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Gessen, Masha 1967–

Gessen, Masha 1967–

PERSONAL: Born 1967, in Russia; immigrated to United States, 1981; daughter of Yelena Gessen (a literary scholar).

ADDRESSES: Home—Moscow, Russia. Office—Editorial Offices, U.S. News & World Report, 1050 Thomas Jefferson St. NW, Washington, DC 20007.

CAREER: Journalist and translator. Freelance journalist in Moscow, Russia, 1991–2000; U.S. News & World Report, Washington, DC, Moscow bureau chief, 2000–.

WRITINGS:

(Editor and translator) Half a Revolution: Contemporary Fiction by Russian Women, preface by Olga Lipovskaya, Cleis Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1995.

Dead Again: The Russian Intelligentsia after Communism, Verso (New York, NY), 1997.

(Translator) Valeria Narbikova, In the Here and There, Ardis (Dana Point, CA), 1999.

Ester and Ruzya: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler's War and Stalin's Peace (biography), Dial Press (New York, NY), 2004, published as Two Babushkas, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor to periodicals, including U.S. News & World Report, New Republic, Granta, and New Statesman.

SIDELIGHTS: Born in Russia, Masha Gessen immigrated to the United States as a teenager with her family in order to escape religious persecution. Since that time, she has become an international journalist who writes for both Russian-and English-language publications, and she is also the Moscow bureau chief for U.S. News & World Report. In 1995 Gessen published her first book, Half a Revolution: Contemporary Fiction by Russian Women. She served as the editor and translator of this anthology, which highlights fiction from Russian women writers. The nine stories are divided into three sections, "Realities," "Transitions," and "Experiments," and feature a variety of styles and subject matters.

Reviewers found the works in Half a Revolution to be an illuminating introduction into the underrepresented world of Russian women's literature. The stories "are engrossing examinations of today's Russian women's emotional landscapes," according to Booklist contributor Whitney Scott. Others found Gessen's own input and insight into the book's subject matter a valuable addition to the literature. "Editor Masha Gessen has wisely chosen to introduce each story with a combination of the author's observations and Gessen's own astute commentary," observed Gwenan Wilbur in a review for Belles Lettres.

Two years after the release of her first book, Gessen published Dead Again: The Russian Intelligentsia after Communism. Here the author discusses the evolution of Russia's intellectual community as they struggled to live through communism. Gessen highlights political dissidents who have seldom been written about before, and she also writes about the cultural divide between those intellectuals who grew up in the 1970s and those who grew up in the 1990s. Reviews of Gassen's book were again favorable, with critics lauding the author for her fresh discussion of the topic. "Gessen assesses the new times with a stimulating and instructive new perspective," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor.

In 2004 Gessen published Ester and Ruzya: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler's War and Stalin's Peace. Unlike her other books, the author's story here is much more personal, serving as a memoir or biography of sorts that illuminates the lives of Gessen's two grandmothers and their struggles under the represive regimes of German chancellor Adolph Hitler and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Ester, who was from Poland, and Ruzya, a Russian, met in Moscow after the end of World War II and became close friends. The story begins, though, years earlier, with an account of Polish Jewish life during the late 1930s. Gessen interweaves her grandmothers' stories together, showing both women to be similar in their attempts to escape persecution in their respective countries because of their Jewish faith.

Many found Gessen's mix of history and personal memoir in Ester and Ruzya to be compelling. "This astonishing and deeply moving story is related with a masterful eye for the human detail that makes history come alive," asserted George Cohen in Booklist. Others appreciated Gessen's examination of the strength of the human spirit amidst great political and ideological turmoil. "This blend of historical depth with personal experience is a powerful mix, illuminating how family and friendship can grow in even the darkest eras," concluded a Publishers Weekly contributor.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Belles Lettres, January, 1996, Gwenan Wilbur, review of Half a Revolution: Contemporary Fiction by Russian Women, p. 11.

Booklist, April 15, 1995, Whitney Scott, review of Half a Revolution, p. 1479; October 15, 2004, George Cohen, review of Ester and Ruzya: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler's War and Stalin's Peace, p. 383.

Granta, December 1, 1998, Masha Gessen, "My Grandmother, the Censor."

Guardian (London, England), July 10, 2004, Virginia Rounding, review of Two Babushkas.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2004, review of Ester and Ruzya, p. 901.

New York Times Book Review, March 6, 2005, Katha Pollitt, "Grandmothers of Invention," p. 18.

Publishers Weekly, March 13, 1995, review of Half a Revolution, p. 66; March 31, 1997, review of Dead Again: The Russian Intelligentsia after Communism, p. 48; November 16, 1998, review of In the Here and There, p. 57; September 13, 1999, review of In the Here and There, p. 60; November 8, 2004, review of Ester and Ruzya, p. 45.

Village Voice, October 31, 2000, Cynthia Cotts, "U.S. Intelligentsia," p. 40.

Women's Review of Books, July 1995, Mary F. Zirin, review of Half a Revolution, p. 37.

World Literature Today, fall, 1996, Alexandra Heidi Karriker, review of Half a Revolution, p. 983.

ONLINE

Bloomsbury Review Online, http://www.bloomsbury.com/ (August 15, 2005), biography of Masha Gessen.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Web site, http://www.cbc.ca/ (August 15, 2005), biographical information on Masha Gessen.

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