MH Miller at The Guardian:
The book begins by tracing the Tsarnaev family’s movements between 1985 and 2012, from locations in Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Kalmykia and Istanbul to Boston and elsewhere, though they have become predominantly associated with Makhachkala in Dagestan – “a backwater”, as Gessen describes it, in the North Caucasus. They were rovers, endlessly looking for a place to belong and never finding one. Their problems were constant, but the real tragedy, Gessen argues, began with the Russian apartment bombings of 1999, which killed nearly 300 people. Putin, the former KGB lieutenant colonel and recently named successor to then president, Boris Yeltsin, blamed these events on Islamist Chechen rebels. The first Chechen war ran from 1994 to 1996, and the Tsarnaevs, recently relocated to Chechyna, were present for its beginnings. The war left hundreds of thousands of people dead or displaced.
When the conflict ended, the North Caucasus remained unstable, and the accusations of Putin were enough to catapult the region once again into turmoil – and Putin to national popularity. As the second war raged on, centred inChechnya and Dagestan (the Tsarnaevs were now back in Makhachkala), evidence began to accumulate, according to Gessen, suggesting the Russian secret police had arranged the bombings for the purpose of bolstering nationalist fervour and securing Putin’s public reputation.