The bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon resulted in a deluge of media coverage, none of which offered a satisfying explanation of why it happened. This book attempts to find an answer.
Russian-American journalist Gessen (Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot, 2014, etc.) follows the Tsarnaev family on their unending quest for a stable life; a map in the front of the book details a dozen moves in less than 30 years. Uprooted repeatedly by war or lack of opportunity, the family remained in Cambridge for nearly a decade before things turned sour. After the bombings, with Tamerlan dead and Dzhokhar in prison, the treatment of local Chechens by law enforcement overwhelmingly echoed the treatment they fled at home. The sense that things were no better for them in the United States highlights the disillusionment that some would-be terrorists convert into hatred and, often, violence. The lockdown of an entire neighborhood while the manhunt took place struck many as a violation of civil liberties, but the war on terror offered a free pass to law enforcement, both to do whatever they wanted and to answer to very little in the aftermath. Gessen believes the brothers are guilty, but those who think the bombings were a setup by the FBI have ample material to build the case for conspiracy, so voluminous were the redactions and refusals to divulge information. Most chilling is the sheer normalcy of the brothers, one a small-time pot dealer who wasted time playing video games, the other a married father who was still very much an adolescent at heart. How could they do such a thing? Did they act alone or, as seems likely, have help building the explosives?
There are no pat answers, but Gessen makes it eerily plain to see how simply an atrocity can manifest.