A portrait of the Tsarnaev brothers casts their story as a family tragedy
The Road to an American Tragedy
by Masha Gessen
$27.95 List Price
IN MASHA GESSEN’S The Brothers, the first full-length book on Tamerlan and Jahar Tsarnaev and accordingly the most complete, the two leads share no scenes and speak no lines to each other. They are never alone in a room. How could they be? Tamerlan’s death and Jahar’s imprisonment blocked our access to the brothers’ private life, so we can learn about it only through observers, whose reports, necessarily, are not private. With the heart of the narrative sealed off, it has been the practice of most writers to tell the story as a complex family tragedy rather than a mystery about the relationship between two men. “The Fall of the House of Tsarnaev” was the headline over the Boston Globe’s two-part feature about the bombing, while Rolling Stone suggested that “each small disappointment wore on Jahar’s family, ultimately ripping them apart.” Nor did this idea belong exclusively to the media. On the afternoon of April 19, 2013, while Jahar was still at large, Ruslan Tsarni, the boys’ uncle, held an informal press conference on his lawn. What provoked the bombing was simple, he said: His nephews were “losers.” He added: “My family has nothing to do with that family.” That family—the more we read about its members, the less they seem to explain their sons. Chekhov wrote his older brother Alexander: “It is not necessary to portray many characters. The center of gravity should be in two people: he and she.” The center of gravity in this story is in Tamerlan and Jahar.
The center is now visible only from the outskirts. In Gessen’s book, much of the original reporting concerns the