and son Husein; Maret; Alvi, wife Zhanar, children Aindy and Luiza; Ruslan, first wife Samantha Fuller, father-in-law Graham Fuller
Sisters: Bella, husband Rizvan, son Ramzan; Ailina, husband Elmirza, son Ziaudy
Cousin: Jamal Tsarnaev
Friends and neighbors: Semyon and Alladin Abaev, Anzor’s closest friends; Badrudi and Zina Tsokaev, neighbors and advisors; Alaudin and Aziz Batukaev, organized-crime bosses; Raisa Batukaeva, next-door neighbor and unofficial Chechen community leader; Ruslan Zakriev, owner of amusement park and official leader of Chechen community; Yakha Tsokaeva and Madina, friends in Bishkek, the capital
School personnel: Lubov Shulzhenko, Tamerlan’s principal; Natalya Kurochkina, Tamerlan’s grade-school teacher
Gasan Gasanaliyev, imam of Makhachkala’s Kotrov Street mosque
Magomed Kartashov, Tamerlan’s second cousin, head of Union of the Just
Mohammed Gadzhiev, Kartashov’s deputy
Kheda Saratova, human rights advocate
Other Chechen immigrant families: Khassan Baiev (sambo champion, plastic surgeon, author), wife Zara Tokaeva, children Islam and Maryam; Makhmud (Max) Mazaev (owner of an elder-care center), wife Anna, son Baudy (Boston University student); Hamzat Umarov, wife Raisa
Joanna Herlihy, the Tsarnaevs’ landlady
Nadine Ascencao, Tamerlan’s girlfriend
Brendan Mess, Tamerlan’s best friend, murdered in 2011 along with Erik Weissman and Raphael Teken
Donald Larking, home-care client of Zubeidat and later Karima
Norfolk Street neighbors: Rinat Harel, Chris LaRoche
At Cambridge Rindge and Latin: Larry Aaronson, retired history teacher and photographer; Steve Matteo, English teacher; Lulu Emmons, former classmate of Jahar’s; Luis Vasquez, Tamerlan’s friend
Abdulrahman Ali Alharbi, marathon bombing victim who was an early suspect
Other early suspects: Sunil Tripathi, Salaheddin Barhoum, Yassine Zaimi
Boston-area law enforcement: Sean Collier, murdered MIT campus security officer; Richard Donohue, wounded transit cop; Jeff Pugliese, Watertown policeman; David Earle, Essex County police detective also on the Joint Terrorism Task Force; Timothy Alben, Massachusetts State Police superintendent; Farbod Azad, Kenneth Benton, Scott Cieplik, Michael Delapena, Richard DesLauriers, Dwight Schwader, John Walker, Sara Wood, all FBI; Douglas Woodlock, federal judge; Carmen Ortiz, U.S. Attorney; Scott Riley and Stephanie Siegmann, Assistant U.S. Attorneys
“Danny,” owner of the SUV hijacked by Tamerlan and Dzhokhar
Khairullozhon “Kair” Matanov, taxi driver, refugee from Kyrgyzstan, friend of Tamerlan; attorney Edward Hayden
Michael Dukakis, former governor of Massachusetts
UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS DARTMOUTH AND NEW BEDFORD
Robel Phillipos, Jahar’s friend, also from Cambridge Rindge and Latin; friend Elohe Dereje (Maryland); attorney Derege Demissie
Dias Kadyrbayev, from Kazakhstan; girlfriend Bayan Kumiskali
Azamat Tazhayakov, from Kazakhstan; father Amir Ismagulov; attorneys Nicholas Wooldridge and Arkady Bukh (New York)
Andrew Dwinells, Jahar’s roommate
Other friends and classmates of Jahar’s: Pamela Rolon; Alexa Guevara; Tiffany Evora; Lino Rosas; Quan Le Phan, Robel’s former roommate; Jim Li, Quan’s roommate
Brian Williams, teacher of class on Chechnya
Almut Rochowanski, founder of legal aid organization for Chechen refugees (New York)
Musa Khadzhimuratov, Max Mazaev’s paralyzed cousin; wife Madina, son Ibragim (later Abraham), daughter Malika (Manchester, New Hampshire)
Ibragim Todashev, Chechen immigrant killed during questioning by FBI agents and Boston police in 2013 (Orlando, Florida); wife Reni Manukyan, born Evgenia (Nyusha) Nazarenko (Atlanta), her mother, Elena Teyer (Savannah, Georgia), and her brother, Alex (Atlanta); girlfriend Tatiana Gruzdeva (Orlando); father Abdulbaki Todashev (Chechnya); best friend Khusein Taramov (Orlando; later Russia); lawyer Zuarbek Sadokhanov
Yerlan Kubashev, with the consulate of Kazakhstan in New York
Visit http://bit.ly/brothersmap1 for a larger version of this map.
YOU CAN BE PROUD OF BEING A DAGESTANI, proclaim the billboards lining the highway from the airport to Makhachkala. It is the spring of 2013. The billboards picture, by way of argument, the recently appointed head of Dagestan, Ramazan Abdulatipov, speaking with Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin. Both look unhappy, but the photo op, apparently a one-time occurrence, seems not to have generated a better option.
The highway to the capital, like so much of Dagestan, is an object of pride and an embarrassment at the same time. It was built recently, and well; it is by far the best road in Dagestan, so good that at night young men race their souped-up Lada Priora sedans here. The Lada Priora is a bad, Russian-made car, but its twentieth-century technology lends itself to quick fixes. Which is a good thing, because as the road enters the city, turning into the main avenue, the smooth surface gives way to potholes that can cost you your tire or your life.
Outside the city, the highway is lined with unfinished houses, scores of them. They betray modest ambition—small two-story structures along a highway—and yet even this dream has gone unfulfilled. Rectangular openings stare at the highway where windows should be. Cows graze in between these carcasses and wander lazily onto the highway.
People you meet in Dagestan will tell you where else they have been. They have rarely ventured very far, but they have invariably found any other place to be remarkably different. Several drivers tell me that in Moscow or Saint Petersburg or even provincial Astrakhan, three hundred miles to the north of Makhachkala, people do not drive into natural-gas fueling stations (almost everyone in Dagestan seems to drive a car retrofitted for natural gas) with a lit cigarette in their mouths. In Astrakhan, one man tells me, they get all the passengers out of the car before refueling. This kind of regard for human life awes and baffles him. Astrakhan is no hub of bourgeois humanitarianism, but then, compared with Dagestan, almost anyplace is.
The Russian Federation includes eighty-three nominally self-governing regions, districts, autonomies, and republics; the republics differ from the rest of the convoluted federation’s members in that they have the right to choose their own state language—mostly because the republics are, by and large, populated by non-Russian ethnic groups. Dagestan, a republic, sits on the edge of the Russian empire, a mere two and a half hours by plane south-southeast from Moscow but as culturally remote as the far northeast, where Russia borders the United States, or the far east, where it seeps into China. Dagestan borders Azerbaijan and Georgia to the south and war-torn Chechnya to the north. Throughout its history as a part of Russia, Dagestan has been one of the poorest parts of the empire, and one of the most embattled. It has also always been the most diverse, with dozens of distinct ethnic groups living in various states of war and peace. Each group has a fiercely defined identity, but no single ethnic group claims the region as an ersatz nation-state, and a Dagestani identity per se can hardly be said to exist. So the billboards seem to be calling on people to take pride simply in living in Dagestan. But why would anyone want to live here?
This is where the story begins.
• • •
FIRST, Zubeidat ran from Makhachkala. In May 1985, she was walking in the outskirts of Novosibirsk, terrified of getting into trouble, though most people back home would have said she was asking for trouble just by being in Novosibirsk. She had graduated from high school in Makhachkala a year earlier, and she wanted to go to college. Worse, she wanted to go to Moscow. One of her older brothers lived there, and from what she could tell, this brother was an important person. He worked in retail, which in the Soviet Union meant access to all sorts of nice things and influential people, and she had kept calling him, begging him to take her out of Makhachkala.
Makhachkala is a hard place to love. In the 2010s, a pair of journalists who set out to compile an oral history of the city, a coffee-table book with lots of nostalgic sepia-colored photographs, were repeatedly told by the residents they interviewed how unlivable Makhachkala had always been, what a misunderstanding of a city it was. A locally prominent artist called it “a town without a legend” that was “unsuited for normal life.” A fort reconstituted as a town in the mid–nineteenth century, it felt like a haphazard and temporary agglomeration of more than a hundred ethnic groups, each of which maintained its own language and used variously simplified and mangled Russian to communicate with one another and the outside world. Streets bore the names of the ethnic groups that had originally settled there: Armenian Street crossed Persian Street. Soviet authorities renamed the streets in the spirit of internationalism and Communist ideology, but the old designations remained in the vernacular. Each group made its own living arrangements, usually unaided by the Communist state that had assumed the obligation for sheltering and feeding all citizens but failed consistently, and failed worse the farther from the center the citizens resided. People lived in barracks, in rehabbed fort structures, in sheds and other temporary dwellings, and well into the late twentieth century, indoor plumbing and cooking facilities remained the stuff of dreams.
Neighborhood borders were inviolate: a male outsider who tried to date a neighborhood girl would be knifed. The single unifying culture of the city was that of the prison. There were eight prison camps within the city limits before Stalin’s death in 1953; once released, many of the inmates stayed on in the city. In at least one case, a camp was abolished and the barbed-wire fence removed, but the barracks were simply renamed “dormitories” and everybody stayed. The city jail, which never stopped functioning, sat up on a hill, a major landmark and the center of the switchblade-making industry. Every Makhachkala-born male past the age of puberty had to own a switchblade that had been smuggled out of the jail and sold on the black market.
Not that there was much of a legal economy: centrally distributed consumer goods rarely reached Russia’s southern edge. Makhachkalinians wore clothes and shoes made by local tailors and cobblers—there was one of each on nearly every block—and ate fish caught in the Caspian Sea by local poachers, who went door-to-door every day hawking sturgeon and black-backed herring so fatty it could be tossed into a skillet with no oil. Yet the Caspian itself seemed to have no place in the city, or in any story about it. A gentle, light blue sea that is actually the world’s largest lake, the Caspian was cut off from Makhachkala by a railroad constructed at the turn of the twentieth century. Only a thin strip of sand, barely a hundred yards at its narrowest, separated the water from the rails. The sounds of the railroad drowned out the murmur of the sea, and the bitter smell of tar, the metallic smell of hot rails, and the smoke of the engines overwhelmed the Caspian’s softly salty air.
Whether people lived in nineteenth-century stone buildings or twentieth-century wooden barracks, they dwelled a family to a room if they were lucky, and used the courtyards for all their daily needs: wood-burning stoves for cooking, wooden outhouses never far away. At night young men went yard to yard, scooping human waste into large barrels mounted on their horse-driven carts, nicknamed “stinkies.” Household waste flowed in open trenches along city streets until the 1960s, when, legend has it, old gravestones were used to enclose the trenches in the city center—there are still residents who claim to have seen Arabic writing beneath their feet.
Dwellings with indoor conveniences came in the 1960s, too, but in 1970 an earthquake measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale shook Dagestan. The epicenter was less than twenty miles west of Makhachkala. Thirty-one people died and half the city’s population was left homeless. Twenty-two villages outside the city were completely destroyed, and their residents, too, flooded into Makhachkala even as more than a thousand aftershocks, some of them nearly as strong as the original quake, shook the city over the following six weeks. Makhachkala returned to the premodern state to which it seemed doomed.
A year later, the newly underequipped and overcrowded city was hit by a cholera epidemic. Moscow shut Makhachkala down: anyone who wanted to leave the city had to be tested for the germ and was not allowed to travel until cleared. The city’s population swelled further with those waiting to travel out of Dagestan.
• • •
ZUBEIDAT WAS BORN in Makhachkala three years before the earthquake. By the time she was a teenager, she was acutely and painfully aware of living in a backwater. Even the Chechens, who lived right next door and had been decimated by forced exile, had a real city: Grozny had fashion and music. It was from Grozny that young men would bring records and reel-to-reel tapes for Makhachkala’s first diskotekas—a fancy word for dances—in the early 1980s. To create disco lighting, the young men stole colored glass from traffic lights and, at great peril to themselves, flashing lights off police cars. In Grozny, young men were not too timid to wear pointy cowboy boots, which had roared into fashion; Makhachkalinians, who did not dare wear them, called them nokhchi-boots, or Chechen-boots. Men in Makhachkala still wore visored hats nicknamed “airport caps” for the exceedingly large flat surface they created on the wearer’s head. Elsewhere in the Soviet Union these caps marked men as hailing from the remote Caucasian provinces, but in Dagestan they were privileged as city wear: country folk wore fluffy white sheepskin hats. The possession most coveted by any young person who wanted to escape Makhachkala’s provincial uniformity was a white plastic bag printed with a full-color photograph of a man’s behind in Wrangler jeans. These cost up to five rubles on the black market; a loaf of bread ran sixteen kopecks, or just over three percent of the price of the plastic bag.
Everyone in Makhachkala knew everything about everyone else. There was one Russian Orthodox church in the city and, directly across the street, one abortion clinic. Being seen entering either could ruin one’s reputation for life—the church because of Party prohibitions on religion, and the clinic because, while most Soviet women strove to control their fertility and had few means of doing that aside from abortion, Dagestani women were having more babies than women almost anywhere else in the USSR were having, and staying home to raise them. The home was ruled by the men in accordance with Adat, a set of rules that were said to derive from Islam but were largely local customs. Most of the local populations were Muslim; the Russian colonizers had imported Russian Orthodoxy, and migrants had brought Greek Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Judaism. The Communists had banned the open organized practice of all religions, and in Muslim groups over the course of decades the family and community practices of Adat came to reign supreme—and to be conflated with Islam in the popular understanding.
Customs differed somewhat even between closely related Muslim ethnic groups such as Chechens and Avars, the largest ethnic group in Dagestan. In both traditions, though, the eldest brother ruled over all siblings. Zubeidat was Avar, so if she wanted to go live with her brother in Moscow, she first had to ask her eldest brother, who lived in Novosibirsk, in southwestern Siberia. That was where she had gone, then, to ask his permission.
While the eldest brother was thinking it over, August, the month of entrance exams to Soviet colleges, came and went. At least Zubeidat was now out of Makhachkala, though at some point in the not-too-distant future she would be expected to travel back to Dagestan and marry a young man from an Avar family with whom preliminary arrangements had been made. The Avars did not practice arranged marriages, strictly speaking, or practice them strictly—dating and romance were allowed by some families some of the time—but marriage agreements were always made between the men of the families, and no one ever married outside the ethnic group. Premarital sex, for the women, was punishable by death: the Soviets had done nothing to end honor killings.
Novosibirsk was not Moscow, of course, but much more important, it was not Makhachkala. In fact, a city could not be less like Makhachkala: it was vast, uncrowded, its central squares and avenues a vision in Stalinist grandeur that looked better from the air than they did at street level, where all that scale made a person feel bug-tiny. Zubeidat’s brother lived in a neighborhood of two-story stone buildings constructed by German prisoners of war in the 1940s, and gray-brick five-story buildings from Khrushchev’s socialist-construction boom of the 1950s, a few taller apartment blocks from the 1970s, and even a few wooden barracks-like structures left over from when some group or other had been warehoused there. Still, even this haphazard collection of unattractive architecture was assembled with so much space between buildings that Zubeidat never forgot she was in the big city—and this was why she had kept stretching out the months until she returned to Dagestan.
The neighborhood abutted a trade school on one end and a jail on the other. The trade school, which trained retail-store managers, had mostly young women for students, and Zubeidat had become friendly with a few who lived in the dormitories there. Still, the proximity of the jail always made her slightly nervous about walking home to her brother’s place alone, even on a May evening when the light was a soft gray and would stay that way until midnight. When she sensed someone walking behind her, she jerked around.
The man was not scary at all. In her mind she immediately marked him as parnishka, a Russian diminutive for “guy.” He was slight, even skinny, and he was wearing a green military shirt and green slacks without the jacket or the hat that would complete the uniform; this was the way a man who had recently left the service or would soon be leaving it would dress. Zubeidat turned back around and continued walking, so relieved as to feel almost joyful. The stranger must have sensed this, because he caught up with her and fell in step.
“Devushka,” he said—“girl”—using the standard form of address for an unfamiliar young woman, “do you happen to know Tanya, who lives in room twenty-seven in the trade-school dorm?”
“I do,” said Zubeidat, and decided she was walking to the dorm. “I can fetch her for you, if you want.”
“And you are her . . . ?” he asked. He seemed a little confused about what he wanted, or what he wanted to know.
“I’m just an acquaintance,” said Zubeidat.
“Where are you from yourself?”
“Dagestan,” said Zubeidat.
“And I’m from Chechnya,” said Anzor Tsarnaev. This was not true: he was Chechen, but he had grown up in Kyrgyzstan, in Central Asia, fifteen hundred miles from Chechnya. Nor did he want anything with that girl named Tanya: she was just someone going out with a friend of his, and he asked about her because he needed something to say before he could ask this girl’s name.
Now she said, “That makes us brother and sister.”
“I’m so happy right now,” said Anzor. “I’ve met a kindred spirit. You know, I was just taking a walk, I wasn’t going anywhere in particular.”
Which meant they could talk. Zubeidat told him that she was from Makhachkala and she was staying with her brother and that another brother was an important man in Moscow. Anzor told her he was finishing up his military service. He was a boxer and had won some competitions, and his job was coaching.
“I have to go because I have a curfew,” she finally said. “My brother is strict. But if you want to know, I’ll tell you that this is the building where I live, my brother’s building. We come from the same land, you and I.”
• • •
THEY DID LOOK like brother and sister, thin, sharp-featured, and constantly animated. They both hail from ethnic groups that come by girth naturally and cultivate it: the men wrestle, box, and engage in other martial arts that favor bulk; the women bear many children; and heavy, grainy home-baked bread is the traditional basis of all meals. Anzor and Zubeidat liked their own skinniness and worked to protect it, and friends sometimes mocked them for this. Zubeidat thought they looked as beautiful and exotic as two swans, and a quarter-century later, when they had moved halfway across the world, she took to telling people that “the Swans” had been their nickname back home. Anzor’s love for Zubeidat, which he said befell him at first sight, was anything but brotherly. It was romantic in a way most unusual for men from these parts and especially for men from his culture, in which to this day the wedding ritual involves “stealing” the bride from her father’s home, which in many cases indeed involves force.
“Can we see each other tomorrow?” Anzor asked. He had a way of projecting resolve and shyness at the same time, a combination Zubeidat thought was lovely. Her younger son would inherit it from Anzor, this disarming quality of being at once confident and openly vulnerable.
“I don’t know,” Zubeidat said. “I think we are going to the countryside tomorrow. Maybe we can see each other in a couple of days. You can come here if you want, just make sure my brother doesn’t see you.” She knew he knew that without her having to say it.
Anzor came back the following day.
“We didn’t end up going,” said Zubeidat.
“It’s like I had a feeling you’d be here,” said Anzor.
The day after that they had a date, and he brought flowers. Young men around here typically always brought girls roses—in fact, Zubeidat had already rebuffed a couple of them, though it hadn’t been because of the roses—but Anzor brought a mixed bouquet of wildflowers.
“It’s so beautiful,” she said.
“I’ve been walking past this flower shop every day,” he said. “I’ve been thinking, Someday I’ll meet a girl and then I’ll get her that bouquet.”
• • •
ZUBEIDAT PANICKED EARLY, possibly as early as that first date. “They’ll never let us marry,” she said. “Not even my brother. Even though he left Dagestan so long ago that he lives like a Russian—he’ll never let me marry someone who is not Avar.”
“You know, I don’t care,” Anzor said. “If our families say no, we’ll just run away. I’ll be your mother, your father, your brother, and your sister.”
But first he was going to take her to his family’s home in Kyrgyzstan. By this time Zubeidat knew that, though they both claimed to hail from the Caucasus and in a way they both did, Anzor was a man born in exile. And Zubeidat was perhaps starting to sense that she was born for exile.
• • •
ON MARCH 7, 1944, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR passed a resolution that began:
Whereas in the course of the Patriotic War, especially while the German fascist armies were active in the Caucasus, many Chechens and Ingush betrayed the Motherland, switched over to the side of the fascist occupiers, joined the ranks of saboteurs and intelligence-gatherers dispatched by the Germans to the rear of the Red Army, created, at the Germans’ direction, armed groups to fight against the Soviet authorities, and in light of the fact that many Chechens and Ingush over the course of many years took part in armed attacks on the Soviet authorities and over the course of a long time, rather than engage in honest labor, committed armed robberies on the collective farms in neighboring regions, robbing and killing Soviet people, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR has resolved:
1. All Chechens and Ingush residing on the territory of the Chechen Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic and neighboring areas shall be moved to other areas of the USSR and the Chechen Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic shall be liquidated.
This resolution, which was unclassified but also unpublished, had been preceded by a series of secret meetings, resolutions, and decrees convened and issued over the course of about six months. As the Red Army pushed the Germans out of the Caucasus and began to advance in Belarus and Ukraine as well, Stalin had become obsessed with the Soviet citizens living in the parts of the country the Germans had occupied starting in 1941. Throughout the war he had believed that soldiers who had allowed themselves to be taken prisoner were traitors. Those lucky enough to have been freed were immediately re-incarcerated in the Gulag, for treason. What about those who lived in their own homes under German rule for years? Were they similarly contaminated? Had they welcomed the Germans? Had they cooperated willingly, cooking and cleaning for them and enforcing German rule in their own land? Had they over time come to like the Germans? Had they come to love them? Did they remain loyal to them after the occupation ended? What was the Soviet regime to do with the millions of its own citizens who were now suspect? Stalin might have liked to exterminate or exile the entire populations of Ukraine and Belarus, but they were too large to be isolated or removed effectively—and in any case, at the time he was confronted with the problem of the Caucasus, the Red Army had not yet advanced far into Ukraine and Belarus.
Stalin, who was half Ossetian—a North Caucasian ethnic group that is majority Christian—was perhaps most suspicious of the Muslims in the region. The largest Muslim group in the Russian North Caucasus were the Chechens, traditionally cattle farmers in the mountains and grain farmers in the valleys. Among them, an anti-Soviet insurgency had indeed existed, and it had welcomed the Germans, though most of Chechnya was in fact never occupied and the majority of Chechens were, by all accounts, loyal Soviet citizens. The Chechens were the largest group to face deportation, though not the only one. In all, seven ethnic groups with a total population of over 1.5 million would be removed from lands on which they had lived, and which they had defended for centuries in many wars. They would be moved to what, on the map, looked like vast empty space in Soviet Central Asia: over a million people would go to Kazakhstan and the rest to Kyrgyzstan. Smaller numbers of other exiles had already been shipped there—the Kalmyks, a Buddhist people who had lived on the western shore of the Caspian Sea, and ethnic Germans, who had once settled along the Volga River.
On February 23, 1944, all Chechens living in Chechnya and neighboring republics were ordered to report to designated assembly points in their towns and villages. They were loaded onto trucks or marched the distance—sometimes dozens of miles over snowy forested mountains—to the trains that would take them to Central Asia. In at least one location about seven hundred elderly, disabled, and people too young or too weak to make the trek from their high-altitude villages were herded into a barn and burned alive. Resisters, protesters, and sometimes the merely confused and slow were shot on the spot. Over half a million Chechens and Ingush—a closely related smaller ethnic group—were loaded onto cattle cars, which began the nearly two-thousand-mile journey to Central Asia. About 85,000 of them would end up in Kyrgyzstan: the trains began arriving March 4, a week after they left Chechnya and three days before the Supreme Soviet issued its resolution. This was less than half a year before the first Nazi concentration camp was liberated and the Western world began a decades-long inquiry into the fates of other exiles and the trains that had carried them. The fate of the deported peoples of the Caucasus would never be similarly examined.
Over the years frightful estimates of the number of people who died en route to Central Asia have circulated, but in fact the journey was essentially undocumented: the sealed trains passed through the country anonymously, never stopping for food supplies or bathroom breaks. The exiles fashioned holes in the floors of their overcrowded cars to relieve themselves; they tried to ration such supplies of bread and water as some of them had carried; washing was out of the question. The typhus epidemic began on the trains. When the first trains pulled into Kyrgyzstan on March 4, they carried twenty-five corpses—the exiles had thrown off the rest of the bodies along the way, in the vain hope of avoiding contagion. Eight hundred people were diagnosed with typhus on arrival.
Before the exiles arrived, local authorities had reported to Moscow that they had set aside enough supplies to feed the newcomers for four months. The rations were set at 116 grams of flour and 56 grams of grain a day per person—significantly less than the starvation rations of Auschwitz-Birkenau. By April 1, some 125,000 people had arrived from the Caucasus, members of seven distinct ethnic groups. Of them, 52,876 were judged fit for work upon arrival. Four months later, the number of those fit for work was 43,713: most of the nine thousand people who had lost their ability to work were, in the language of the corresponding reports, “extremely emaciated.” In those first four months 5,128 people died, including 770 from typhus and 1,778 from starvation. The malaria epidemic began in midsummer.
If the meager supplies ostensibly prepared for the deportation ever really existed, they were not getting to the exiles. A secret report on the inspection of a collective farm in June 1944 stated that the “special settlers,” as the authorities euphemistically called them, were not working, or working sufficiently well, “mostly due to the absence of food supplies, as a consequence of which the absolute majority of the special settlers are extremely emaciated. . . . Thirteen people have died as a result of typhus and starvation. Ill people in a state of extreme emaciation, essentially at death’s door, as of June 8 this year number 40, including 20 children. . . . Special settlers are eating mostly grass. . . . No one is keeping track of special-settler deaths.” The report described the mother of four children aged two to ten, the three youngest of whom could no longer move; she was making them soup out of grass. Reports from other collective farms painted a similar picture, but introduced a new category beyond “extremely emaciated.” This category was “bloated.”
Some of the exiles were placed in collective-farm housing, never spacious to begin with. Usually this meant that a local family who occupied a two-room house had to cede one of the rooms to a family of newcomers. The local families resisted, perceiving the arrival of the exiles, rightly, as a threat not only to their space but to their health: typhus soon spread to the local population. Still, for the exiles, being forced into someone’s house was infinitely preferable to the alternatives: being warehoused in unfinished or vacant, usually unheated apartments, generally three families to a room; being warehoused in common village spaces such as a collective-farm cafeteria or meeting hall; or being shoved into unheated tents or mud huts. Authorities directed the collective farms to construct housing for “special settlers,” but the most construction materials any of the collective farms appear to have been issued was thirty-two logs to put up barracks, the roof to be made of locally collected reeds. No construction appears to have commenced by the fall, when the weather started turning cold again.
Exiles were to be issued plots of land and seeds for planting, but most could not bring themselves to bury even a single grain seed in the ground; they ate them. The few who did manage to plant did not know how to work the local land—and the plots they had been issued were by definition the undesirable, difficult ones. No one had a harvest that year.
The “special settlers” were more than an imposition on the locals: they were, it was well established, the enemies of the people. They lacked even the limited civil rights accorded ordinary Soviet citizens. They had to check in regularly with local secret-police representatives, as one might check in with a parole officer. Secret-police clearance was required for the most quotidian of actions, such as seeking help at a medical clinic. The secret-police officers had a range of disciplinary measures at their disposal, including fines and up to ten days’ administrative arrest.
Other locals also treated the exiles as one would treat the enemy. One collective-farm chairman loaded seven families on three horse-driven carts and instructed the drivers to take them to another town and dump them at the side of the road. This was to serve as a lesson not only for these families but also for the “special settlers” remaining in his village: they too would be expelled if they did not work hard enough. In this case, law enforcement investigated the incident and concluded that none of the members of the seven families was actually physically fit to work. Other collective-farm chairmen claimed that they did not need any additional hands and simply refused to acknowledge the “special settlers,” in the hope of driving them away. They not only withheld rations but also instructed the village store not to sell to the new arrivals. Inspection reports describe numerous instances of local authority figures beating the children of the exiles, sometimes to death. The beatings of adults are not mentioned, probably because they were not seen as warranting notice.
Zayndy Tsarnaev, Anzor’s father, was brought to Kyrgyzstan at the age of thirteen. The family was placed about forty miles east of the Kyrgyz capital, Frunze, in Tokmok, a settlement wedged in a narrow valley between the Kyrgyz Range and the Trans-Ili Alatau mountains. Local legend has it that the Soviets once considered making Tokmok the capital, but the Chu, a furious mountain river that took over the entire valley every spring, rendered the location unsuitable. When the exiles arrived in Kyrgyzstan, an effort to harness the Chu was under way. The men were immediately rounded up and loaded onto horse-driven carts, which took them to the construction site for the future hydroelectric plant. Delivered late at night, the men escaped early the next morning to look for the railroad station so that they could go back to help their families. Secret-police files overflow with reports and complaints filed by construction supervisors, who demanded a police cordon at the site to keep the men from leaving. The paperwork details living conditions at the site. There was no shelter. There were no bathing facilities, which meant the men were flea-ridden. They received two meals a day, at six in the morning and at five in the evening. The rations consisted solely of grain and water. As the men died off, secret police conducted raids to round up new workers from among the special settlers and deliver them to the site. Construction supervisors complained the new arrivals were unfit for work because they were not only extremely emaciated but also naked and barefoot.
The death rate among the exiles remained steady through the freezing spring and the scorching summer; they entered the winter of 1944–1945 with no suitable shelter or reliable source of sustenance, and the dying continued. The following year decimated the survivors, and the year after that killed many of those who remained. And yet, after three or four years—after the death of half or more of the Chechen population, after the pain and humiliation and dread of living in an open-air prison and, incongruously, in a constant state of uncertainty—the life of the “special settlers” appeared to stabilize. They were still, in essence, prisoners, with their movement and activities severely restricted and violence a daily threat, but they gradually secured housing and, to some extent, succeeded in assimilating. Some families continued to hold their children back from Russian- and Kyrgyz-language schools—Chechen-language education had effectively been outlawed—but after a few years this was a small, albeit constant, minority. Access to the legal local economy, accorded only to fully vested Soviet citizens, never really opened up to the exiles, but the Chechens compensated by creating gray-market trading systems, so that after a few years they were not only able to move out of cramped barracks and freezing mud huts but also became providers of coveted goods for the locals—and since virtually all goods were in short supply, most goods were indeed coveted. While most families submitted to having their children educated at Russian- and Kyrgyz-language schools, virtually everyone still spoke Chechen at home, considered intermarriage impossible, and continued to live in accordance with Adat, which, in exile, gradually became both more important and less detailed.
• • •
Revue de presse
Praise for The Brothers:
“Remarkable… reminiscent of Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower… Rather than the story of two lone-wolf jihadists, determined to wage war on their adopted country, the marathon bombing becomes a saga of both the Tsarnaev family and contemporary U.S. culture, in which all too often terror provokes an unreasonable response…For Gessen, the issue is not guilt or innocence…more essential is what the Tsarnaevs and their story tells us about who we have become. That she makes the case with grace and passion, while also basing it on rigorous reporting, is the triumph of the book” —Los Angeles Times
"Straightforward and captivating." —Janet Napolitano, The New York Times Book Review
“Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen’s passionate, opinionated, deeply reported exploration of the long road that led the Tsarnaev brothers to commit the Boston Marathon bombing. She traces the family’s history from Chechnya to a precarious Boston-area immigrant demi-monde, asking urgent questions and avoiding simple answers.” —Time
“For American readers, most of whom know little of the Chechen story, the gut-wrenching clarity of Gessen’s account is a gift. Her prose is spare and highly polished, evoking the melancholy of the Tsarnaevs’s homeland...Gessen demonstrates the fragmentation within communities when fear and suspicion take root, and she shows how tactics used to fight terrorism risk degrading the ideals we aim to protect…[Her] tenacious reporting commands our attention and makes “The Brothers” essential to understanding how the heartbreak here in Boston fits into the endless heartache of this world.” —The Boston Globe
“A powerfully compelling portrait… Gessen is uniquely suited to tell the Tsarnaev story: She moved to Boston as a teenage Russian immigrant herself, and, as a result, her observations about what immigrants experience carry specific gravity…No book could ever fully explain why someone would choose to murder innocent people, but Gessen comes as close as we'll ever get. Much as Truman Capote did in his classic "In Cold Blood," Gessen offers compassion for those whose acts are most contemptible, and her explanation of what happened is as complex and as simple as it is to be human. And that is truly frightening.” —Chicago Tribune
"Stunning piece of reporting. An instant classic." —Lev Grossman (via Twitter)
“A Russian-speaking immigrant in Boston, journalist Masha Gessen might be uniquely qualified to investigate Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. In The Brothers, she writes with sophistication and nuance about their family’s complicated, nomadic existence… an enthralling and illuminating read.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune, Fave of the Week
“Extraordinary… Gessen, who traveled the globe in search of the secrets of the Tsarnaev family, has produced both a gripping narrative and a stunning piece of investigative journalism… [She] gives us the human side to the story of two young men who must be understood as more than monsters.” —Christian Science Monitor
“This is a story that no one wanted to hear in the days and months after the bombing...Many Americans still may not care to hear it, but that would be too bad, because [The Brothers] is one of the best books I’ve ever read about terrorism and the immigrant experience in America… part social history, part travelog (she traversed the Caucasus and Central Asia while reporting it), and part forensic on family and cultural dysfunction…Gessen wanders among these people, and approaches them with empathy and dark wit... a student of state and stateless terror, [she] is excellent on the varieties of fear it engenders.” —Newsweek
“[Gessen] uses facts and plausible conjecture to dispel the misconceptions and rumors that have accrued to the Tsarnaevs. No slouch in the sleuth department…this Russian-born journalist assembles a challenging jigsaw puzzle that spans two continents. Her goal is to elucidate and contextualize the brothers’ principled savagery, not to exonerate or mitigate their actions. While several questions remain, the most important being motive, we at least learn the socio-cultural forces that shaped these lone-wolf terrorists.” —Miami Herald
“Gessen…compels us to see the story as part of a much bigger global conflict...[and] is an ideal person to contextualize much of this story, even if her conclusions make us uncomfortable…Most importantly…The Brothers relentlessly observes an overreach of power in response to the bombings…an often painful account of our system’s moral failings, the ways in which we’re inhospitable to those seeking asylum on our shores, and the ways our law enforcement acts in a manner as draconian as law enforcement was in the strife-torn places they fled. That may not be the story we’re looking for, but it is a story we very much need.” —Flavorwire, "A Must Read Book"
“Two parts forensic anthropology, one part activism, The Brothers is a forceful…passionate exploration of the events that preceded and followed the [Boston Marathon bombing]… Gessen is at her best when she takes the reader through the Tsarnaevs’ wildly complicated social history… The origins of their story, itself dizzyingly complex, sets the stage for our understanding of the permanent state of exile and cultural confusion the Tsarnaev clan seemed to endure.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“[Gessen’s] own background…make[s] her an ideal author for this story…her knowledge of Soviet and Russian history, and her reporting on the ground in Dagestan, Kyrgyzstan and Chechnya, lend a resonance and weight … to the Tsarnaev family’s peregrinations in that region…Gessen explains how the history of Chechnya — and the radicalism that took root there — might have affected family members, and she also brings an understanding of the dislocations often faced by immigrants to her account." —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“[The Brothers] is an antidote to prevailing narratives surrounding the Tsarnaev brothers and the Boston Marathon bombing. It is the kind of book that reminds us that there are two sides to every story… With all the context Gessen provides—the history of upheaval in Chechnya, the constant terror of life in Dagestan, the family’s inability to find happiness and steady work in America—it’s hard not to feel as if the Tsarnaev brothers’ decision to bomb the marathon was at least in part the product of historical and cultural forces bearing down on two disenfranchised young men. It’s an unsettling feeling…to find oneself, one hundred and fifty pages in, rooting for Dzhokhar to escape from law enforcement. But that’s the magic of this book: it turns two antagonists of American society into protagonists.” —The Rumpus
“The fearless Russian-American journalist brings equal parts sympathy and skepticism to…the Tsarnaev family…fascinating and illuminating.” —Vulture
“With a cool, clear voice, [Gessen] examines how America’s tremendous dread of terrorism has marred our once-lauded justice system and distorted the legal rights of immigrants in this country… [a] compelling study of Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev” – Barnes & Noble Review
“Gessen has done valuable work, shoe-leather reporting rather than the reflexive condemnation that flows after any murder, any attack…she is to be commended for humanizing rather than demonizing the brothers.” —Newsday
“Meticulously documented and detailed…Gessen… crafts a dark tapestry, woven of war and loss in Chechnya, Dagestan and the Tsarnaev’s own brutal history" —Providence Journal
“Gessen…paint[s] an evocative picture of the impoverished and strife-torn region the Tsarnaevs left behind, and…the Boston area community that they joined when they immigrated in the early 2000s.” —Kansas City Star
“[Gessen’s] background facilitates a much deeper than usual engagement with the context of the Boston atrocity…We'd prefer, she suggests, to think of terrorism in terms of ideological fanatics carrying out an elaborate and well-thought out plot, because that allows us to externalise the evil. But the Boston bombings actually resulted from a tangled web of frustrations and unhappinesses, in which the personal, the political and the religious were inextricably entwined.” —Sydney Morning Herald
"The Brothers is certainly among the best journalism produced about the bombings." —Pacific Standard
“Meticulously researched and provocative … 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.” —Publisher’s Weekly
"Gessen makes it eerily plain to see how simply an atrocity can manifest." —Kirkus Reviews
Praise for Words Will Break Cement
“Urgent . . . damning.” —The New York Times
Praise for The Man Without a Face
“[An] unflinching indictment of the most powerful man in Russia.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Fascinating, hard-hitting reading.” —Foreign Affairs
From the Hardcover edition.