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MuckReads Podcast: The Challenge of Covering Characters Who Won't Talk

(Tanya Sazansky / Riverhead Books)

In her reporting on Vladimir Putin and, most recently, the Boston Marathon bombers, noted Russian author and journalist Masha Gessen has specialized in covering the ‘shape of the blank space,’ essentially having to find the story without access to the prime characters.

“Once you talk to the protagonist, you’re beholden to his or her narrative of their own story,” she tells ProPublica’s Steve Engelberg and Eric Umansky on the podcast. Lacking access to a central character of a story transforms it into a detective piece – a genre Gessen has come to merit and master over her award-winning career.

Gessen goes on to note in their conversation:

  • The ineffectiveness of the FBI’s investigation into the Tsarnaev brothers and the "myth" that radical beliefs lead to terrorist behavior.
  • How being bilingual and bicultural has molded her writing as a correspondent.
  • How Putin has used a rhetoric of traditional values and, in particular, anti-gay sentiments to stand-in for the West and everything that’s changed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It’s political catnip, Engelberg says.

You can listen to this podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud or Stitcher, and follow Gessen on Twitter for more on her reporting.

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