The Magic Swan Geese

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Mikhail Berman-Tsikinovsky

Book 2

T H E M A G IC S W A N G E E SE A Novel New translation from Russian to English by Alexander Burry

Boston 2018


Copyright Š 2017 by the author All rights reserved.

WARNING Without limitation, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored, or introduced in any manner into any system either by mechanical, electronic, handwritten, or other means, without the prior permission of the author Edited by the author.

ISBN 978-0-9988732-5-1 Library of Congress Control Number: 2018931053

Published by: Aspekt Publishing Budget Printing Center 40 Weir St., Taunton, MA 02780 508-880-4729 www.budget-printing-center.com Printed in the United States of America

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FOREWORD From the Publisher The novel of Mikhail Berman-Tsikinovsky is about Russianspeaking emigrants who left their homeland in the 70s-90s of the last century, their life and fate. The heroes of the novel live in Chicago. The time of action covers two centuries. Due to the global changes in the world, immigrants from the former Soviet Union freely move through the post-Soviet space. The life of compatriots in St. Petersburg, Minsk, Kiev, Kharkov and other cities is organically woven into the canvas of the novel. The novel is polyphonic, as life itself. The whole gallery of characters passes before the reader. In the role of an unwitting writer stands protagonist, doctor and poet Musya Belochkin, we know from the previous works of Berman-Tsikinovsky. The shocks of the planar scale, the September 11 tragedy, leave deep scars in the life of the emigrant community. The pain and bitterness of what happened in New York, Washington and the Pennsylvania clean field, and what followed, presents new citizens with unsolvable issues: "In the last two months, there was something like a split personality happened to Musa Belochkin. During the day he was a normal person, open and friendly, but at night everything been changed radically! Black melancholy waves rolled on him, depriving of sleep and common sense. Riven by doubts, irritation and malice, he tossed and turned for hours on his wide bed, unable to settle down: before him yawned the abyss, the abyss of human meanness, hypocrisy and betrayal. In these hours of the night, it started haunting the panic thoughts about escape, departure and even new emigration. " The style and formal structure of the roman is unusual. It is divided into chapters, which are reminiscent of short novels, often unconnected or chronologically nor narrative. But behind this obvious fragmented nature, on the example of life’s conflicts and the fate of individual emigrants, common problems arise, 3


requiring each extraordinary efforts. The heroine of the novell chapter "My Lolita" is rushing trying to find a way out: "─ She was all in problems, like Brezhnev’s breasts ─ in the orders”. The main problem, of course, was lack of money, not complete, but a lack of correspondence between their number and her requests. The people her range went somewhere, bought the houses, i.e. lived the live of full, almost anything yourself without giving. And she, capable, young, beautiful, intelligent, could not afford anything, except to live in a cheap one-bedroom condominium, bought a hundred years ago, and mainly on her salary, and nowhere to move except for a week to the river in Iowa ─ to flies, bees, and mosquitoes. And in all her insignificant existence, of course, her husband was guilty. " The search for the transmission dynamic and pace of modern life lead the author to a wide use of the dialogue, built in a visually perceptible, documentary-impressionistic manner. In the novel, there are many reminiscences, flashes of memories, "games" with time, corresponding to the psychological status of modern man. These "deviations" from traditional forms require the reader a certain intellectual tension when reading the novel. With all it’s autonomy, the roman "Geese-swans" is a continuation of the multi-faceted art cycle, including the published book of short stories and plays "The House by the Lake" and the author's first novel, "Borrowed time". Getting acquainted with these books will benefit the reader of a new novel. In the final chapter of the roman a certain result is summed up. This is not a straightforward journalistic invective, but a confession that has burst out of the depths of the soul! "... But seriously – the life here is some soulless, all painted in "green"color. Everyone is employed some nonsense with the same topic conversations. It seems sometimes we are all entangled here by some invisible web, and being in this web, you wallow, you wallow, and you can’t get out. ─ So you would like to return? I will gladly accept you. We will live on your pension, ─ there will be enough of it. ─ It's impossible. We are all accustomed to this life. And this is not comfort only, with whom it is difficult to part ways. This is 4


something different. You are already part of a whole layer, you are already re-forge and re-melted, as in a chilled lava, you are the coal of this life, in the coal there are no traces of the trees from which it was formed millions of years ago, and for a person there is not much time needed to turn into coal, into stone, into hard coal. We got a lot here, but also lost a lot. Yes, and you already all different. " Passionate philanthropy, subtle power of observation, lyricism and humor, irony and self-irony, versatile erudition, deep subtext, sense of proportion and artistic tact, good modern Russian ─ all this makes the M. Berman-Cikinowski’s roman a remarkable art document. According to the tradition, which ascendant to the author's first roman, "Geese-swans" ends with a penetrating poetic cycle.

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A Novel

Though manacled by chains we cannot see Shackled tight to otherworldly shores These very chains allow us to complete The circle drawn by God forevermore Vladimir Solovyov

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Chapter 1

The Heart Attack The pain faded, but the fear remained. Samuil Davidovich lay on his back, afraid to make the slightest movement. “If the pain returns,” he thought, “it’s the end of me. I can’t stand this pain anymore.” Polina was able to give him one pyramidon tablet, then a second, and then a third. And the pain subsided. Dazed, he no longer perceived it, but he still felt a lump, a kind of a stake in his chest. As soon as it happened, Polina rushed to the telephone to call the doctor. She didn’t want to call the ambulance. She knew that they’d take her husband to the hospital, and it would be worse there than at home. It was better to call a good private doctor and follow all his instructions. In the hospital, no one cares about you; no one pays any more attention to you than they have to. Dr. Faibusovich told her on the phone that the most important thing was to relieve the pain, and that if she had any pyramidon, she needed to give it to the patient until he stopped feeling pain. Fortunately, they had some at home. Dr. Mark Ilyich Faibusovich didn’t tell Polina what he knew and she did not: that people who have a heart attack can die in the first minutes or hours from the shock of the pain. Samuil Davidovich lay on his back, staring at the ceiling. Polina Yakovlevna sat in a chair nearby and looked at her husband. For them, it wasn’t Tuesday morning, a workday. They had begun to live in a completely different dimension, and what had befallen them so suddenly now controlled them completely and irrevocably. The world around them ceased to exist, and only what happened in this room had any meaning for them. Polina told the doctor on the phone that Samuil Davidovich had gotten up at 6:30 in the morning, as usual, and sat down to 7


eat his rice porridge with milk. Then, getting up from the table, he bent over to pick up his suitcase. “I was clearing the table and didn’t see him – I only heard a click,” said Polina. “It was the lock of his briefcase clicking as he closed it. The next second, I heard a frightening bubbling sound – it was Samuil throwing up. I turned around and saw that he had vomited all the rice porridge he’d just eaten onto the floor. I rushed to get a rag, and he sank slowly to the ground.” “Did he remain conscious?” asked the doctor. “Yes, but his face became earthy gray, and there were enormous beads of sweat on his face. I bent over him, and he whispered to me that he was having trouble breathing because of the heavy, pressing pain in his chest. He also told me he was going to die. I rushed to call you. Marta, Vodopyanov’s wife, gave me your number, just in case.” “How do you know Vodopyanov?” “He was Samuil’s boss.” Polina helped Samuil to the bed, lay him down, and started giving him pyramidom at the doctor’s orders. She sat across from her husband and waited for the doctor to come. He had promised to come within the hour. Samuil Davidovich’s eyes were closed. He was sleeping. No, he was not really sleeping: it was not sleep, but a stupor, oblivion. Samuil Davidovich had lost control of his brain, which now existed apart from him: a certain kind of split had taken place. Accustomed to going through the work routine at this time of day, his brain became a receptable for all sorts of images and absurdities that floated by one after another. First came his boss, Vodopyanov, even though he had died a year ago of a heart attack. Immediately. When Faibusovich had arrived, Vodopyanov was already dead. But here, he was alive and even cheerful. “Well, how many audits have there been without me?” “Two.” “Ha-ha! It’s good that I wasn’t there. How is the new boss?” Samuil Davidovich awkwardly kept silent. “Are you afraid? Afraid of the new boss? Well, all right, I’m leaving.” Then Sonya appeared. She had the same large eyes as her mother, and jet-black hair. “Papa, they’re teasing me at school.” “Don’t pay any attention to them.” 8


“That’s impossible. They shout: chief-department-oil-fattrust. Papa, quit that job, I’m begging you! Quit!” “OK. I’ll give notice to Vodopyanov tomorrow.” And then Polina appeared. She bent over him. Samuil Davidovich opened his eyes: “The doctor is here!” “What doctor?” “Dr. Faibusovich! I called him.” “What for? Vodopyanov died.” “I called him for you, not Vodopyanov.” “For me?” “Yes, for you. You’re very sick.” Samuil Davidovich came to, and he again felt a dull pain in his chest, which made breathing, thinking, and living difficult. With his awakening, his fear returned, not fear of death but fear of dying, of watching himself being killed, fully conscious. “If only the doctor would give me some pill that would make me fall asleep and never wake up,” he thought. “Good morning, Samuil Davidovich!” said the doctor. “He’s so large and healthy,” Samuil Davidovich thought. “He will live, and I’ll die.” “I’m going to examine you. Polina Yakovlena told me everything. Don’t strain yourself. The most important thing for you is to be completely calm.” “He’s becoming very plump,” thought Samuil Davidovich. The doctor took a blood pressure aneroid, a stethoscope, and a little hammer out of his bag, and started his exam. His fingers barely touched Samuil Davidovich. He measured his blood pressure, listened to his heart and lungs, checked his eyes and ears, asked him to open his mouth and stick out his tongue, and felt his stomach and legs, checking his pulse. With each organ he examined, Dr. Faibusovich made a quick comment: “good,” or “very good.” “Aside from my diseased heart,” thought Samuil Davidovich, “this means that many of my body parts, as the doctor says, are good. My heart is an important organ, of course, but not the only one. The other ones will help it.” Mark Ilyich finished his exam and announced that he’d like to give instructions to whomever was taking care of the patient. “I’ll copy it down,” said Polina, and sat down with a pencil and paper.

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“Write this down,” said the doctor, “at 8:00 this evening, give him one aspirin and one nitroglycerin pill under the tongue. At 9:00 give him an enema. Pour one and a half quarts of warm water into an Esmarch cup and add two teaspoons of salt. You need to rub vaseline on the tip and put it in slowly and carefully. At 9:30, give him a dimedrol pill so he can sleep.” Polina Yakovlevna copied it down quickly, and Samuil Davidovich felt as if he were breathing more easily for a simple reason: “If the doctor is giving instructions for tonight, it means I’ll probably live till then. There’s no point giving enemas to the dead!” “Tomorrow morning,” continued Mark Ilyich, “as soon as he wakes up, give him another aspirin and nitroglycerine pill, and the same thing in the evening along with an enema and dimedrol. Throughout the day, rub him down with a wet towel soaked in vodka or spirits. You need to keep his body clean.” “Well I’ll be damned” thought Samuil Davidovich. “I’m going to live through tomorrow, too!” He felt more blood flow to his face. “It’s from my heart,” he guessed. “Now, please write down what to feed the patient. Today he should only have liquids, but tomorrow morning you can give him yogurt and a roll, and in the afternoon chicken soup and a baked apple. I’ll come back at 10:00 am the day after tomorrow, and we’ll talk about increasing his diet. So, that’s it for now. Do you have any questions?” The patient had no questions. Everything was clear to him. He had two days, and then everything would become clear. “Where can I wash my hands?” asked the doctor. “I’ll bring you a clean towel and soap,” Polina Yakovlevna suddenly recovered herself. She ran to her husband and whispered in his ear, “How much should I pay him?” “50 rubles,” Samuil Davidovich answered. Polina Yakovlevna ran to the bedroom and returned with a towel and led the doctor down the dark hall to the communal bathroom. “We have four neighbors,” she said. The doctor washed his hands. Polina Yakovlevna stuffed the money into his outer jacket pocket. “Where does your husband work?” asked Mark Ilyich. “At the ‘Chief Department of Oil and Fat’ trust. He’s the deputy chief bookkeeper.” “And Vodopyanov was the chief?” 10


“Yes.” “He was already dead when I arrived.” “Yes, Marta told me. And she gave me your phone number just in case.” “I didn’t ask then, of course, but what kind of trust is this?” “He makes agreements with kolkhozes and state farms about the purchase of vegetable and animal oils for retail sale at government prices.” “Is the work stressful?” “Very. Constant audits. One after the other. They think that someone must always be stealing at a trust with a name like that. And our daughter is teased at school. Nobody can believe that we live on just his salary, but do you see how we’re living?” “And what is your husband’s salary?” “It was 55 rubles a month, but on the first of the month he should get a raise to 70. He’s an honest man. They value him highly at work. He worries about everything and everyone.” “And what do you do?” “I work at the scientific library at the Institute of Weights and Measurements. And Sonya’s in the tenth grade. She left for school about 15 minutes before all of this happened. Tell me, doctor, is he going to live? I’ll take care of him at home. I’ve made arrangements at work.” “The first three days are critical. Every day he survives helps. His face looks very good.” “Thank you. You’re a wonderful doctor. His cheeks even got a bit redder from your exam.” They returned to the room. The doctor took his bag and said to Samuil Davidovich, “See you the day after tomorrow.” Polina Yakovlevna walked Mark Ilyich to the door. The doctor went down the white marble steps. Polina Yakovlevna listened as the door shut in the entranceway. “He’s gone,” she sighed, and ran back to her husband. Chapter 2

I Made It The resident was instructing the students: “Now let’s stop by the operating room. Make sure you have a mask over your nose and mouth, put your hair in a hairnet, and 11


wear slippers over your shoes. Don’t push, make noise, ask about anything or make comments in the operating room – just watch. Don’t lean against the table or elbow the personnel – whatever you see is what you’ll see. Stay there for about ten minutes, and then leave with me. I’ll answer all your questions back here. My name is Grigory Vasilevich. Now, let’s go.” There were about ten people in the operating room, and it was so bright that everyone was blinded at first. Then their eyes got used to the light. The patient lay on his stomach, his head was thrown back, and his face was turned to the anesthesiologist. The anesthesiologist was talking about something with the patient, and the surgeons were puttering around in his head. There were three surgeons. Of course, nothing could be seen in this crowd. Could neurosurgery really be done with only local anesthetic? Grigory Vasilevich gave the signal to leave. Everyone went out, took off their masks and hairnets, and threw away their slippers. “I know you saw almost nothing,” said Grigory Vasilevich. “But it’s not the technical part of the operation that’s important for you – you’ll need to study this for many years – but the general principles, which I’ll explain to you now. “You noticed that the patient – I can’t give his name – was not under general anesthesia. But local anesthetic is used only at the beginning of the operation when they saw open the head and remove the membranes. When you stopped by, the surgeons were clearing obstacles to the tumor in the gray matter, and the cortex and gray matter don’t have pain receptors. “You can slice, stab, and even cauterize the brain, and the patient won’t feel anything. So during the operation, no anesthesia is needed – local or general. Now who can tell me why the anesthesiologist was talking with the patient the whole time?” “So he doesn’t worry,” said Lera. “It’s the surgeons who should worry, not the patient. If the scalpel goes one millimeter to the side where the stem cells are located, the patient will immediately lose consciousness. The patient’s consciousness is the surgeon’s guardian angel. When the patient is conscious, it means everything is all right. But to know that the patient is conscious, you need to talk with him the whole time.” “So if he loses consciousness, does that mean he’s dying?” asked Luisa.

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“Everything depends on which stem cell fibers the surgeon grazes or cuts. If they are necessary for life, then there is instantaneous death.” “Besides tumors, can normal tissues also be removed?” asked Musya. “Yes, they can. There are many surplus parts in an organism. There are two kidneys, for example. The same thing is true of the brain. Keep in mind that you can remove up to onethird of the gray matter, even half the brain, without any tragic consequences. The person would live. He wouldn’t be Einstein, of course, but he’d be able to fulfill simple tasks and take care of himself.” “But how can the skull be half empty? What about the rest of the brain? It would be dangling, knocking around. Turn your head and something would move and knock around – bang, bang,” Irakly pointed at his own head. “The cavity left by the parts of the brain that are removed is filled with a special spongy mass, which later envelops the skull from within and hardens it. We suggest that the patient not make any sudden head movements – no ‘head-butting.’” “What about the patient’s memory?” asked Nina. “Nobody really knows where the memory is located in the brain. We don’t even really understand what memory is. Tell us, please,” he said to Luisa, “what is your name?” “Luisa.” “So, Luisa, tell us, please, what were you doing yesterday afternoon at 3:00?” Luisa frowned, trying to remember something. With a grimace of despair and complete hopelessness on her face, she guiltily looked at Grigory Vasilevich and, breathing heavily, said: “I don’t remember, so help me, I don’t remember… there’s a big gap in my memory… I don’t remember anything…” “Well, I’ll tell you an interesting story,” said the resident. “The famous Canadian neurosurgeon Dr. Herrick published a book describing his experiments – he was searching for memory centers. Knowing that the brain has no pain receptors, he inserted tantalum needles into the patient’s brain during the operation, immersing them at various depths. His goal was to stimulate certain parts of the brain. “His patients, like our Alexander Fyodorovich – sorry, I shouldn’t have given his name – were fully conscious and described their reactions right there during the operations. One 13


patient with a needle in her brain recalled the following: ‘I see my kitchen now. I’m in it. Sunshine is coming through the window. The table is covered with a light-brown oilcloth with red flowers. My little daughter Jane is sitting at the table. She’s wearing a pink robe, and her stuffed teddy bear is next to her. I pour milk into her cup. She starts drinking the milk, and then gives some to her bear…’ “What’s most interesting is that at the moment of the experiment, her ‘little daughter Jane’ was already a grown woman, and what the mother was describing took place at least 15 years earlier. “Luisa, you don’t remember what happened yesterday, but Dr. Herrick’s patient ‘remembers’ what happened a long time ago, and what would have been impossible to remember under normal circumstances. “Herrick’s results were corroborated by other scientists. It turns out that somewhere, in certain parts of the brain, there is a recording of everything we experience, like a film reel. How this information is extracted, how it’s defined, what’s essential, important, necessary – that’s a different question, and no less complicated than the location of memory centers in and of themselves. “Raise your hand if you want to become a neurosurgeon,” Grigory Vasilevich suggested, smiling. “It’s terrifying. Terrifying work,” said Irakly. “One millimeter to the side… we’ll think over your suggestion, Grigory Vasilevich…” At home, Musya could not fall asleep for a long time. “Damn that Grigory Vasilevich, asking a young woman what she was doing at 3:00 in the afternoon! A complete idiot! Ha ha ha! Nina gave us the key to her basement apartment. How well Luisa played it! Astounding! I believed her myself for a minute! What a great actress! A regular Lyubov Orlova! It was at exactly 3:00 – what a coincidence! Why didn’t he ask what she was doing at 4:00, or even at 3:30, since we had already finished by then? … Ninka’s apartment is so nice… we’re always lucky… But when Ninka and Igor were there, they weren’t so lucky. Her mother came home from work in the afternoon, and Igor had to crawl out the basement window and go up, not down, with no time to put his pants on… and children on the street were yelling: ‘Look, look, there’s a naked guy crawling out of the ground! Look!’” Then Musya started thinking about the brain. 14


He had seen a brain for the first time in anatomy lab. Whose brain was it? Was it a man’s? A woman’s? The brain was moist and fresh, all furrowed. Hearts, kidneys, spleens, livers, and other human organs lay in iron vats, but nothing inspired such a profound, frightening, almost mystical sense of awe and reverence as the brain. It was as though it existed in a different dimension, all its own, tragic and exaltedly noble in its greatness and silence: “I am also a person!” “And this brain,” thought Musya, “is what Grigory Vasilevich wants to cut open coarsely and vulgarly. Like Pushkin’s Salieri: ‘I dissected music like a corpse.’ “But I can’t become a psychiatrist, either. The other day, like an idiot, I got all worked up with a psychiatry patient. That good-looking Sergei Valentinovich brought a young guy with him. Just an ordinary guy. And Sergei Valentinovich said, ‘Belochkin, take the case history. This guy said that he was sent to earth by Jesus Christ. Christ isn’t here anymore, but this guy is here in his place’. ‘Are you Jesus Christ, too?’, I asked the guy. ‘No, I’m not Jesus Christ. I’m here to fulfill his will. I’m his messenger on earth.’ “So, I got all worked up. Began arguing and shouting until my throat was hoarse. Sergei Valentinovich said, ‘Musya, stop this hullabaloo.’ He took the guy away and then returned: ‘Belochkin, you’ll never be a psychiatrist, A psychiatrist must be cold as ice. He needs to just listen, never argue, always keeping in mind that the person before him is a patient, he’s crazy. This is the basic expectation.’ ‘And what the patient is not really crazy?’ ‘What difference does it make?’” Musya took a 1926 edition of Freud’s works from the library depository. It had seven volumes of Freud in Russian that had never been lent, because he was a forbidden writer. Musya read six of the volumes right there, in the depository, and took the other with him. It was The Interpretation of Dreams. Musya memorized one of the examples. A young wife of a forester came to Freud: “I’m all thumbs… I’m nervous… I’m always making a fuss… my husband has become disgusting to me…” The session lasted four hours, and finally, Freud came to the topic of dreams: “What did you dream of?” “A hat.” “What kind of hat?” 15


“A top hat.” “And who was wearing this top hat?” “My husband.” Freud considered the top hat a sexual symbol. “Was there anything unusual about the top hat? What did it look like?” The forester’s wife tried to remember: “Yes, I think one side of the hat was a bit lower than the other.” “Which side – the left or the right?” “The left side.” “Now that’s where the shoe pinches,” thought Freud. “If I can connect this detail to something in reality, I can cure her.” Freud interrogated the patient for another hour. Finally, after detailed, lengthy questioning, he found out that she had noticed by chance that the forester’s left testicle hung lower than the right one. “That’s normal,” Freud assured the woman. “With most men, one testicle is a little lower or smaller than the other.” The forester’s wife grew calmer. The anxiety hidden in her unconscious had come to the surface, freeing the psychic energy that had caused the neurosis. Then, Musya started interpreting dreams of the female students in his classes, Freudian-style: “Lera, what did you dream of?” “I don’t remember.” “Did you dream of umbrellas?” “No.” “Canes?” “Not that either.” “Cylinders?” “What kind of cylinders?” “Top hats?” “No, I didn’t dream of any top hats.” “What about a staircase? Maybe you dreamed you were going up a staircase?” “Yes, I was going up a staircase.” “How quickly?” “Slowly at first, then faster.” “Faster, faster, faster, and then you were flying, right?” “How did you know? Yes, I really did start flying!” “And did it feel good?” 16


“Yes, it felt great!” “And then you woke up? While you were flying?” “Yes, I woke up then.” “Because you started to feel afraid, right? Afraid that you’d fall to the ground and hurt yourself badly, right?” “Yes! How did you know? That’s just how it was – I woke up in a fright. My teeth were even chattering.” “I can interpret your dream!” The whole group of girls froze: “Well?” “Do you understand what she dreamed?” The girls began to nod… “You were frightened because you were afraid of getting pregnant!” It was as though Musya had looked into a crystal ball. The morals in the group were as high as in the American army: nobody slept with two people at once. Lera got pregnant and went to the hospital in the evening for an abortion the following day. The same evening, Luisa sent Musya to Irakly, Lera’s boyfriend. Irakly was handsome, like all Georgians. He rented an apartment on Zhuravlevka, near the river. It took Musya a whole hour on the trolley to get there. It was dark. Not a single street light. Musya found Irakly in a very agitated state. He had already packed one suitcase, and was working on the second. “Where are you packing to run off to?” “My dad in Tbilisi.” “For a long time?” “For good. I’m transferring to Tbilisi Medical School.” “Should we have a drink? What do you have?” Irakly took out a red bottle with a Georgian inscription on the label. After they drank it, he took out another… Musya barely made the last trolley… Irakly got up before dawn and went downtown by foot. There was a big flowerbed on Tevelev Square. Irakly picked twelve roses and continued on to Lera’s hospital. She was in the gynecology wing on the third floor of the district hospital. Irakly knew this place well. He stood with his bouquet of roses under her window and called: “Lera! Le-ra! Le-ra!” Lera appeared at the window. 17


Irakly lifted the flowers over his head: “Come down! Now! Right now!” Chapter 3 Enough Foolishness in Every Wise Man A forty-year-old woman was talking with Musya Belochkin: “After it snowed and got dark, we organized a volunteer Saturday, even though it was Sunday. We decided to clean out what had accumulated in the past few months of winter: all the garbage, refuse, mud, leftovers, rinds, mold. The garbage bins smelled so terrible from the uncleanliness that we put gauze over our noses. We scraped and ripped away all the dirt and spoilage with shovels and crowbars. Then we cleaned and washed the garbage bins with water, and trucks took all of the waste to a city dump.” “Were you healthy before this Sunday?” “Completely healthy.” “While you were working, did you experience any fatigue or weakness?” “I got tired, like everybody else, because we worked from early in the morning until dark, 7:00 or 8:00 at night. I went home, ate, drank some hot tea, and went to sleep. But when I got up Monday morning to go to work, I suddenly felt feverish, and my temperature was 102.5°. I decided that I’d gotten a cold in that damn yard. It seemed kind of warm, but not completely – a cool wind was blowing – but I was sweating.” “But you didn’t go to work?” “No, of course not – not with that temperature! I called the district doctor, and took a pyramidon before he came.” “Did you have any symptoms besides a temperature?” “My throat ached a little.” “And what did the doctor say?” “He said I had catarrhal angina. He prescribed penicillin, and recommended that I put water compresses on my neck. And he gave me a sick note for three days of work.” “And then what happened?” “Then my glands swelled up, behind my ears and here, under my chin. And my temperature didn’t drop. I called the clinic, and they said, come and give us a blood sample. When I went to the clinic, they felt my glands and put me in the district

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hospital, and from there they transferred me here, to the oncology ward.” “And they didn’t tell you anything?” “Nothing. They said you’d tell me everything.” “There are changes in your blood. We will treat you with chemotherapy and blood transfusions.” “And will the glands go back to normal? Do I have cancer, doctor?” It was forbidden in the department to tell patients what they had. One time a patient learned his diagnosis from the notes of his illness, accidentally left on a nightstand in the corridor, and he died the next day. Musya Belochkin finished his examination and went to the department head Natan Yakovlevich Edis’s office: “Natan, how quickly does flu develop?” “I think it takes several hours. The flu virus multiplies in an organism very quickly. Someone coughs on you in the morning at work, and by the evening you’ve got it: dull aches all over your body, a headache, a temperature. Why do you ask?” “It took my patient only a few hours to develop advanced leukemia!” “What do you mean?” “The woman was shoveling debris in her yard the whole day, and the next morning she woke up with symptoms of advanced leukemia.” “She was healthy to that point?” “Completely healthy – no problems.” “And she didn’t feel weak while she was working?” “Not at all. She just got tired like everyone else.” “And what were her first symptoms?” “High temperature, sore throat, lymphodenopathy on the neck and lower jaw regions.” “Nobody knows when leukemia begins. Stress – in this case from a chill, unusually intense physical labor, or the flu virus – can bring to light a disease she already had earlier had that had not shown any symptoms.” “But why should we rule out the possibility that she might have gotten the leukemia virus directly, a virus that was preserved during these retreats that were lasting all winter?” “Because there is no scientific evidence for that. Leukemia, as you know, is not a contagious disease. Its catalyst, whether a virus or something else, has not been discovered, and 19


there is no epidemiological data establishing any particular breeding ground, such as the concentration of many cells in one place, or even in two patients with advanced leukemia! Now if you or Tanya Sushkova got another patient from the same yard working on the same volunteer Saturday - that would be a real scientific fact!” “Worthy of the Nobel Prize!” “Yes, you could say that – on a Nobel Prize scale!” Musya felt discouraged. Natan was pounding his point home “like a tank through a field of flowers.” “Musya, I’ll tell you honestly: other people think the way you do, too. I hid one piece of information from you, so that you wouldn’t be frightened before I’d even worked it out myself.” “And now you’ve worked it out?” “Yes, that’s what I’m saying.” “Why were you afraid?” “I was afraid that you’d all scatter. With me at the head of the line.” Natan opened the third, lower drawer of the right-side table and took out a folder full of journals from under the pile. “Who is that?” he asked. “It’s a monkey with a human face,” Musya said, looking at the cover. “Absolutely right. It’s a monkey. And what do you think of the journal title?” “Pri-ma-to-lo-gy,” Musya read it syllable by syllable. “What is this journal?” “This is the ‘primate’ monthly publication of the Veterinary Section of the Academy of Medical Sciences. And this monkey is from an enormous article twenty-five pages long by one academic, two corresponding members, a heap of doctorates – a very imposing staff headed by academic L.D. Veselovsky.” Musya looked at the monkey’s face in black and white. “Does this face remind you of anything?” Natan asked Musya. “You correctly noticed that it’s a monkey with a human face.” “It reminds me of… there, the dots on the face, this hemorrhage, the puffiness of the whole face… and the expression… a human expression… weary… sorrowful… suffering… It looks like she’s crying.” “Well?”

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“This is the face and expression of our leukemia patients!” shouted Musya. “That’s exactly why I hid this journal. This group of scholars conducted a unique experiment on monkeys at a Sukhumi farm. They injected them with the blood of patients suffering from advanced leukemia. They looked for patients near Sukhumi, and delivered their blood in bottles by airplane if necessary. They write that no more than two hours passed between collecting the patients’ blood in bottles with a preservative and the injection of the blood into the monkeys’ veins, so that the blood would be fresh. Most of the monkeys demonstrated a disease image that closely resembled leukemia.” “Did the monkeys die?” “Yes, the ones that got the disease died.” “And this one on the cover, too?” “Yes.” “What do you think about all this?” “At first I was frightened, naturally. But then I began to read the article more carefully.” “And then what?” “The thing is, they didn’t use a control group.” “What do you mean?’ “They didn’t give the monkeys blood from healthy people.” “Why is that important?” “Because there is an incompatibility of species. However human monkeys may seem, they still aren’t people. The monkeys could have died from incompatibility, the way people can die from anaphylactic shock. They might have survived the transfusion, but then all their organs and systems gradually rejected it, including hematopoiesis. It could resemble leukemia in many respects, but still not be leukemia!” “So the proper experiment would consist of a blood transfusion from a human leukemia patient to a healthy person?” “Yes, technically. But who would take such a step? I wouldn’t even do this to my worst enemy.” Musya left Natan’s office and walked down the hall deep in thought. “What if I were to give myself the blood transfusion?” flickered through his head. “If I got sick, I’d die, and if I died, it would prove the viral nature of leukemia, and Tanya Sushkova would observe my autopsy. Imagine the speeches they’d make at

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my funeral, and what would be written about me later in the papers” Musya almost bumped into Tanya Sushkova. “What are you, blind?! Watch where you’re going!” “I was thinking,” said Musya. “Tanechka, today I got a woman with advanced leukemia.” “So? What else is new?” “Just listen: she was cleaning cesspools in her building yard on a volunteer day, all day Sunday, and the next day, she had advanced leukemia.” “Musya, you’re talking as if you’d only started studying hematology yesterday. That’s not how it works.” “I told Natan about the patient, and he said that if you or I got even one patient from the same yard working on the same volunteer day, it would be an event of great scientific significance!” “And what if the patient entered a different hospital?” Musya was unable to say a single word! Enough foolishness in every wise man. Chapter 4 Sestertius Antinois In the last two months, Musya Belochkin experienced something like a split personality. During the day, he was a normal person – open and friendly. But at night, everything changed completely: waves of black melancholy rolled over him, depriving him of sleep and good sense. Torn apart by doubts, annoyance, and spite, he tossed and turned for hours in his large bed, unable to calm down. An abyss gaped before him, an abyss of human baseness, hypocrisy, and treachery. During these night hours, he started to be overwhelmed by panicked thoughts of escape, departure, even another immigration. During one of these nights, Musya, exhausted, unnerved, and worn out by insomnia, fell asleep towards morning. He had an incredible dream. He dreams that he is at the movies with Yulia and some guy in the row in front of him keeps turning around, insisting that he exchange his foreign currency for five dollars. In the darkness, Musya can’t make out the guy’s face, and ignores his demand, but the guy keeps insistently and obtrusively turning around and bothering him. 22


The film ends, and Musya and Yulia head for the exit, losing sight of the guy. They walk along a little road, and Musya holds out a packet of money at his side, so that the guy will see it. Then the guy turns out to be ahead of them, and Yulia shouts: “Look, look, he’s taking all of your money!” Musya sees the guy grabbing the packet of money and running ahead with it, and not alone but with a child in his arms. Musya isn’t sorry about the money; he only thinks: “I escaped, I escaped, I freed myself at last.” And then Musya sees the guy with the child running to some kind of elevation, a hill at the end of the road, and at the base of this elevation Musya discerns a small round opening, something like a burrow, and – oh boy! –the guy with the child shrinks, leaving behind a bright, wavy trace, like a lightning explosion, squeezes into the hole, and disappears together with the child. “A person can’t crawl through such a narrow opening,” Musya thinks in his dream, and then he wakes up. He then writes down his dream from beginning to end. That day, Musya saw a new patient, Oleg. His wife Nadya, whom Musya had been treating for several months, forced him to go. Musya had never met Oleg, and knew only what Nadya had told him: that her husband collected ancient coins and was a heavy smoker. Nadya had been trying to persuade Oleg to go to the doctor for a long time to help him quit smoking. Musya didn’t like when patients were “forced” to see him, as if they were “doing someone a favor.” But Oleg was very friendly, uninhibited, and relaxed from the beginning. “Nadya said many nice things about you, Doctor,” he said. “She told me that your brother also collects antique coins.” “You’re the first honest-to-goodness numismatist I’ve met here in America. Can I call you Oleg?” “Please do.” Oleg had lively, intelligent eyes, and Musya could tell that they would have a good conversation right away, without any formalities. It was as though a chance meeting with his past had been arranged for Musya, with his brother lying on the red Finnish couch at their mother’s, talking for hours about some new coin that he had only yesterday traded for, constantly looking at it under a microscope with his near-sighted eyes. Musya thanked God again for sending him, maybe for the first time in months, a person with whom he could relax and forget about his loathsome nocturnal paroxysms. 23


“Let’s start with a riddle, shall we?” Musya said. “But don’t think I’m testing you. I thought this riddle up myself.” “I’m ready, Doctor.” “Please name a historical figure into whose full name you can fit two exact words, each of which is also the name of an organ of the senses.” “Only these two words?” “No, the name itself is longer and it’s mentioned in the Bible.” “The Old or the New Testament?” “The Old Testament. The Hebrew Bible.” “Was the person Jewish?” “No, but he played an important role in Jewish history.” “A positive or negative one?” “It’s hard to say. In a sense, very negative, but also…” “Nebuchadnezzar,” blurted out Oleg, not giving Musya the chance to finish. “You guessed it! Wonderful! But here’s the thing, Oleg, do you know what Nebuchadnezzar looked like? I can’t even imagine. Were there any portraits of him? There weren’t coins in Babylon then, were there?” “No, there weren’t any coins. But portraits of him have been preserved. On stone steles and lapis lazuli seals, which were used for agreements.” “What did he look like?” “Medium height, sturdily built, bald, with a long curly beard. At that time, a man’s status was determined by the style of his beard. They used small stones to heat and curl beards, like curlers. It worked very well. And now, Doctor, can I give you a riddle?” “Of course. Just keep in mind that I don’t know a thousandth of what you know.” Oleg took a brown leather sack, tied with string, from his pocket. “I brought a surprise,” Oleg untied the string and took a coin out of the sack. “I’m touched, very touched.” Musya got up from his chair. “I haven’t seen an antique coin for many years. I’m grateful to you and Nadya.” Oleg extended the coin to Musya: “What do you think?”

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The face side of the large bronze coin depicted a very young man in profile, with curly hair and handsome facial features. “Is the coin Roman or Greek?” “Roman. From the second century CE.” “It’s a wonderful coin.” Musya looked at the other side. “What kind of animal is this?” “It’s a lynx. Look, the right front paw is raised – do you see?” “Yes, everything is very clear.” Musya again turned the coin over. “You can see every lock of his hair! Who is this handsome man?” “Read it. Look, there are Latin letters.” Musya read: “Antinois. But this can’t be an emperor?! He is too young and handsome to be an emperor.” “You’re on the right track, Doctor. This young man’s name is Antinois. It’s a bronze Sestertius Antinois, minted in the early second century during the reign of Emperor Hadrian.” “I’ve never heard of Antinois. I give up. Tell me about him!” “Hadrian fell in love with Antinois, this young man of unusual beauty, and he accompanied the emperor everywhere. Antinois was very kind, and everyone loved him. In 130, Hadrian decided to replicate Caesar and Cleopatra’s trip down the Nile. Antinois was on a ship with the emperor. On the fifth day of the trip, Hadrian fell ill with Nile fever, his condition quickly worsened, and pagan priests were called. Then Antinois, unnoticed, broke away to the stern, and threw himself into the dark brown waters of the Nile. His body was lifted out in a few hours…” “And Hadrian?” “Hadrian recovered. And then it became clear that Antinois had sacrificed himself to the gods to save the emperor’s life. Hadrian declared Antinois a divinity and ordered a coin with his image to be minted. It was unheard of – a coin depicting an ordinary person!” “By how long did Hadrian survive Antinois?” “Eight years. Hadrian was a talented person. They say that he planned and designed the cupola of the Pantheon in Rome himself. It was the first such structure. Under him, Rome flourished, and the second century in general was relatively calm and successful for the empire.” 25


“What if Rome had never been sacked, Oleg? Never destroyed by the barbarians?” “Your question, Doctor, is posed incorrectly. Your brother should have explained to you that Rome fell because it decayed, it was rotted through from within. The barbarians only dealt the finishing blow. I saw a film that showed hyenas poking their prey with their paws, checking to see whether they were dead or still alive. If they were alive, the hyenas went to the side and waited for them to stop breathing, so they could then devour them. That’s how it was with the barbarians, too. They sacked Rome only when there was no one left to defend it. The class of free peasants that constituted the Roman army was completely annihilated by the fifth century, ousted, destroyed, and washed away economically by the latifundia, which used cheap slave labor.” “Don’t you regret the loss of the Roman culture, which had laid the foundations of Western civilization, and such democratic institutions as, for instance, the Senate? The barbarians didn’t have any of this, did they?” Musya defended Rome. “Of course I regret the loss of the culture! Look at this coin – nobody ever minted anything like it again. But democracy, the Senate… Actually, there wasn’t any democracy then. The Roman Empire was a typical oligarchy with an emperor who relied on the army and was dependent on it.” “What about the Senate?” “The Senate? From the very beginning, from the first century, nobody took the Senate seriously. Everyone knew that Caligula forced the Senate to make his horse a consul.” “How’s that?” “Just like this: he led the horse to the Senate and demanded a vote.” “And what happened?” “The senators voted and confirmed him unanimously.” “But after all, this Caligula was mad, a murderer…” “That’s true. But he ruled an enormous empire for four whole years!” “What was the horse’s name?” “The horse’s name was Incitatus. Caligula ordered a bronze bust to be made of the horse, and for it to be placed in the hall near the busts of the other consuls.” “And was it put there?” 26


“Yes. With the inscription ‘Consul Gnaeus Incitatus Letul.’ Moreover, Caligula also ordered a medal to be minted with a profile of the horse and an inscription according to protocol.” “And do you have this medal?” “I don’t collect medals. Medal collectors do, but we are numismatists. This medal is in the catalogue, ‘Medals of FirstCentury Rome.’ I saw it there, and you can look at it too.” Then Oleg, drooping somewhat, said: “What’s there to say about Rome. We have the same system here.” “What do you mean? I don’t recall anyone leading a horse into our Senate…” “Well, not literally. But our former president recently wanted to make his son president, and he did so, just as Caligula made his horse a consul… A disgrace! A disgrace in front of the whole world!” “So you think there’s no democracy here?” “Not at all, in the overall scheme of things. It’s a typical oligarchy, just like in ancient Rome. And the army manipulates everything in exactly the same way, from the top down. What other country has as many wars and conflicts? They’re always sailing, flying, bombing somewhere… War is barbarity, the appearance of the basest instincts.” “Then what do you think, Oleg, about the people who arranged our current Armageddon?” “They’re not even people.” “Then what are they?” “A kind of loathsome, good-for-nothing, repulsive entity…” “Like rats?” “Yes, they are rats in human form. Hyenas…” “You know, Oleg, I can’t figure something out. On the one hand, I want to avenge all the people who have been killed. But it also seems to me that these people have been betrayed. And I can’t sleep at night, thinking about this. Also, I hoped for some kind of changes, given that so many people died. But nothing’s changed. It’s still business as usual. It’s depressing. And insulting. Very insulting.” “Now, I look at life philosophically. Do you want an example, Doctor? I have a friend at work. He’s also Russian. He came here about twelve years ago. He called me last week: ‘Come over Friday evening. I want to show you something, and we’ll 27


have a drink.’ So I grabbed a bottle of cognac and went over. He led me right away to the basement and said, ‘Look over there.’ I looked. He had several TVs on the biggest wall of the basement: one big, one medium, and the rest smaller, all hanging from top to bottom.” “How many TVs were there?” “Seven. Give me a piece of paper, and I’ll draw them for you.” Oleg took a sheet of paper and drew a diagram. This is how they were arranged:

“All the TVs were part of the same system, and could be operated by the same remote control. It was Friday. He turned on all seven at once. I started getting dizzy. He had two Direct TV dishes on the roof. There were three football games, two basketball games, and two hockey games on. We drank cognac and watched. I sometimes closed my eyes, but he followed each screen and reacted to everything that was going on there, all the shouts and screeches. I barely made it home, not from drinking too much cognac, but from the din in my head and the flashing in my eyes. I was nauseous, and couldn’t go to sleep for a long time. And you know what I thought about?” “You wondered how you could get such a system?” “You hit the nail on the head, Doctor. Do you remember Lenin’s definition of communism?” “Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country.” “I can sense your brother’s influence. So what I thought was: capitalism is the indestructible power of material things plus the zombification of the whole country.” “It’s a very gloomy definition, a very gloomy diagnosis. There are many good, wonderful, great things in this country, too, by the way.” “Tell that to the relatives of the thousands of people who have been killed for nothing, Doctor. The thing is, nobody gives up or sacrifices anything. That’s human nature. People don’t die 28


in a ditch, after all. They die surrounded by things, which outlive them. People are mortal, but things are immortal. The Romans didn’t want to deny themselves their pleasures either. And they all died in the end. All of them. You don’t stint on anything, either, and nor do I. And my friend won’t give up his seven TVs and basement. But we’ll all die in the end, too. Just like the Romans.” And Oleg tossed the coin in the air and caught it. “When?” Musya asked quietly. “What do you mean, when?” “When will we all die?” “Let’s talk about something else instead. Do you remember why Nadya sent me to you?” “Yes. She asked me to help you quit smoking. How long have you smoked?” “30 years.” “You need to quit this harmful habit.” “I knew you would say this. But I’d rather you explain concretely, scientifically, what I have to gain from giving up smoking, other than quitting this ‘harmful habit.’” “You’ll have the same low risk as non-smokers for serious, life-threatening diseases such as lung cancer and arteriosclerosis. Right now, the chance you will develop one of those diseases is several times higher than for non-smokers.” “When will I have this low risk? Right after I quit smoking?” “No. It takes a long time to get rid of what you’ve been inhaling for 30 years.” “How long? Half a year? A year?” “No, longer than that. After 30 years of smoking, it takes at least seven years to reach the same statistical range as nonsmokers.” “A whole seven years, you say?” “Yes, at least.” “Excuse me, Doctor, but in that case quitting smoking, which gives me so much pleasure, makes no sense at all for me.” “Are you serious, Oleg? Is this a joke?” “I’m perfectly serious. I told you I look at life philosophically.” Oleg got up: “It was great to meet you. Say hi to your brother from me when you call him. Maybe he could use some catalogues?” “I’ll call him. Thank you.” 29


Musya walked Oleg to the door. As he opened the door, Oleg turned around and said, smiling: “And what do you think of the word Scheherazade for a riddle?” Chapter 5

Copenhagen Dear Vasya! I’ve been meaning to write to you for a long time, and now I’m finally doing so. You’ve probably already gotten snow. Here we’ve had autumn weather all December, with dry, sunny days and temperatures above freezing. The city has been decorated since the end of November: they’ve put up Christmas trees with lights, hung green wreaths with red bows, and we’re impatiently awaiting the first snow. The Nutcracker Suite plays all day nearby in the Botanical Garden, and Klara’s undisturbed dreams, represented by the enchanting music, waft through the park and rise to the chilly sky. You can see the stars shining in the sky, and the crescent of the half-moon becomes silvery, and it seems as though from there, up high, in the frozen cosmos, the souls of the 3,000 who were killed have still not flown far away, and that they, like us, are admiring the holiday illumination. Your letters themselves are a genuine holiday for me, but unfortunately, you have not been writing them as often. I’ll never forget the letters about your travels. You’ve covered half the world, after all, and I’ve even reread many of your letters with pleasure. Today, I have a story for you. It begins about five years ago with a shoe purchase. Although a lot of time has passed, I remember how we went to a store, actually to buy me sandals, not shoes. Yulia said, “your feet need to breathe in the summer!” But to be honest, I don’t like sandals, especially the ones here, which are like our bark sandals back home. It’s as though you had to slide rather than walk in them. But I didn’t tell Yulia this, and we went to the store. Well, I thought, we’ll decide at the store. The sandals at this expensive store were ugly, coarse, and bulky, with thick soles, and I said to Yulia: “Just look at these monstrosities!” And she said: “If that’s how you feel, let’s buy you shoes!” And we went along the wall 30


with illumined niches with transparent plastic stands under the footwear. I immediately noticed some black shoes with wide toes. They didn’t have any flourishes, buckles, clasps, or little holes, but there was something elegant and light about them. I took the shoes from the stand – they really were very light. I especially liked the fluted welt framing the entire shoe, which effectively completed the entire design. The leather was gentle and pleasing to the touch, and the sole – made of porous synthetic material – was stamped “Made in Denmark.” Along with the shoes, I bought special cleaning materials for them. Later, before I left for work every morning, I cleaned the dust from the shoes with a brush, and about once a month, when I was in the mood, I polished them to a shine and picked out a flannel rag to wipe them down. I loved my shoes so much that I wore them during all seasons and in all kinds of weather, not sparing them, and used them for work and social occasions. And what’s interesting is that I didn’t once have to repair them. I can’t say they look as good as new now. Some creases and folds have appeared, like wrinkles on a face, but I don’t love them any less for aging. We’ve also gotten older during this time… So one day, while I was polishing my shoes, I thought to myself, “why not go to Denmark?” I’ve been to many countries, but not Denmark. Maybe there aren’t many people in Denmark – five million altogether – but there’s the city of Copenhagen. Remember how whenever one of us didn’t know something, we’d say “Well, you’re not Copenhagen!” Of course, besides Copenhagen we all knew Hans Christian Anderson, too. And I also remember how we went to buy Danish hens in Moscow. In Gastronom no. 1 on Gorky Street, across from Hotel National, they sold two hens per customer… Yulia responded enthusiastically to my suggestion. She ran to the library, borrowed a pile of books on Denmark, and later gave me a whole lecture on the great Danish existentialist philosopher Kierkegaard, who had such a collosal influence on those who followed him. Yulia also warned me that although Denmark is a small country, there was a time when its kings ruled Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Iceland, that is, all of Scandinavia, so that I should behave modestly and not act condescendingly toward anyone there. And I prepared for the trip by re-reading Shakespeare’s tragedy of the Danish prince in Pasternak’s translation. 31


On the day we arrived, we were taken by bus from Copenhagen to Elsinore. They explained to us that Hamlet’s castle was located to the north of Copenhagen in the little town of Elsinore, right on the coast of the sea, from which its second, bookish name derives. On the way to Elsinore, we saw sheep being herded on neat green fields near the road. I felt sorry for these sheep when I looked down at my shoes with their soft, gentle leather… The castle known to the whole world was constructed on a ledge at the very entrance to the narrow strait between Denmark and Sweden, that is, between the Jutland and Scandinavian peninsulas that join the North and Baltic Seas, where the main European trade was conducted. Before they even constructed the fortress, the Danes began to collect payments from the ships passing through the channel. There was no other route, and with the money they collected this way, they built the castle. No duties would have been paid if there weren’t cannons. The cannons, looking out from the big fortress with their muzzles, looked much more imposing and frightening, and it was easier to shoot from them – the cannon ball could fly almost as far as the Swedish shore, and rain and snow didn’t fall on the fearless bombardiers. The Danes enriched themselves at the expense of all European monarchs, but everyone tolerated it, understanding that you could not change geography. Although the castle was once the residence of Danish kings, it looked uninteresting. The halls were empty and cold. Tapestries and paintings hung on the walls. The guide led us to the largest painting. “Did you know that Denmark fought against Sweden almost uninterrupted for 300 years?” No, we didn’t know this. “So, this painting we’re standing in front of now depicts a scene from our victory in one of the decisive battles at Öland. But if you were to go to the other shore of the channel, you’d find a painting by the same artist depicting the same battle, with the same horses, lances, weapons, cannons and cannon balls, soldiers and officers, with the same dead and wounded, with banners, crests, and blood, but in this painting, the Swedes are victorious!” “But what actually happened?” – asked someone in the group. “That’s what happened,” – answered the guide. It was hard to understand this mysterious Danish humor! “Was Shakespeare ever in this castle?”

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“It’s possible. What we know for sure is that actors of the London theater Globus performed here, and they may have told him about this fortress. In the account books, there’s a record of payments for performances to two actors from Globus.” “Was the record from Shakespeare’s lifetime?” “Yes, and it was before he wrote Hamlet. By the way, this throne hall can be rented for weddings or other family celebrations, if you pay ahead of time.” “How much?” “Half a year.” “I mean, how much does it cost?” “They can tell you there. You can ask for a pamphlet with a list of prices at the cashier at the entrance.” “Are there any restrictions?” “None. Denmark is a democratic country. To rent the hall, you don’t need to be Hamlet or Laertes…” We spent the rest of our time mainly in Copenhagen. We followed the footsteps of Anderson, who as a boy lived in the area of the large canal, where sailors and prostitutes settled. Now he sits on the central square of the city, receiving visitors from all over the world. Copenhagen is not noisy. You don’t hear car horns and police sirens. You don’t even hear loud conversation on the streets. All the inhabitants seem to know each other, and they ride their bikes conscientiously along the special bicycle lanes on the sidewalks. They ride in small groups, from traffic light to traffic light, with no jerky motions or braking at the last moment. They ride calmly and unhurriedly, just as their faces have no expression. And why should they strain themselves, since they know where they’re going? On one of the squares in the center of the city, we stood near a building with Roman columns. It was the Ministry of Justice. Our guide, a delicate blonde woman, led us to a small, rectangular stone made of black granite in the center of the square. “Who can read the inscription on this stone?” A dark-haired adolescent tried to make out the Latin words: “Vanitas, vanitatum vanitas, omnia vanitas.” “This is where justice was carried out,” the guide translated. “It was a place for execution,” Yulia whispered in my ear. The guide explained in detail how executions were carried out. The executioner chopped off the heads of the condemned 33


with a well-sharpened axe. There’s an art to chopping off the head at the first stroke. Qualified executioners were worth their weight in gold in Europe. It’s interesting that this profession was passed down from generation to generation. But women’s heads were not cut off. The women were tied, wrapped in a shroud and thrown into a coffin with the top nailed shut. The coffin with the woman, still alive, was then put into a nearby pit. Earth was sprinkled on the coffin, and the next morning it was dug up and brought to the cemetery where those who were executed were buried. “What were women executed for? Also for murder?” “Not only for that. Also for robbery and small transgressions.” “And when was the last execution on this square?” “In 1786.” Was it really so recent? Did I mishear? “Excuse me, what year did you say?” “1786.” I felt very sad. We spent one more day in Copenhagen, and on this last day, I watched the bikers with new eyes. Maybe they were riding so conscientiously because they were afraid of violating the rules, crossing the street at a red light, and hitting a pedestrian! But then there is no capital punishment in Europe today! So what is there to fear? The fear must remain inside them, in their genes! My dear Vasya! Today I polished my Danish shoes again. I know that they will survive me. Sooner or later, everyone must bid farewell not only to their shoes, but to themselves, to say “Good-bye” to themselves. Sooner or later, this moment will come, but please don’t worry about this prematurely. Happy New Year to you, Vasya! Happy New Year! Your Musya Chapter 6

My Lolita She was all covered in problems, like Brezhnev’s chest in medals. Her main problem, of course, was a lack of money. Not a complete lack of it, just not enough to meet her needs. People in 34


her circle were traveling, buying houses, that is, living a full life, hardly refusing themselves anything. But she, a capable, young, beautiful, smart girl, could only afford to live in a cheap, onebedroom condominium, which had been bought a hundred years ago, mostly on her salary, in an awful neighborhood. And she couldn’t travel anywhere, except for a week at an Iowa river filled with flies, bees, and mosquitoes. And of course, her husband was completely to blame for her paltry existence… “Because he had a small salary…” “That’s right, Doctor. How did you guess? Yes, she started talking about money from the very beginning, from the first minute…” “What is her name?” “Her name is Polina. She was spouting numbers – what this or that costs, how much is needed to pay for the apartment, for concerts, for the ballet…” “For her children, of course?” “Yes, she has an eight-year-old daughter, Liza. So, what else? For the pool, the health club, and most importantly, for the nanny. After all these expenses, nothing remains. Zero. And her husband doesn’t just have a small salary. The problem is that he never gets a raise! He’s worked for the same company for twelve years now, and has never gotten a single raise, only 1-2% per year to keep up with inflation. According to her, he is absolutely inept. His face has a very thoughtful, serious expression, but all there is inside him is emptiness, a void, Manilovian dreams. He’ll learn something and that’s as far as it goes – he just does everything automatically, without any initiative or new ideas about anything. And his sluggishness is unbearable. He needs to mull everything over, consider everything carefully: with every detail, every simple, elementary question, he looks at you and thinks… She said that he’s annoying and clingy. She thought that this would pass with time, but it has only gotten worse and worse.” “So will they get divorced?” “She says they’re in that phase right now.” “Of getting a divorce?” “Something like that. He’s practically moved in with his mother, but Polina sees him almost every day. Liza always needs to be driven somewhere or picked up.” “What about the nanny?”

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“The nanny doesn’t drive; she only cooks and stays with the children.” “So is Polina no longer sleeping with her husband?” “She says that she doesn’t.” “They always say that.” “Yes, Doctor, it’s very difficult to figure out whether they’re living together but no longer sleeping with each other, or sleeping with each other but no longer living together.” “You really know her situation intimately. Do you get together with her often?” “No, but she often calls me. And she always talks about the same thing. My head starts to spin from her stories.” “What’s her husband’s name, by the way?” “Ilya.” “And is he ill?” “What do you mean?” “Is he psychologically ill? What you described fits the symptoms of sluggish schizophrenia.” “But schizophrenia isn’t infectious, Doctor, is it? They say now that all diseases come from viruses.” “We don’t know what causes schizophrenia. It tends to be hereditary. And is Polina ill?” “Do you mean psychologically?” “Yes. I mean her psychological condition.” “She seems to be the complete opposite of her husband: active, persistent, knows what she wants, in good standing at work. She helps her sick father a lot, goes to doctors with him…” “What does she do for a living?” “She’s a computer programmer. She works in the main office of the company, and they send her to different branches. She’s in contact with many well-adjusted people. The only problem, as I see it, is her obsessiveness, a kind of heightened preoccupation with money, and this alienates people; she’s a woman, you know…” “I’m asking you all these questions about Polina to find out more about your problems, Yura. What do you think her main goal is now?” “Her main goal is to get married, that is, to start all over and find a suitable prospect…” “While her husband is still alive?” “She doesn’t have any concrete plans at this point.”

36


“And in theory, I assume, the candidate should have a good salary…” “Yes, that’s the first condition. His salary should be no less than $50,000-60,000. The second condition is that he shouldn’t be an idiot, that she should be able to have interesting conversations with him. And the third is that he shouldn’t be too old, well, no older than 50.” “Maybe she has her eye on you?” “Not likely. By the look of things, she knows that I’m not planning to get divorced, though my wife is no angel.” “Let’s not get into your wife now. Is Polina a cultivated person?” “She knows literature well. The most famous writers, of course. She takes the most extreme positions.” “What do you mean?” “Well, for instance, she thinks Mayakovsky and Tsvetaeva didn’t commit suicide, but were killed by a government agency with some kind of mystical goals. In general, it reflects the kind of ravings that are in the air today. I don’t like this. It seems to me that she is easily influenced in external, abstract topics that don’t concern her personally…” “Does she want to get you involved in her search for a ‘prospect’?” “Yes. I’m a math teacher, after all. I gave private lessons at first, and then opened a mathematics school for children. A year ago, she enrolled Liza in the school.” “And that’s how you met?” “Yes.” “So how can you help her?” “Parents bring their children to me, and this includes single mothers and fathers. We have a waiting room…” “But she can meet people there without you.” “Believe it or not, despite her active nature, she is shy. And maybe she’d like to know beforehand whether it’s worth spending time with a person.” “So you play the role of her informer, her spy?” “Well, something like that, though there’s nothing shameful about bringing two people together.” “That’s true. So what happened?” “I set up a pair of dates…” “In this waiting room?”

37


“Yes, in this room. But as you know, Doctor, divorced men are generally bad prospects; they’ve failed at something or other. You don’t hire an architect to build your home if you know that his previous house collapsed.” “But people who get divorced often remarry and live very happily.” “Maybe, Doctor. But I’m talking about the rule, and you’re talking about exceptions.” “So you don’t think she’ll find someone?” “Not the kind of man she wants. I think she should just repair her life with her husband, even if he really is schizophrenic.” “Does she ever say anything positive about him?” “Yes. He is very honest, and never deceives her or anyone else. He is sensitive… It’s hard to say if this is a positive or negative trait, but he likes to read books on philosophy, history, on all sorts of fantasies, conjectures, suppositions, and then talks about them for a long time in great detail. And he has a hobby: he’s captivated with Ireland.” “A Jew captivated by Ireland?” “Yes, can you imagine? He is enchanted by their poets, writers, and philosophers. A portrait of Oscar Wilde hangs over his bed. He can talk endlessly about Ireland, and would even have liked to live there. He’s already bought a bunch of green ties.” “Did he inspire her to go along with this idea, too?” “No, Polina looks soberly and pragmatically at the world around her. But she doesn’t deny that she finds him interesting, that she can have good conversations with him, and that he stands out in comparison to the general idiocy.” “You mentioned her father…” “Yes, her father is very sick. But it seems to me that Polina creates many of her own problems. She constantly drives him to various doctors, fulfills their insane instructions painstakingly and to the letter. Her father had an operation and nearly died from it. And now his doctors schedule all sorts of procedures, millions of tests for him. For money, of course, but Polina, like a fool, believes all these doctors…” “Have you tried to dissuade her from this, tried to influence her?” “She’s very impressionable, but at the same time stubborn. I could already sense how the conversation would turn 38


out from the beginning. At first, I suggested alternatives, mostly pro forma. I’m a mathematician, after all. But I knew ahead of time that she’d do whatever she wanted anyway. By the end of the conversation, I wound up coming around to her way of thinking, rather than her to mine, you understand, Doctor?” “Well, all right. Enough about her. Do you have any hobbies?” “Yes, I do, Doctor. I collect lions.” “What do you mean, lions?” “Well, all different kinds of lions, made of different materials, different types and sizes, but not paintings depicting them.” “How long have you been collecting them?” “I started as soon as I came to Chicago, so about twentyfive years now.” “How many do you have? It must be thousands.” “You guessed it, Doctor. About two thousand lions.” “And you’re not sick of collecting them? You’re still doing it?” “Well, let me put it this way: if I see a lion at a house sale or garage sale somewhere, and I don’t have it, I buy it, usually for very little. But I don’t actively look for them.” “And how do you arrange the collection?” “We own our house. There are about three hundred lions in each room, and I keep the rest in boxes.” “Do you have something like a catalogue? How do you keep track of them?” “I draw each lion on a piece of paper the size of a 4 by 5” postcard, according to its size, and then I put the drawing in a photograph album.” “Why don’t you just photograph them?” “Lions have marvelous manes and bodies. It’s more fun to draw them than photograph them.” “And do you also collect female lions?” “No, I don’t. Only male lions. Look in front of museums, railway stations, theaters, bridges – it’s always males. Right in front of our museum there are two male lions.” “And is your wife OK with your collection?” “Yes, she’s gotten used to it. We have no dogs or cats.” “What about grandchildren? “Yes, we have grandchildren.” “Do you live happily with your wife?” 39


“Yes. We’ve already been married for forty years. I’m very attached to her. Like a dog to its master. We go everywhere together.” “OK. Now tell me in the same kind of detail what happened to you. To help you, I need to know everything: so far you’ve given me a good background.” “You see, Doctor, I didn’t seek adventures. I went to lunch with her a few times.” “With Polina?” “Well, yes.” “And what does she look like, by the way?” “She’s blonde, she wears glasses, she has a pleasant open face. She’s tall, with an average figure. She speaks with such a charming ‘oo’ drawl.” “What do you mean?” “Well, it’s when vowels are pronounced like ‘oo.’ She says ‘spoonger.” She’s from Vologda, like Shalamov. Everyone speaks like that there. And so, we were having lunch at a restaurant. And she started talking about the same things again – her husband, her father, her daughter – about all of her problems. I felt sorry for her, Doctor. I told her that she’s still not bad looking, and that it would be best for her to have a distraction… And she told me, Doctor, that she had never cheated on her husband.” “They always say that.” “Maybe. And then suddenly, almost casually, when we’d just finished our ice cream, she said that we needed to discuss this, as though I had made her some kind of offer, but I, Doctor, I was only speaking generally, you understand?” “Yura, one never speaks of such things in general terms.” “Well, I tensed up. Does she really want to discuss how much I should pay her, I thought. And she, sensing my uncertainty and hesitation, told me, as if nothing had happened, that for a long time she’d had her eye on some gold earrings with diamonds, and a gold diamond ring, like a complete set, in a certain jewelry store, but that all of this was too expensive for her. And of course, I asked her, ‘How much do they cost – a thousand dollars?’, and she answered ‘More.’ ‘Two thousand?’ ‘More.’ ‘Three thousand?’ And she nodded.” “Did she think you were a millionaire and could pay such a sum?” “That’s the thing, Doctor, that’s just what she thought. Once I advertised our school on a radio show. During the 40


interview, I blurted out that our annual income was about a million dollars to raise the prestige of the school.” “And she heard this show?” “Yes, she did. And when she brought Liza, she saw that there were about twenty students in the two classrooms. Our lessons last an hour. She knew from her bill how much a semester at our school cost. And taking into account a 40-hour workweek, our income certainly would have seemed impressive. But the problem was that we didn’t have anything close to a 40-hour workweek.” “In short, you flogged yourself, like the noncommissioned officer’s widow.” “Yes. It was too late to retreat. I said, ‘All right,’ not yet knowing what would come of this.” “How old is she?” “Thirty.” “And you?” “Sixty.” “So she took a thousand dollars for every decade of the age difference. Very clever.” “I don’t think so. I believed her story of the earrings. She’s very exacting, and ruled by mercantile rather than philosophical considerations.” “And what happened next?” “We left the restaurant and went to the car. I told her that I didn’t have that kind of money on me. And she said I could write out a check to cash. ‘Right now?,’ I asked. ‘Right now.’ I took out my checkbook, laid it on the back window of the car, wrote out a check, and gave it to her. As we drove, she looked off to the side. I felt that she was in a hurry and didn’t want to let the moment pass. ‘There should be a hotel somewhere nearby,’ she said. ‘Yes, there it is.’ “Doctor, maybe that’s enough? It’s hard for me to tell the rest – such intimate details…” “If you want me to help, you must tell me. Don’t worry. Telling your story, according to Freud, is already part of the treatment. The more detail, the better. Everything you remember. If you speak your mind, you’ll feel better.” “It was a lousy hotel. Our room was dark. We decided not to open the shades. The TV didn’t work. I went to the bathroom, and then she did. She came out naked, covered with a towel.” 41


“And where were you?” “On the bed, naturally, also undressed.” “And what happened next?” “Then I looked at her, at her body…” “And how did you like it?” “Her body was fine. I didn’t notice anything unusual. Everything was the way it should be. But the thing is, I perceived her not as a living woman, but purely visually, without any feeling, like a marble statue, cold white marble. I was very nervous. From the very beginning, I was completely aloof from her, as if I had turned into a spectator, you know, like in Brecht’s The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui. All my feelings faded and died in the first few minutes.” “Did she try to rouse you somehow, to excite your feelings?” “Yes, Doctor. She tried, she tried very hard. I lay on my spine with my eyes closed, and at that moment she made movements with the tip of her tongue, like stingers, little motions…” “And did this give you pleasure?” “It gave me very strong feelings. Each time she touched me, it was like a shock; it went right through me, passing from my body straight to my head. It gave me chills, but none of it led to normal sexual excitement…” “But you felt something, right?” “There was something exhausting about it, Doctor, something completely irrational. And it weighed on my soul. It was as if I were in some kind of cage, and I was being tortured… In the end, I couldn’t hold back and said, ‘Enough.’ We began to get dressed, and when we’d done so, I thought that with everything she did, she must have learned her technique somewhere. Doctor, have you heard of any special courses or schools for this?” “You didn’t ask her?” “No, I didn’t. I was very upset, Doctor.” “I can understand – for so much money!” “It’s not the money. I was very afraid for myself. If everything she did so expertly didn’t help me, it must mean I’m in very bad shape, right? It means the end has probably already come.”

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“Anyone could have such a reaction under these circumstances, not just you. Relax – you’re a perfectly normal, healthy man. Everything will be fine.” “Doctor, I’m not one of those men who look at women just as sperm receptacles. Although women have changed a lot.” “Everything is always changing…” “Yes, everything changes, and I’m getting older. I’m too old for these new innovative techniques.” “Did she say anything nice to you?” “Yes. She said that I had a young body and expressive eyes when I take off my glasses.” “And she bought the earrings?” “Yes, she bought those gold earrings with diamonds, and a gold ring with diamonds and a pendant – they were all part of a set. And she also bought a separate gold chain for the pendant.” “So it wasn’t all in vain for her?” “Not at all.” “Do you resent her at all?” “No, Doctor. Everyone lives his own life. I’m just sorry for her. Do you know what I call her, to myself?” “What?” “My Lolita.” Chapter 7

Behind Gates “I’m reading a book by Kaminsky. You’d find this interesting. He’s a director who started out as a critic. He insists that he was the first person Elena Sergeevna, Bulgakov’s widow, showed the whole novel, the whole manuscript.” “The Master and Margarita?” “Yes. Later, when the novel had already come out in the 1960s, none of the old goats were still around, so he, still very young then, was ordered – not asked but precisely ordered – to write a review of the novel. The way it worked out was that the editor ordered him to Moscow from the province where he worked at the time and kept him in his office, nearly under house arrest. He wrote the review in two months under the watchful eye of the editor…” “And what did he write?” 43


“They expected him to write a review that, even if it was not scathing – it was already a bit late to write a scathing one – at least one with a catch, a fly in the ointment.” “And the poor guy, remembering Elena Sergeevna, refused point blank to fulfill the editor’s will, and the article therefore was not published…” “No, you guessed wrong. To this day he can’t forgive himself for a couple of negative comments they squeezed out of him against his will, but in general the article was favorable, and it was published. The book also covered many other topics, including the theater. He also found the leading lights, many of whom he knew and worked with, still alive… Thanks for calling. Aside from showering, I’ve been painting the whole day.” “And what were you working on today?” “I got a commission for a mural for the Veterans’ Hospital in Baltimore.” “Haven’t you already done something for them?” “Yes. They’ve planned a diorama…” “Like in Sevastopol?” “Yes, something like that. On a smaller scale, though. The theme is the role of doctors in American wars starting with the Civil War. I painted this, then World War I, then World War II, and now I’m working on the Korean War. They have experts who confirm the veracity of what’s portrayed. They study tons of material – archival documents, historical works – painstakingly, in detail, so that everything is consistent and also politically correct, as is the custom now.” “And how does this affect you?” “It affects me very directly. They request an exact correspondence of black and white, women and men, and different ages. They want the landscape to correspond to those who were in Korea, not Hawaii or some other place. The weapons, tanks, armored cars, and the snow and trees, and the hills have to be just as they were in Korea, so that it isn’t kitschy.” “And what exactly is in this painting?” “The plots all resemble each other: a white medical assistant is bandaging a wounded black man, just carried from the field of battle. That’s the plot. And far away, a destroyed North Korean tank with a star gives off smoke…” “Did they order the subject, too?” “Of course. Everything down to the last detail.” “And you follow all of their orders?” 44


“I have to. I’m paid good money for it.” “But what if you can’t paint something, you just can’t – sometimes this happens – then that’s that?” “This happened when I painted the first mural, of the Civil War. They unearthed the fact that one of the field orderlies was an Abyssinian slave. He distinguished himself in some way. They suggested the following subject: a white, wounded Northerner is wheeled on a cart, and this slave is supporting his head, calming him… And in the background, a battle, with a heap of dead and wounded men, and dead horses with their insides ripped up, and cannons. That’s the kind of chaos they wanted, under a blue sky and bright sun, with a river flowing nearby. I told them that the slave did not fit in, that the whole color and artistic composition cried out against him and the cart. And I convinced them that it wouldn’t work out.” “So what did you paint instead?” “I painted the usual thing, a sort of encampment with multitudes of wounded men being bandaged right on the field, with all the other wartime accoutrements. But the trick was that after the panel was mounted on the wall in the hospital lobby, they brought in an actual cart and put it in front of the painting – with a sculpture of this slave! That’s how it turned out.” “Do you get many commissions?” “Well, I also have one for the Vietnam War. I may get one for the Persian Gulf War, too, but there were very few casualties there. They haven’t decided yet.” “And what will you paint after the diorama?” “My agent is negotiating a project in Las Vegas. The ceiling in the ‘Phoenix’ casino needs to be decorated. But I’d have to stay there for several months.” “Nothing wrong with that. Michelangelo spent several years painting the Sistine Chapel. So what did they commission from you?” “Dinosaurs. Enormous ones. They like everything big there. As big as possible.” “Just dinosaurs?” “Dinosaurs running, fighting, eating other animals, ripping coconuts from the trees…” “And are they also insisting that everything be accurate?” “Just the opposite. They told me, ‘paint it however you want, as long as it’s dinosaurs.’ That’s just why I like the project.” “And will Sveta allow you to go?” 45


“That’s just the problem. You understand – it’s Las Vegas, but she doesn’t want to leave her job. But we’ll see… And what’s new with you?” “I’ve been talking with the director by phone often.” “When is the premiere?” “In a month and a half.” “Is he from St. Petersburg?” “Yes.” “What’s his name?” “His name is Fyodor Mikhailovich Zelenogorov – same name and patronymic as Dostoevsky. I’ve mentioned him before. Yulia and I met him, and we talked for four hours. He’s a handsome, imposing man.” “What have you been discussing with him?” “He does most of the talking, and I listen. As the premiere approaches, he gradually, stealthily departs farther from what I wrote, like the soldier who promised the woman to make borscht from an axe. There’s less and less of my material, and more and more of his, though the text is about the same. But you know, I find it interesting anyway, terribly interesting. He’s certainly a very talented, intelligent person.” “I also worked with a brilliant director once, Yasha Kreutzer, although of course I did so as an artist, not a writer. I worked on two of his productions in Yakutsk: The Storm and Masquerade. The Storm was quite successful. For Kreutzer, the ‘conception’ was the main thing. Do you remember when we wrote the composition, ‘A Ray of Light in the Kingdom of Darkness’? The opposition of good and evil. Generosity and money-grubbing. Purity and obscurantism. Love and vice. But this wasn’t the main thing for Yasha. He searched the text for a small, completely unnoticeable detail he could pick up and use to develop a whole new concept. He showed me the part of the play where Kuligin, the local sage, says that they are all provincial people, from the backwoods, living behind their fences, behind their gates, and that nobody knows their lives, hidden, concealed from the whole world. Our task, Yasha said, was to peep into their souls. He said: ‘Let’s put enormous gates all around the stage, with rivets, bolts, locks, greased, covered in soot, just as they look on our streets in Yakutsk. And let’s make little cracks in the gate, so that you can stick a finger through, but not a fist. And let’s put all the action, all these monks, merchants, tradesmen, this whole gang with Kabanikha behind these gates…’ ‘And Katerina, too?’ 46


‘Katerina too.’ ‘But nothing will be visible…’ ‘Yes, it will. We’ll add lighting, and put in a mirror. No curtain. We’ll use collapsible gates. The scenery will also be behind gates, only fewer. We’ll enclose them in this space, deprive them of air, so that only their eyes are visible behind the cracks in the gates, so that they’re only performing with their eyes…’ It was an unbelievable production. We performed it throughout the Soviet Union. We received an award.” “What about Masquerade?” “I designed the mask for the stage, but we didn’t have as much success. Yasha made Arbenin an unmasker, a fighter for justice. He saw Lermontov himself in Arbenin, an isolated rebel, a dissident. That’s just what he told the actors: ‘Pretend to be Sakharov!’” “What was it like to work then? Was it difficult? I mean in terms of creative freedom, with the constant ideological pressure.” “Believe it or not, it was not very difficult. You were required to put on three plays a season: one contemporary play, about workers and peasants, one classic, and one foreign play in translation.” “Was Shakespeare also considered foreign?” “Yes. If you put on Shakespeare, then you had used up your limit for foreign plays. The artistic councils, censors, and party officials interfered, of course, but in such a way that Yasha Kreutzer was always able to get around all obstacles and do pretty much anything he liked. Almost anything.” “And was there enough money for the productions?” “The Ministry gave us everything we requested for The Storm. We needed to economize a bit on some things, of course, but we managed.” “And what was the salary like – yours and the actors’?” “What would we possibly need? We were given housing. I was given a contract for temporary work as an artist in two or three theaters for several months until I fulfilled all their commissions.” “So you could have two or three salaries at once?” “Yes indeed. Maybe not for all twelve months of the year, but for two or three seasons. But in general, we lived for our work, for the theater. Everything was about the theater, all of life flowed through it.” “What about love?” 47


“There were many loves. We loved everybody.” “What do you mean, everybody?” “What else was there to do there? Imagine what it was like in Yakutsk – 20 below zero, everything buried under snow. Dark early. Barely any lights. Frost so bad it seems to ring in your ears. Your spit freezes in the air. Outside the theater, nothing but night, darkness, and chimney smoke… stars like Easter eggs… a moon like a bride… You’d walk through the snow in felt boots…” “With a girl?” “Of course. I never slept alone.” “Was she wearing felt boots too?” “Yes.” “And where did you go?” “Either to her place or mine.” “So were all of them unmarried?” “Yes, they were all girls just out of theater schools or institutes. We’d go straight to the kitchen and turn on all the burners. I’d take off her boots and leggings, then her kapron leggings…” “Made of rubber?” “Of course they were made of rubber, not like today’s pantyhose. There was nothing erotic about them.” “Did you take off her stockings, too?” “No, what’s the rush? Remember: in Chekhov the gun goes off in the last act, not the first. We’d prepare supper. Drink some vodka, sit at the table for a while letting the frost thaw, warm ourselves up. Turn on the radio.” “Did you dance?” “Why not? We’d cling together, her breasts would press against me through a woolen shawl… We’d dance to some kind of slow tango or blues…” “And with a different girl every day?” “It depends. But we never wanted to insult the girls, make them feel lonely. You wouldn’t want them to pine away.” “So what happened next? After the dancing?” “Well, that’s pretty clear…” “Were the girls all different?” “They were all different, and in some ways the same: naïve, inexperienced, and genuinely kind. They were unselfish and modest… They didn’t play games in bed…” “Do they all blend into one face for you? Or do you remember each of them?” 48


“I remember every one of them. They were at the theater every day. I loved many of them, but none much more than the others. But Yasha did…” “Katerina of The Storm?” “You guessed it! She was a real star – in films, and known throughout the Soviet Union. She came to us from Moscow to visit Yasha. Dropped everything and came to Yakutsk, with its frost and snow.” “And she performed there, behind the gates?” “Yes. Can you imagine her enormous, wonderful eyes, sparkling through the cracks? I can’t even believe that this all happened.” “And what did Yasha look like?” “A typical red-haired Jew from Podol. Kind of mopheaded. He reminded me a bit of Meyerhold.” “And she loved him?” “Of course, to act so wonderfully… She worshipped Yasha… She left her husband and two children in Moscow to visit us.” “And then she left?” “We scheduled the performances of The Storm so that Masha could visit Moscow three or four times a year plus summers when the theater season was over. She rushed back and forth like this three years in a row, while The Storm was playing.” “And after that?” “After that, Yasha died of a heart attack at 36.” “And did you stay in Yakutsk?” “After he died, I returned to Leningrad. We lived there without our father, and our mother became very ill. Kidneys. I came back, and could not find a position anywhere for half a year. During that time, I went gray. Then, I worked job to job, with commissions from different theaters, but it was nothing like it had been with Yasha.” “How old were you when you returned to Leningrad?” “I was thirty years old then.” Chapter 8

For a Few Minutes… “I didn’t want to leave the envelope under the door…” “Are you in a hurry? Would you like to come in?” 49


“Yes, I’m really in a hurry. But I could stay for a few minutes…” “Do you want tea? Something to eat?” “No, thank you; I don’t want anything.” “Well, sit down, please.” “You have such a beautiful table… such nice glasses…” “I prepared them for the day after tomorrow.” “What is this big glass?” “Tanya and I bought them. A whole set – twelve glasses. Do you like them?” “It’s an interesting shape. And they’re green… Are they for wine?” “No, they are for punch or something else flaming… So, tell me: are you happy?” “Why are you asking straight out like that? What about you – are you happy?” “Don’t think that just because I’m here, alone in my house, that I must be lonely and unhappy. I like my solitude. I do whatever I want. This is solitude and freedom: I don’t need permission for anything. I wanted to set the table, so I set it. People aren’t coming until the day after tomorrow, but I’ve already set it today. And I have friends, and quite a few of them. I like this kind of life!” “Tanya said pretty much the same thing. But I didn’t believe it and I still don’t. Since I left…” “Left? I kicked you out!” “All right, let’s say ‘kicked me out.’ Nevertheless, I still feel guilty…” “No need to…” “But it’s not you that I feel sorry for… It’s the children. However you spin it, they’ve lost their father…” “Why? They love you. Sasha loves you very much – maybe more than me.” “Say what you like, but when there’s no father, there’s no real family the way it should be, with a father there every day, morning and night…” “You don’t need to blame yourself. All of this was to my benefit. I became a different person, without looking back at you – absolutely independent and self-sufficient. This is very important. I’ve changed completely, just as I’ve completely forgiven you, completely and forever.” “Tanya told me this, too, and I didn’t believe it…” 50


“Why not? You overvalue your own importance. You get this from your mother. She thought she should control everyone: her husband, you, me, the whole world. She was a megalomaniac, simply a megalomaniac…” “Yes, she was that way, and so am I. I know I’m a megalomaniac.” “You need treatment.” “You psychiatrists always want to treat everybody… You think everyone around you is insane!” “Yes, that’s the nature of the profession – nothing you can do about it. It’s hard to believe, but there are no normal people on earth. What is driving you? Why are you rushing about like this? All of this isn’t easy for you, I guess, and you’re not as young as you used to be, although you look good. I’d even say you look great – fresh and well fed. Do you play any sports?” “Not regularly. I used to ski, and was active in general. But now I’ve given everything up.” “Now there’s your problem. You’re all shut up in your mania.” “Yes, you like to be alone at home, planting flowers. And I like to do what I do. I can’t imagine any other life.” “Does your writing help you materially?” “No. I only have losses from it at this stage. But that’s life. People eat, drink, go to Las Vegas, go on cruises, to Mexico, to the Dominican Republic, they buy all kinds of antiques, the way you do. Like this little table, right?” “It’s a French table. Tanya and I bought it on sale in Louisiana… Do you like it?” “I’m interested in people, not things.” “I’m also interested in people…” “There’s that ‘also.’ But for me, nothing besides people is interesting. I couldn’t care less about tables, ottomans, mirrors… Take this mirror, for example. It’s in the style of… what’s it called, I forget…” “Art-deco. We bought it…” “Right, Art-deco.” “But you didn’t answer my question.” “What question?” “Are you happy?” “I don’t need a psychiatrist. I’m satisfied with everything. Are you?” “I am too.” 51


“That’s good. So we’re both happy.” “Nevertheless, it seems to me that something is gnawing at you, that you are unsatisfied about something. How should I put this? You seem so ill-tempered, so aggressive. You didn’t use to be like this.” “Do you want me to tell you a story?” “From long ago?” “No, this happened not long ago at all.” “When did it happen?” “A few days ago.” “Go ahead.” “There was a little box on the kitchen table…” “You have a table like mine? Like this one here?” “No, we also have a table in the middle of the kitchen. You can get a separate table now.” “Do you have a big kitchen?” “Yes, we do. We ordered this table in Wisconsin, from a good cabinetmaker.” “I see. So you specially ordered it from Wisconsin for your home. What color is the kitchen?” “Like this one. Light beige.” “What kind of wood is the table?” “Oak.” “Oh, that’s an expensive kitchen. What kind of surface does it have?” “Everything is marble.” “I see, I see. OK, continue. So the box was on the kitchen table.” “It was a candy box. Not very big at all – maybe four by eight inches. Not flat but tall, and tied with a gold ribbon.” “With a bow?” “Yes. How did you guess?” “That’s what you usually do with gift boxes.” “Yes, that’s just the thing – it was a gift box. It looked just like that. It had already been lying on the table for four days. Nobody but I was in the kitchen. I poured a cup of tea. I decided to take off the ribbon, open the box, and try the candy.” “So it was a box of candy?” “Well, yes, it said ‘Chocolate’ on it, and also ‘Made in France.’” “So it was French chocolate, not Swiss?”

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“No, it was definitely French. So I opened the box. I saw the chocolates separated by plastic layers, four sections to a slab, but large and thick, and different colors – white, light brown, dark brown. It occurred to me that this was some kind of unusual chocolate, even strange, but I quickly drove this thought away, took out a slab from the plastic layers, and sunk my teeth into a dark brown section.” “And then what?” “From the first moment, I was struck by a strange, disgusting flavor, like nothing I’d ever tasted – very bitter! The awful stuff got stuck in my teeth. Fortunately, I hadn’t swallowed it yet, and I ran to the sink thinking that I’d better spit it all out right away and rinse my mouth. You know, I panic easily…” “No, I’ve never noticed that quality in you.” “This taste went to my head. My blood rushed to my head, and I felt as if I were about to lose consciousness, and these purely physical sensations were accompanied by… it’s as if they were accompanied by thoughts.” “So you were still conscious.” “Yes, I was. The thoughts ran through me on their own; I couldn’t control them. They seemed to rip through my swelling head, one after the other and all together.” “My God, what thoughts?” “That terrorists were poisoning me, a Highland Park Jew with a typical Jewish name, with cyanide or something like that, hidden in chocolate. That I would die this very second, like Goering. But for some reason I wasn’t dying immediately, and this meant I would suffer for a long time, or perhaps I would survive because I hadn’t swallowed it?! I rinsed my mouth, probably for about ten minutes, spitting and clearing my throat as I never had before in my life. My insides felt twisted; I was nauseous…” “Did you throw up? Did you stick two fingers down your throat to induce vomiting?” “No, I didn’t. I waited for the rush to my head to stop. This really disturbed me. It seemed to me that it was the most important symptom. I knew that if it passed, then I would live, since nothing had gotten into my stomach.” “And?” “Everything passed little by little, though the taste remained.” “So then what?”

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“I went back to the box and began to look it over very carefully. I turned it over and read the label on the other side, and saw that it was soap!!!” “What? It was soap?” “Yes! Chocolate soap, cut into pieces, slabs.” “Why was there soap on your kitchen table?” “I started thinking, trying to remember… And I recalled that we were at her relatives’. We were playing lottery. Everyone was given folded pieces of paper with numbers on them, and each of us got a present. Then I understood that this damn box had gotten into our home as our winnings.” “You didn’t know that it was soap?” “We were there with our children and my in-laws. Any one of us could have won this box, but even if it was me, so what? It was still wrapped.” “And then what happened?” “My mother-in-law was home. I burst into her room and started a huge argument. At first I very calmly asked her if she knew what was in the box. She answered that it was soap. Then I asked her if the others knew it was soap. She said everyone knew, and was surprised that I didn’t. And I asked her how I was supposed to know that. Wouldn’t someone have had to tell me for me to know? But no one said anything. And the main thing: what was a box of soap doing on the kitchen table?! I shouted as if I’d been wounded. I yelled that I could have gotten a heart attack from the fear, the panic, from such stress. I could have died just like that, and the children would have been left orphans. I then roared that I despised all her relatives, separately and taken together, that they were nobodies, barbarians, that I’d never set foot in their house again, that I never wanted to see them again, that I’d married her daughter, not her family.” “But are they really that bad?” “They’re the same kind of dull, gray, muddy mass as the soap. No, they’re not bad people – some of them are better than others. They live normal lives, with their useless, empty, mindless cares, without goals, soulless, vain, like ants… It’s horrible…” “But you don’t talk to them every day, do you?” “That’s right. But you know, there’s the question of genetics. Genetics are a great and frightening matter. Your genes sit inside you like sardines in a tin, and you can’t hide from them. You can’t just say ‘I’ll pass you by and find another,’ like in the 54


song. You can learn, get a good education, get married, have children and grandchildren, have a good job, but you’ll never escape your genes! Never! Do you understand?” “And your wife has these genes?” “They grazed her, touched her, got caught on her. But luckily, she left home very early, and lived apart from them from the age of sixteen. So she didn’t experience the full impact of these genes.” “Do you love her?” “She’s the person I’m closest to on earth.” “Does she support all your interests? What does she think of all your trips and expenses?” “She got married to a doctor. Well, I wrote poetry, all my collections came out when I was with her. She probably thought that it would all… pass…” “She wasn’t prepared for what’s happening now?” “But was I prepared for it? I also didn’t know this would happen, couldn’t predict it. Well, when you get married at my age, and you have children, this happens…” “As much as you want it to…” “But not this often. She was prepared for this, but not for everything else.” “What, that you’re so much older?” “She went into everything consciously, although she now says she often envies you that you live alone, without me and all my constant, stupid preoccupation with trifles – this isn’t right, that’s not right – without all my old man grouchiness and daily quarrels… No, I swear, she really envies you…” “And are you ready for sickness, for death?” “What do you mean, am I ready?” “I told Sasha to do what he had to, if need be, so that I wouldn’t suffer. I’m already prepared for this.” “And he promised to do it?” “Yes, he did. He said he’d do what was needed. And I also requested that I be cremated and the ashes be scattered here, over my flowers.” “Can you really do that here?” “Yes, you can. They give you an urn with the ashes, and you can do whatever you like with it.” “I’m not sure. I think there should be a burial place somewhere, some kind of legal trace; something with your name should stand in a columbarium.” 55


“I don’t know. I think the children should do what you ask them to do. What about you?” “What do you mean, me?” “What do you prefer?” “I hadn’t thought about it. You know, the mystery of creation is the greatest of mysteries. I live by this. I wrote a poem just yesterday. Want me to read it?” “Go ahead.” Reflection. Reverberation. Repercussion Darkness, emptiness. A purple coffin on wheels. Devastation, dreams. Shadows fully overturned And black crepe in the windows. A cataphalque, lying in the cradle. Ravings. “Very gloomy and depressing. You need an effexor prescription.” “Treat your schizophrenics, and leave me alone.” “You’re trying to escape the inescapable, the inevitable.” “God gives one person a voice, someone else beauty or some kind of talent. Each of us is given something by God – each of us! You only need to be able to make use of it, to open it in yourself, to feel it…” “But the end comes for everyone…” “I don’t think about this, though we all think of death.” Chapter 9

“On the Hills of Georgia Lies the Night Darkness” “I’ll probably leave for the day. No calls. Who needs a doctor on New Year’s Eve?” “What were you doing here, anyway? Were you making calls yourself?” “Yes, I was making calls and thinking.” “I won’t ask who you were calling. But what were you thinking about? In your place I’d be lying on Sasha’s massage table – he has such a gentle touch. I’d close my eyes and 56


immediately fall asleep, vanish, and have a New Year’s dream, like the girl in The Nutcracker.” “Of some kind of prince?” “Yes, maybe. Why can’t I have a dream about a prince?” “You can not only dream of one, but even meet him in person, tomorrow morning at 9:00. He’s already made an appointment with me…” “OK, enough joking. Instead, tell me what you were thinking about. How we could get more patients?” “No, actually something completely different. I was thinking about matter.” “But the patients themselves are a matter – for you, for me, for our families, for Sasha… The most important kind of matter.” “No, I was thinking of matter in a physical sense, as particles. And also about anti-matter.” “‘I should have your problems, Mr. Teacher.’ We leave you alone in the office for one day, and instead of…” “But nobody called, so why shouldn’t I think? You know that there are two opposing views on this. Some say that 90% of our universe is composed of matter and 10% of anti-matter; others think the universe, on the contrary only consists of 10% matter and 90% anti-matter.” “And what difference does that make for us?” “If we and our patients are only 10%, and the anti-matter is 90%, then we are in the minority, which is somewhat scary. I don’t want to live and exist in such a hostile environment.” “Why ‘hostile’?” “Because the collision of particles of matter and antimatter, like a plus and a minus, leads to their mutual annihilation, that is, their destruction.” “And if the anti-matter is the smaller part?” “Then it’s easier to live and breathe. But there’s also the view that we just don’t know how much of it is anti-matter. We can’t identify it, find it, or see it.” “Why not, doesn’t it radiate light?” “There’s the theory that during the Big Bang a unique quantity of particles formed: matter and anti-matter. But then, for some reason, matter expanded – if we’re thinking about the more favorable model of the universe – and light became part of the

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surrounding world, and the main source of our cognition. But you know, the whole time we’re looking at the past.” “Why the past?” “Because light requires time to get to us. It takes from a half-second to a second for it to reach us from the moon, depending on its orbit, eight and a half minutes from the sun, four years from Centaur, the alpha star closest to the Solar System, and two and a half billion years from Andromeda, which is from a different galaxy. That means the image signal in our retina and brain is anywhere from milliseconds to two and a half billion years behind in perceiving objects.” “Perhaps Andromeda is not even here yet.” “Maybe not.” “Who wrote The Andromeda Nebula? Bradbury? Clark?” “Ivan Efremov.” “So it turns out that we’re always late?” “As far as our consciousness goes, we’re always in the past, because even from the closest source of light, it still hasn’t gotten to us yet, and some amount of time has to pass before we see and sense it.” “And if you take my hand in the darkness?” “Darkness has nothing to do with this. Tactile, aural, and visual impulses take much longer to pass through us than the speed of light; there’s no comparison between them. And our reception of these impulses is delayed, postponed, late.” “And if you hold my hand constantly, for a lo-o-ong time in the darkness?” “During the eight years we’ve worked together, I’ve never once held your hand in the darkness…” “And if you kiss me, that’s very close to the mind, isn’t it?” “Nevertheless, some time still passes.” “And if it’s… if it’s lovemaking, then what?” “It still takes time for all our sensations to be transmitted to our mind… Everything we do is in the past… We are always behind, and therefore it’s simply senseless to curse out a person for being late.” “And if it starts in the brain itself, for instance the thought, ‘I’m thirsty,’ is this also in the past? Does a thought work the same way as light? Faster? Slower?” “You’ve hit the nail on the head. That’s exactly what I was thinking about today.” “You’ve had to time to think over quite a lot…” 58


“Thought, consciousness – in the grand scheme of things, this is the main difference between the organic and the inorganic. Light, as the result of all these explosions and nuclear reactions, is a characteristic of inorganic matter. Now, I just had a thought: what if I stretch out my hand and turn off the light. I just did this; you heard the click over the telephone. I turned off the light in my office, and it’s now dark, completely dark. I overcame light; my thought defeated light. We are stronger than light! And you know, this is exactly the reason we are mortal.” “What’s the connection between light and death?” “Humans and their consciousness are a product of the evolution of inorganic matter, and this inorganic matter – light – can’t be reconciled with the fact that we can turn it off, and it kills us for that, turning us into inorganic matter, returning us to the unliving, ‘putting us in our place.’” “And how does it kill us?” “With gravity, I think, which is of the same nature as light.” “You mean if there were no gravity, we wouldn’t die?” “As long as the universe exists, so will gravity.” “The things you think about – so terrifying… But what about love and passion? You write poetry, after all…” “I used to, but I don’t anymore. And for me, love and passion, like everything else, is in the past.” “Why did you stop writing poetry?” “To stop writing poetry is to stop living. Something within you is ripped out. Precisely within you. How do composers work? They need a libretto, a text. Glinka took Pushkin’s poem ‘I Recall a Wondrous Moment,’ and set it to music. Notice that there’s not a trace of reality in this poem. Everything is invented, interior, abstract. The real A. P. Kern is only a hook, a hint, a puff of wind. Pushkin showed her the poem in Mikhailovsky Park. They met. There were probably old trees, oaks one or two hundred years old, a little road, the sun was shining, and shadows fell from the trees. None of this was inside Pushkin. This is how poetry differs from prose: something burns inside you – ‘the flame of desire seethes in my blood” – but if there is no flame, and everything has burned out, been cut short, cooled off like logs in the fireplace, faded and died, then you are finished as a poet. Even Pushkin…” “What do you mean, even Pushkin? Did he stop writing poetry?” 59


“He stopped writing lyric poems, love lyrics. Remember ‘My fate is decided: I am getting married…’? The quantity of lyric poems after his marriage dropped sharply. It’s a good thing he was able to finish the most lyrical of his works, Eugene Onegin, before ‘the big event’ took place. Of course, he wrote more lyric poetry of genius – ‘It’s time, my friend, it’s time,’ ‘Madonna,’ ‘Autumn’ – but I’d say these poems were written under an inverse sign. Because they were no longer about love or passion, but rather nostalgia: a eulogy to love, passion, and – this is the main thing – youth. They’re brilliant eulogies, to be sure. ‘Autumn’ was written in 1833. It’s probably his greatest lyric poem. The flame burning within you gives you strength, a kind of additional superenergy, it gives you the possibility of accomplishing the unimaginable. You turn around and look at your activities, your deeds, and you think: ‘How did I accomplish all of this?’” “Do you have in mind some kind of concrete ‘unimaginable accomplishment’?” “Do you have time? You don’t need to make lunch, fry some cutlets?” “No, my lunch is already prepared.” “Then let me tell you a story. By the way, Pushkin plays a direct role in it. It’s about my love for a woman – a married woman.” “Were you her lover?” “Yes, I was. She and her husband went to Pitsunda, and like a genuine lover, I told her that I would go see her there.” “With her husband there? That’s very dangerous!” “That’s exactly why I said I’d go.” “Were you young and fiery then?” “Not very young, and not very fiery either. I did everything spontaneously, without putting much thought into it. She was planning to stay in Pitsunda all of July, and I could fly there sometime between July 15-25.” “Where is Pitsunda – in Georgia?” “Yes, it’s in Georgia, in Abkhazia. About 20 miles from Gagra. We couldn’t call each other there, so we made an arrangement: the day I could arrive, she would stay at the beach until 1:00 in the afternoon, near the fourth building and close to the water. There were eight six-story buildings there. To make it easier for me to find her, she was supposed to take a ‘Spidola’ radio and put it to her left.” “And without the ‘Spidola’ you couldn’t find her?” 60


“It’s very hot at 1:00 in Pitsunda. She couldn’t lie there waiting for me without head-covering. She would have gotten sunstroke.” “Couldn’t you tell by her swimsuit, her straw hat, and of course her body?” “Other women could have the same swimsuit, and definitely the same hat. And I still didn’t know her body that well – she wasn’t my wife.” “Wasn’t her husband lying next to her?” “That’s just the thing – he was.” “Did he know you? Were you friends?” “I don’t sleep with my friends’ wives. Her husband had only seen me a couple of times, but of course he would have recognized me if I appeared right before his eyes. I needed to disguise myself somehow, in a straw hat and dark glasses, and otherwise look like everyone else, so as not to attract attention to myself.” “You mean wear a swimsuit?” “Yes. And in any case, whether I was wearing a swimsuit or not, I was supposed to come up to her, or rather slowly walk past her, as if I were looking for a spot on the beach, and recite Pushkin’s line ‘On the hills of Georgia lies the night darkness…’ That was our password. I flew out on July 20, on the first morning flight. At 11:00 I was in Adler. I took a taxi, and arrived at Pitsunda in an hour. Have you ever been there?” “No, never.” “It’s paradise, a divine place. Does the date July 20 mean anything to you?” “No.” “On July 20, 1969, the Americans landed on the moon.” “Did you really fly to Pitsunda on that very day?” “Exactly that day. Of course I didn’t specially plan it. It just worked out that way by chance. As Blok wrote, ‘Chance lies in wait for us all.’ I asked the taxi driver to wait for me at the stop near the beach. After changing into my swimsuit and leaving my clothes in the taxi, I went to the beach. The weather was wonderful. Dead calm. The familiar smell of pine trees.” “Had you been to Pitsunda many times before?” “Yes, it was my favorite place. She went there with her husband on my money. So, I saw her right away. He was next to her. I tried to remain calm, but my heart beat violently. I stood by the water, pondering how to go up to her, and then I started off. I 61


walked, weaving my way through bodies. They were lying pretty far from the water. It was obvious that when they arrived, all the spots near the water had already been taken. As I walked, I prayed that he would not get up. I think he was sleeping, his face hidden under his hat. I approached her, bent down as if I were tying my shoelaces, and whispered almost in her ear, ‘On the hills of Georgia lies the night darkness…’ I continued walking without turning around. Then I turned toward the sea, walking along the shore. I felt like everyone on the beach was watching me. I forced myself to turn around. She was walking about twenty or thirty steps behind me. I stopped, took off my hat, put on a rubber swimming cap, and not taking off my sunglasses, went into the water. She told me, in the sea, that the Americans had landed on the moon and had already returned safely. Now it was my turn to do so. We swam up to the buoys, and then turned back toward the shore. There were fewer people in the water now: everyone was leaving the beach. We stopped, feeling the bottom with our feet. I turned her around with her back to me, and we did what I had gone there to do.” “Weren’t you afraid that her husband would look for her?” “Yes, I was, and therefore we did it very quickly. She swam to the shore, and I stayed in the water for a few more minutes.” “And you didn’t see her any more?” “No. I returned to the taxi stop. The driver was sleeping in the cab. I woke him and we drove back to Alder. At 4:00, I got on a plane and was back home by 7:00.” “Her husband didn’t look for her?” “No, he woke up and sat there waiting for her to come out of the water.” Chapter 10

Can You Lend It To Me? “I asked him if he had read Chapaev and Pustota. He said that he hadn’t. Then I asked him if he had read any Pelevin at all. And he said that he hadn’t.” “How long had he been in America?” “Twenty-two years.”

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“And is whether he’s read Pelevin as important as whether he gives you orgasms?” “What if he doesn’t? What’s the use if he only has biceps? But he pretends that he’s smart, that he knows everything.” “Do you ever go out with him? Have you gone to see The Pianist?” “No, I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ll go.” “Does he like to go to the movies?” “We haven’t gone to one yet.” “Where do you go?” “He’s introduced me to his friends.” “Where?” “We went to one of their homes.” “What did you do there?” “Nothing.” “To celebrate a saint’s day?” “Yes. We sat around, drank, shot the breeze. It was such stinking talk. Someone bought something, sold something, stocks, here and there. All kinds of nonsense. It was disgusting. We ate and drank a lot. And then we left.” “And where did he take you then? To a hotel?” “Not at all. He took me to his home.” “And then what?” “Nothing.” “What do you mean, nothing?” “Just what I said, nothing.” “He wasn’t able to?” “Well, he could do something – he puttered about, fidgeted here and there, but it didn’t make me feel anything one way or another.” “What do you mean?” “Well, there was something. All kinds of fussing about, nonsense, but not sex.” “So you’re not interested in him in any way?” “That’s right. He has nothing going on in his head, or below. You wouldn’t see anything in someone like that either.” “Is he rich at all?” “Kind of. He has a nice house. Stylish furniture. Great acoustics. A plasma TV that takes up half a wall. Just like in a store.” “They don’t make plasma TVs like that yet.”

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“Well, I don’t know. He said that all the equipment cost him $30,000.” “Together with the shelves?” “Everything.” “Did you watch porn together?” “No, just Pretty Woman. He likes Julia Roberts.” “So what do you think you’ll do?” “I don’t know. He lives far away, God knows where.” “What area?” “Somewhere near Aurora. An hour away from Chicago, and an hour and a half from me. I got really carsick. And he works on weekends. It’s impossible to go out anywhere. On weekdays I also work like a dog. I come home at 7:00.” “And what about your ex?” “He used to pick up the kids on weekends, but since he remarried…” “He doesn’t take them anymore?” “The kids told me they don’t want to go to his house.” “So there’s no way out.” “Sometimes my mother stays with them.” “And do you have an eye on anyone else?” “Oh, these men. They’re completely beaten down. And it’s annoying that I worked myself to death for Grisha.” “And you weren’t able to see through him before?” “Oh, he was always whining about everything: his boss is shit, there’s nothing but anti-Semites all around.” “Anti-Semites?” “Oh yes. Do you think there are no anti-Semites here?” “Maybe in general, but I’d think there aren’t that many at work. Did you believe everything he said?” “Yes, I did. All of it. He spoke so firmly, so persuasively about everything. I even felt sorry for him. They stifle the poor guy: they don’t advance him or raise his salary. Then he took computer programming courses. Whatever he tries, nothing works out. Then I found out that his friend Valera wrote his programs in these courses, and he turned out completely incapable of doing it.” “But the children are his?” “Of course they are. Whose else would they be?” “But it’s still more interesting to be with him than some plasma guy, right? At least he’s read Pelevin.”

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“So what? How can you just slave away all the time, whether you’re a girl or a guy?” “But he found someone anyway.” “She’s a total fool. Some people told me she was with ten, twenty or thirty men before him.” “And how many times has she been married?” “Twice. She has a son from her first marriage and a daughter from her second. She works with Dina.” “Kalyagina?” “Yes. And she went on a business trip to Arizona with her.” “When, recently?” “Yes, just three weeks ago.” “So what happened?” “They stayed in a hotel, as usual.” “And?” “There were two of them and eight guys.” “What was it, a seminar?” “Yes, a seminar to raise your qualifications. Remember, like in Russia?” “And?” “So all eight of the guys were with her in those three weeks.” “Are you joking? Did she think he couldn’t find out what happened?” “I didn’t hear this directly from Dina. She told Irka Gelfand, who told Kostik, and then Kostik told me.” “And what about you? Will you tell him everything?” “No need to. Let him eat his own shit.” “But he could get a disease and die from such a whore.” “I didn’t choose her for him. If a chick is so whacked out on sex, there’s nothing you can do for her.” “But does he like being with her?” “I don’t know. I only know one thing – he doesn’t satisfy her.” “You can’t satisfy such women. They’re insatiable.” “Well, fuck him. Just tell me what I should do with this new guy.” “Throw him out on his ass. Find yourself someone closer to home. Don’t make any big plans. Take it easy. Go to the movies, spend a little time doing something. You have your Pelevin, right?” 65


“Of course.” “Can you lend it to me?” Chapter 11

An Invitation to Tea “You have a lovely home! Such high ceilings – just like a cathedral! And what a luxurious kitchen. Little cabinets, just like ours. How long have you lived in this house now?” “Two years.” “So you moved to a new one?” “Yes, this is a new development. All the houses are new, but they already need to be whitewashed. You see, we already marked where we need to smear on some paint… Want me to show you the sauna in the basement?” “I never go to saunas. I remember how after the war we returned to Kharkov and went to the bathhouse on Lermontov Street – my father, my brother and I. I was nine years old. We stopped at some place where nothing and no one could be seen because of the steam. I could barely breathe. I instinctively lay on the floor and didn’t get up until my brother and papa had washed themselves, and then I went into a squatting position. After that, I never went to a bathhouse or a sauna again, although I know our friends get together to steam themselves and drink beer at a bathhouse on Dempster.” “I go to the sauna every week. I feel great afterwards. It’s good exercise for the whole week. The most important thing in the sauna is the stove.” “And I thought it would be the wood… it’s so beautiful, and smells so good…” “The aroma isn’t from the wood; it’s from the brooms. This broom has already been used, so it doesn’t have that good smell, but in the next room, there are fresh ones – I’ll show you…” “And is this coal?” “No, these are planks made from special material. They heat up.” “With electricity?” “Yes, you set the temperature to 120 degrees Celsius and then it’s ready! The first few days after they set up the sauna, I felt that something was not right. So I called them. They asked, ‘Are you Russian?’ I answered, ‘Yes, I’m from Russia.’ They said, ‘Now I 66


understand. It’s not hot enough for you. We set it to 80 degrees, but you need it to be higher.’ So they put it at 120 degrees.” “How often do you have to change the planks?” “Once every six months.” “So is it a dry heat?” “Yes. It’s a Finnish sauna.” “Made in Finland?” “No, ‘Finnish’ means it’s dry. But I put down a bucket of water, put the brooms there, and when it heats up, I lie there and beat myself with a broom. Oh, it’s so great! You can’t imagine how pleasant it is!” “Is the sauna for two people?” “Yes, it is.” “Do you steam there with Nina?” “No, she’s like you; she doesn’t like saunas. I’m either alone, or someone else goes with me…” “And you drink some cold beer afterwards?” “Of course.” “And a bite to eat, maybe some fish?” “No, God forbid – just beer is better.” “Show me the brooms.” “Here they are.” “Oh, so many, and the smell – what an unbelievable smell!” “Yes, the brooms are birch.” “Where in the world do you find them?” “I don’t get them here.” “So they’re not American?” “No, they’re from Kiev.” “Are you joking? How many is this – thirty? Forty?” “About forty.” “So how do you bring them over?” “In suitcases. We pack them in a few suitcases and bring them here.” “And how many fit into a suitcase?” “Come, I’ll show you. See – these two suitcases are specially for brooms.” “That’s great!” “Yes, about thirty can fit into each suitcase.” “So if you steam once a week, it’s enough for a year.”

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“That’s right. We take turns going to Kiev. We have a guy there. Our friends make a deal with him ahead of time. Then we arrive and get the brooms from him.” “Who is ‘we’?” “Usually two of us go, because it’s more fun, and we can bring more back.” “And you go to Kiev just for the brooms?” “Well, first of all, we take turns flying there…” “What is it, a whole club?” “Something like that. And by the way, we don’t just bring back brooms. For instance, I really love lard.” “And do they get the lard ready for you ahead of time, too?” “No, I like to buy the lard myself, in a bazaar. I look over all the trays of lard – this gives me aesthetic pleasure. I choose the most expensive, the best, the freshest, softest, whitest. The skin has no bristles, and it’s as thick as the palm of your hand.” “We once had a kind of yellow, Hungarian lard at home.” “That’s not the same thing – that’s from a store. But genuine Ukrainian lard, from a wild boar fed at home by its master – now that’s lard! The best in the world!” “You’re joking.” “I swear to God. It simply melts in your mouth. It’s very good for my stomach – it helps my digestion.” “I haven’t eaten lard for a hundred years. For me, a little piece of lard is like a pure cholesterol bomb! I’ve been taking Lipitor for about ten years. I don’t even eat regular meat, let alone lard. I’ve forgotten what cutlets taste and smell like…” “Then you’re a fool. I assure you that you won’t live any longer without it. You’ll croak, just like the rest of us, and maybe even more painfully. Not eating lard is a sin!” “Well, do you have any…” “No, I don’t have any left. I have brooms, but the lard is all gone. It’s all been gobbled up.” “Who ate it?” “Everyone – Nina, Yulia and I, plus my mother- and father-in-law, and her brother Izya.” “So how much do you bring over? And what about our airport customs? They have dogs sniffing there. It’s forbidden to bring in food, after all. One time they confiscated everything the children didn’t finish on the plane. So how can lard get through?!”

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“I buy about twenty pounds of lard, and put it under the brooms. The lard is underneath, and the brooms are above. And I wrap the lard in special linen, then in plastic, and sprinkle it with caraway, to prevent the dogs from smelling it.” “So the dogs don’t find it?” “Last time there was an incident. So, we were waiting for our suitcases…” “You weren’t alone?” “There were two of us. We were standing at different points along the conveyer belt where the suitcases come out. A customs official came by with a dog…” “Was it one of those small ones?” “Yes, a small one, like a poodle. So the customs official was walking with it… I was standing on one side, and Slavik was on the other…” “So if one of you were arrested, the other could smuggle it in?” “Exactly. One of us draws all the attention to himself. I grabbed my suitcases – first one, then the other. So, this little mongrel attached himself to the first suitcase and kept hanging around and then he suddenly moved away and pulled the customs official with him. Well, I thought, it got through. But Slavik was on the other side, waiting for his suitcases.” “Did he also have lard, or just brooms?” “Do you think I’m the only smart one? Of course he had all the same stuff. So, I go to the green side, that is, nothing to declare, and walk up to the asshole who collects the declarations, you know?” “Sure.” “That was the scariest moment after the dog.” “My God, you could get a heart attack from this. And you do it every year!” “No, not every year – about every other year. So this asshole turns me around for a search right there, where there this big scanner is standing, you know?” “I was also searched like that once.” “Right, so I’m standing there, dragging my two enormous suitcases onto the belt of this damn scanner. They go through and I think, well, I’m in deep shit, they’ll see my brooms, and the main thing, my lard…” “Was it all in once big piece?”

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“What are you, fucked in the head? How could all twenty pounds be in one piece? Of course it was sliced up!” “So how many pieces were there?” “About twenty.” “What does it all look like for the person sitting at the scanner? What would he see?” “Fucked if I know. In short, my suitcases went through. Then he put them on the table in front to look through them. Well, I think, now they’ll open them and I’ll be in deep shit!” “I’m going to have a heart attack myself from your lard, which I didn’t even eat!” “So he goes to the computer with my declaration before opening my suitcases. He looks at something, flicks it. After three minutes, he turns back and without opening the suitcases, he says, ‘go ahead.’ So I went through.” “When was this?” “Probably in April.” “Why in April?” “Because they feed the boars all winter long, and then they slaughter them and make lard in the spring.” “Anyway, why did they let you through?” “I have no idea. Well, that’s enough, let’s go upstairs. I’m going to give you such great tea! I ordered it online.” “But you didn’t go to Kiev just for the lard and brooms! What about your friends?” “What can I tell you? I remember my first trip there, in 1998. What a scary time it was. I remember how I went to the lab I used to work at. No one at the entrance. And it was around 2:00 in the afternoon, right in the middle of the workday. We occupied three floors. There was no one on the first floor. It was absolutely empty, a wasteland, like after an atomic bombing. I went to the second floor, and there was no one there, either.” “Nobody greeted you.” “That’s right. Almost like in the romance, remember? My bonfire is shining through the fog, The sparks are burning out in flight, And on the bridge we went apart, And no one met us in the night. “The director’s office was on the third floor. Well, I thought, someone should be in the office. I went up to the third 70


floor. The door was open, and I thought, thank God, our Dina Nikolaevna was in her usual spot. And she really was wearing her blue blouse, as usual.” “She always wore a blue blouse?” “Well, I remembered that best, a knitted blouse. We immediately recognized each other, of course, and were overjoyed. ‘Oh, wow’ she said, ‘Arkady, you’ve become a genuine American.’ And I sensed that our director, Guram Savrasovich, was also not there, and I asked her, ‘Dina Nikolaevna, where is everyone?’ And she answered, ‘Arkasha, our pay is so meager that Guram Savrasovich allowed all of us to work another job.’ So where are they?’ I asked. ‘Not sitting at home, but working,’ she answered. ‘Everyone is rushing about the city somewhere.’ ‘And if someone from the central administration checks to see where everyone is, what will they do?’ ‘We haven’t had a central administration for a long time…’ ‘But you must have some kind of boss.’ ‘No, there’s no boss.’ Well, I think, this is a genuine theater of the absurd. ‘There has to be a boss. Doesn’t someone need to pay the salaries?’ ‘There aren’t any salaries. We haven’t been paid for 19 months now.’ ‘So you’re the only one at work?’ ‘Only in the records.’ ‘But how, how can this be, Dina Nikolaevna? Why are you at work now?’ ‘Today is Wednesday, a work day, and I’m at work, but on Saturday and Sunday I’m busy! Do you remember Solomon Borisovich?’ ‘Bershadsky? Of course I remember him, he’s the head of the microprocessor department.’ ‘He was.’ ‘What do you mean, he was? What was he, fired? He’s a member of the academy!’ ‘Members of the academy aren’t paid anything, either. Everything’s gone up in smoke now; it’s nothing but a title. Do you remember his wife?’ ‘Dora, such a large woman.’ ‘Dora Isaakovna, so they had some great luck…’ ‘He must be less than 70?’ ‘66. So he and Dora started to go to Italy to pick tomatoes every year, for the last four years, on a farm near Parma. Do you remember The Charterhouse of Parma?’ ‘By Stendhal?’ ‘Yes, Stendhal. They paid them very well – it was enough for them to live on for an entire year.’ ‘Dora probably lost some weight?’ ‘Yes, they used to come back so suntanned, so healthy looking.’ ‘And now they don’t come back any more?’ ‘No, they don’t, because Solomon Borisovich died.’ ‘What do you mean, he died?’ ‘Right there, in the field, of a heart attack. It was very hot!’” “Arkady, you told me you were there in 1998, and now, the last time you went, did you stop by the lab?” “No, I didn’t, because the lab was completely disbanded.” 71


“But did you see your co-workers? What do they live on?” “JOINT gives Jewish pensioners two pounds of sugar, four pounds of buckwheat, two pounds of flour, one quart of sunflower seed oil, and three jars of canned fish a month.” “That’s a lot, but not enough to live on. What do they do for the rest?” “They all need to earn money somewhere. Those who are a little younger are better off. Some of them take up a business, some sell Turkish goods, others Chinese, and whoever has a car can make a quick buck making deliveries. Those worst off are the elderly, who don’t know anything besides their occupation, and aren’t able to reinvent themselves.” “Did you all have some kind of get-together?” “Yes, we went to an all-you-can-eat restaurant for twenty dollars. But many of them didn’t come. They probably didn’t even have twenty dollars.” “How were the people you knew? Was it interesting to see them?” “You know, we’ve grown apart. Now, do you know, for instance, what new El stop they’ve built in Chicago, or what park they’ve laid out, or what library has opened?” “No, I don’t.” “Have you been to our Mexican museum?” “No, I haven’t.” “Do you know where it is?” “No.” “That’s just the thing. There they know everything. They live as if nothing has happened in their lives, and in reality nothing special has happened in their lives. They walk along the same streets, get together with the same friends, eat the same food and drink the same vodka. Changes and upheavals pass them by like July rain. They get a little wet and then they dry off. The same trees, houses, balconies, everything is strikingly unchanged. For them, it’s news when a new square with a fountain is laid out, how far a subway line has been extended, what new store has appeared on the Kreshchatik, how they’ve painted the bell tower on St. Sophia. Because they feel that they’ll continue to sense all of this as their own, dear to them, shared, just as it always has been. Life, with all its difficulties, the pursuit of kopecks, and near poverty by our standards, is simple and safe. And he who avoids wine, lives a long time!” “And what kind of reception did you get?” 72


“Well, they asked what kind of house I had, how many rooms, how many square feet, what kind of car.” “And what did you say?” “I told them about it. And they said to me, ‘Don’t lie to us. Why do you need such an enormous house, so many TVs, rooms, cars? And how can you earn enough for them?!” “They really didn’t believe you?” “They didn’t believe me, couldn’t believe me, couldn’t understand why this all of this was necessary.” “And do you really think it is necessary? We have rooms in our house that I haven’t looked at for months. What do I need them for? That’s exactly what they were asking you: why do you need all this?” “But this is all part of our space. They have their space, and we have our own.” “Well, OK, let’s drink tea now.” Chapter 12

A Real Woman “You are so well-dressed! And what a nice hairdo! And the dress with white polka dots was such a good choice! And where did this dress come from? And the shoes! And everything matches: black shoes, black belt, black hair. And then the blue dress matches your blue eyes, and the white polka dots…” “All of this was specially done for you…” “Thank you. You are so beautiful, unbelievably beautiful.” “Oh, Doctor, what are you saying..? It’s nothing special. Now I feel shy. All this is trifles…” “Thank you. You’ve done so much for me…” “I haven’t done anything for you…” “Why do you say that? You’ve done more for me than the people closest to me have done. After all, we are complete strangers: I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. I’m seeing you for the first time, and here I am bothering you with all my requests…” “You are not bothering me, Doctor, and you didn’t request anything. You’re just talking with me, and it’s so interesting. You’ve lived such a life – I envy you, Doctor…” “And I’m just struck by how attentive you are. You could have forgotten 99% of it instantly. You know, we talked and 73


talked, and as soon as you got home it could have left your head: who needs this doctor, with his life, his plays, his travels…” “No, Doctor. I went home and thought of you the whole time…” “But you spent three months trying to make something happen. You showed such stubbornness, such insistence. You concentrated on one single thing methodically, all these endless phone calls from one person to another. And in the end, you brought me together with the person I needed…” “I’m glad I was able to help you, Doctor. I hope something comes of this.” “But I want to do something for you, too. Please ask me for something.” “I don’t need anything, Doctor. Nothing at all. I help everyone. It’s normal business for me.” “No, it’s not normal business at all. Only unusual, remarkable, extraordinary people are capable of it. And you are exactly this kind of person. In general, I have the impression that you are someone who does a lot for others, but never asks anything for yourself.” “Why do you say that, Doctor? People have done a lot for me, too.” “Tell me about yourself, please. Why did you leave the Soviet Union? Are you divorced?” “Yes, I am.” “And where is your husband now?” “He’s already dead.” “And you never remarried?” “I had no time, Doctor.” “And you have a son?” “Yes, I lived with my son. And took care of my parents. For seventeen years. My mother had a stroke, and my father had rectal cancer. After his operation they took out his rectum. And it was a communal apartment, with ten neighbors, one toilet, and it was half a mile away. And the bath was all dirty and rusty. I was running from one hospital to another for seventeen years – first to one, then to another. That’s how I spent these seventeen years, until both my parents died.” “And what about your son?” “My son went to the institute, but we needed to pay for him to get good grades.” “How does that work?” 74


“Well, there’s a special fee – for an A, for a B, and for a passing grade. You need to leave an envelope, regardless of the answers he writes.” “So the teachers themselves say how much you have to give?” “No, everything goes through the monitor – all information.” “So the monitor tells you how much to put in the envelope?” “That’s right. It’s like buying a grade. “So what happened?” “Well, we didn’t have that kind of money. So he left the institute, and works in security instead.” “Isn’t this dangerous?” “It is, but they pay him well. It’s a private firm.” “And it’s enough for him?” “He has a wife and child. It’s not enough for them, of course, and I help them out. Now you asked why I left. I got a green card and left so I could help my son. I make much more here, and I like my work very much. I read books just to learn more. Yesterday, for example, on Sunday, I just lay at home all day reading a textbook.” “But excuse me: you’re a woman, a real woman, and so beautiful! And it’s not good to be alone!” “I’m used to it. And I have girlfriends. I even go fishing with them!” “Where?” “At Lake Michigan.” “I’ve never fished there.” “That’s a shame, Doctor. It’s so much fun! We also dragged our doctor, our gynecologist into this activity. She’s such a nice plump woman, very nice-looking, you know, from behind… It’s so funny when she throws out the rod; she stands there, bent like a question mark, with her behind behind her and such nice, enormous breasts in front. It’s funny.” “And do you often go there?” “Well, it depends on the weather.” “But still, what about men?” “You know, Doctor, I worked with a male gynecologist over there. And our intrauterine devices were kept in alcohol. Do you know what this device is?” “Yes, of course, it’s a contraceptive device.” 75


“So, he drank the alcohol and put the devices in water until he was caught in the act. That’s what men are like.” “But what does that have to do with men here?” “Doctor, what use are men?” “Well, at least for… how should I put it… what men always talk about, and women don’t talk about but think about.” “One American here proposed to me.” “How did you meet him?” “We were set up on a date. He took me to a nice restaurant.” “There aren’t any nice restaurants here.” “Well, an expensive restaurant.” “Did you wear this dress there, too?” “No, Doctor – I’m wearing it specially for you. But of course I did my hair for him… everything was as it should be.” “Just like now…” “No, my hair was down.” “Next time you come here, let your hair down. Your hair is so dark – do you color it?” “I just touch it up a bit, Doctor. I have very few gray hairs.” “So, let’s get back to your American.” “He immediately started to tell me….” “That his wife died a year ago.’ “That’s exactly right, Doctor. How did you know that??” “A year ago I still felt that I had some time left, but they look for a woman even earlier here. So, is he good-looking?” “Yes, he is very strong and lean, not at all out of shape.” “So he works out.” “Yes, he told me he keeps in shape with regular exercise. Before we even got our appetizer, he said to me: ‘I liked you the moment I met you. I offer you my hand and my heart.’” “Well, the part about the heart – that’s just too fast…” “That’s just what I said. I tell him, ‘you don’t even know me yet – how can you propose to me so soon?’ And he says, Russian women are very dependable, they have good character, and on top of that, they’re among the most beautiful in the world.” “That’s true.” “So I said to him, “You don’t even know what my cooking is like.’ And he said, ‘It doesn’t matter. We’ll go to restaurants, just like we’re doing now, and we’ll travel, we’ll travel all the time.’ 76


And he also said that I wouldn’t need to do anything. He had more than enough money for both of us. ‘You’ll have everything you want,’ he said. ‘Everything we need is ready. You won’t need to cook or clean – the maid does all of that.’” “So what did you say?” “I told him that such a life didn’t suit me. I want to earn money myself, help my son, and in general be independent.” “And what did he say?” “I could see that he was very surprised. He looked at me as if I were from another planet.” “So did you go out with him again?” “No, what for? Doctor, we’ve been sitting here for an hour already since you paid the check. They need the table – do you see how the waiter’s been hovering over us the whole time? But I still want to sing a romance to you, my dear.” “You mean you sing, too?” “Yes, I sing together with my girlfriends.” “Where?” “At the same place, by the lake. As soon as we catch all our fish, we pour vodka into little cups, and we sit there and sing.” “Without a guitar?” “Without anything. We don’t need a guitar. The main thing is that it comes from our hearts. I’ll sing you a little quietly right now. Nobody will hear it – only you and I: Glow forever, friendly star! Glow, my friendly star! You’re beloved from afar, And others there will never be. You’re beloved from afar, And others there will never be. If clear night falls upon the earth, The stars will sparkle up above. But you alone, my dearest one, Are glowing in the pleasant rays. But you alone, my dearest one, Are glowing in the pleasant rays.

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The star of hope, of expectation The star of love of magic days, Glow forever, never setting Within my melancholy soul! Glow forever, never setting Within my melancholy soul! Your rays with their delightful strength Illuminate me from afar. And if I die, my dearest star You’ll glow above my grave! And if I die, my dearest star You’ll glow above my grave! Chapter 13

The Jubilee “You haven’t dropped by for a long time. Have you been very busy?” “Busy with what? The spring has been so cold. May is already over, but it’s still not warm. It’s the coldest spring in the 25 years I’ve been in Chicago.” “Has it really been 25 years?” “Yes, it will be 25 years in America on June 22, and 25 in Chicago on June 23. We arrived in New York on the 22nd. I remember everything as if it was yesterday.” “What do you remember about it?” “I remember that after we landed in New York, we were led away. The whole plane with 300 people was chartered by NYANA.” “Where did they take you?” “Well, we didn’t pass through customs, because we didn’t have the usual documents.” “Did you have visas?” “We didn’t have visas to America either. The paper folded in two they gave us at the Visa and Registration Office didn’t even have an embassy stamp – only our mugs in the lower corner and our last name, first name, patronymic, and date of birth in Russian. I still have this piece of paper today. It was actually a visa to Israel. You understand that for actual customs it would have 78


been worthless. So passing customs, we were led somewhere below, to some kind of dark place without windows, kind of like an underground garage. There they organized us into three rows and counted us…” “Did you have your suitcases?” “No, we only had our carry-ons from the plane. And then, some kind of underground halls led us straight to the street in front of the airport, where buses were waiting to take us to our hotels. By the way, this was the first time we saw how big American cars were, compared to European ones. I remember this building and the cars. But the most interesting and funny thing of all happened in the hotel – such barbarism, idiocy, that it’s embarrassing to remember it.” “What did you do there?” “I didn’t do anything. In the hotel room, I immediately noticed that there was water in the toilet in the bathroom.” “So?” “What do you mean, so? There was no water in the toilets in Rome, Vienna, or the Soviet Union! There was only a thick water compartment head, like a plate, which everything lay on and was then washed away, remember?” “Yes, but there, behind this plate, as you call it, was a hollow, and there was water underneath, like in a well.” “Exactly, at the very bottom. But here, the water was right at the top.” “That’s because toilets are constructed completely differently in America.” “But that’s just the thing. Like an idiot, I didn’t think of this difference and didn’t notice it. I immediately decided that if water was in the toilet, it meant that the toilet was broken, unfixable, beaten to death, as we say.” “You’re a complete idiot!” “Yes, and an incorrigible one. I was ashamed – what would they think of us? They’d say that they put up Russians for one night, just one single night, and they managed to break the toilet – what trash!” “And you…” “As I waited for everything to settle down, like an idiot, instead of going to sleep after an eleven-hour flight across the ocean, went to the bathroom and started twisting the faucets on the pipes, and then, when this didn’t help, I started to scoop out the water.” 79


“You got on your knees to do this?” “No, there was one chair in the hotel room. I took it, sat down, and scooped water with the cup – also the only one in the room. I didn’t accomplish anything – the water didn’t go down, as you could guess – so I went to bed. In the morning we flew to Chicago. The situation was the same in the hotel room there. Only this time, the idiot understood what was going on.” “And now?” “What do you mean, now?” “How do you feel now?” “Now I feel normal, but to be honest, I miss both my ‘idiocy’ and those times.” “What do you mean by that?” “Everything was new, interesting, unexpected then, at the beginning. Each new day was different from the one before, and discoveries followed one after the other, like with Einstein. We walked around with our mouths literally open, looking at everything around us as if we’d arrived on a deserted island. Really, it was a wonderful time! Truly wonderful!” “And you were also twenty-five years younger!” “Yes, we were also all twenty-five years younger. I understand that we were full of youth then, unlike now. But it’s not only that, of course. The main thing is that it was a real revolution for us! It’s impossible to relive that experience. Now everything seems gray and humdrum, though some people like to walk and drive along the same streets, see the same people, that is, stay in a familiar environment. This is what makes us feel calm, self-assured, unhurried…” “That, and kind old age…” “That’s right. I even wrote a poem on this theme, just a couplet: The more I live and see anew, The more it feels like déjà vu. Except that we only see it as déjà vu when we’re in an unfamiliar situation, somewhere you’ve never been, but you feel that you’ve already been there, that you’ve seen it before… But I really have been everywhere here… And it doesn’t inspire any excitement. Everything external, everything outward, so to speak, becomes less interesting, and you start to root around in yourself,

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in your sensations, in everything taking place inside your mind and body.” “Now that’s genuine old age!” “That’s probably true, and no one notices all of this better than you. Surprising things happen to us sometimes. For example, you’re in one room and you need something in another, let’s say, scissors. But when you get to the other room, you forget why you went there. So now, I keep repeating to myself, “scissors, scissors, scissors,” until I get there and find them in some drawer. True senility! “Recently something completely absurd happened, and it still disturbs me. We were planning to go to a concert at the Philharmonic on Sunday at 3:00, a solo concert by a famous Finnish pianist who was playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations. I said to everyone, ‘You know, a small Himalayan exhibit recently came to the Art Institute. It would take no more than an hour to see it. Let’s leave an hour early, go to the exhibit, and then go from there to the Philharmonic. We’d only need to cross the street – the museum is right across from the Philharmonic. OK? Let’s go.’ I took everyone to the main entrance of the museum, where the lions are, and then parked underground. The garage is actually between the Art Institute and the Philharmonic, on Michigan Avenue, very convenient, just ten dollars. I parked, took my ticket, and paid for it right there, so as not to waste time later. It turned out just the way I’d planned: we saw the exhibit and then went to the concert. When the concert ended, I told everyone, ‘Wait for me at the entrance. I’ll get the car. I’ve already paid for it, so you won’t have to wait long.’ “As I exited the garage, I put in my paid ticket, and the barrier wouldn’t open to let me out. I call the attendant. He explains that on Sundays during the day, unlike in the evening, they don’t charge the flat rate of ten dollars, but an hourly rate, and that I need to go up to the window, show them my ticket, and pay for the time I was parked. I run up to the window, and the woman asks me to pay for four hours. I say, ‘What do you mean, four? It’s now 5:00 and I parked a little before 3:00, around 2:45. And she shows me, ‘Do you see where it says 1:52 on the ticket?’ It really had been punched in at 1:52. I tell her this can’t be. I’d come for a concert that started at 3:00 – why would I need to park an hour earlier? ‘I don’t know anything about that,’ says the woman, ‘but you need to pay.’ Well, I paid, so I wouldn’t waste any more time. I picked everyone up and told them the whole 81


story in the car, getting more and more annoyed and outraged. And Yulia quietly says, ‘but you did park at 1:52 – did you forget that we also went to the museum?’ “I got very upset and I still haven’t been able to get over it.” “Don’t worry! Bach crowded out the Himalayan Buddhas, that’s all!” “That still doesn’t explain it!” “But are there bright moments in your life, or just senility, old age, fading? Aren’t there any joys? Anything good?” “My son Sasha called yesterday. ‘Dad,’ he says. ‘I have this music in my head – very familiar, a slow movement, probably from some symphony, but I can’t remember what it is, even though it’s very, very familiar!’ ‘Sing it,’ I say to my son. He sings the melody, but I don’t recognize it. ‘Where did you hear it,’ I ask him. ‘On the radio?’ ‘No,’ he says. ‘I called the insurance company yesterday to find out how much one of my patients would have to pay for a device, and the woman put me on hold. While I was waiting, they played this music on the phone. Dad, what if you call there yourself? Maybe you’ll recognize the melody and you can tell me what it is.’ “I called his company right then, explained everything truthfully, and asked them to put me on hold. The lady fulfilled my request without hesitation. I was listening to the music, but the lady turned out to be curious and, without waiting, asked me herself, ‘So, what was it?’ And I say to her, ‘Excuse me, Miss, but could you please raise the volume a bit?’ ‘I’ll try,’ she says, and the sound becomes louder. Right then I recognize Grieg’s Peer Gynt – not Anitra’s Dance, but the slow movement. I called Sasha back, and we were both very satisfied, even happy.” “You see, things are not so bad. You recognized Peer Gynt right away.” “But these kinds of things often happen to me, just as they sing in The Irony of Fate, remember? This is what goes on with me, My old friend doesn’t come to see me, But many other people visit They’re not the ones I want to see. “People really don’t come to see me any more, and instead, different associations come to my mind. I love these 82


associations – I live for them. You can’t imagine how interesting it is to try to connect things that have nothing in common, to unite the disunited. “The other day I called a woman, one of my patients. I call her at work, around 10:00 in the morning. I ask her if she has time to go to lunch. She asks when. I say, ‘today.’ ‘Did something happen?’ ‘You told me about your Moscow friends once, and I’d like to get in touch with them. Could we discuss this?’ ‘OK, let’s meet and we’ll talk about it over lunch.’ We go to a restaurant not far from where she works, and we talk it over very nicely. Naturally, I pay for lunch, though she insists on dividing the bill in half. Then, before we part, I tell her, as a joke: ‘You see how life works. Did you imagine, did you think that someone would call you and invite you for lunch today?’ ‘No, I had no thoughts or plans, no presentiments of that sort. I slept soundly and well.’ ‘So it was entirely unexpected for you?’ I continue. ‘Absolutely, I didn’t know or imagine a thing about this.’ I continue in the same spirit. ‘And then a prince invites you to lunch…’ ‘Exactly,’ she laughs. ‘A prince…’ “We joked around that way, and then parted. “Afterwards I went to pick up my younger son from school, and I said to him: ‘Today, the new computer we ordered finally arrived. Do you want to go to the post office and pick it up directly, without stopping at home first?’ ‘OK,’ he said. ‘Let’s go, dad.’ And we went. We didn’t go by highway, but along the quiet, sunny streets of our suburb along the lake. We drove slowly and talked. My son sat next to me and told me about the computer. “Suddenly, completely unexpectedly, I felt a bump from behind. I can’t say it was very hard, but the main thing was that it was unexpected. And I had bought our car, a minivan, only two weeks ago. Cursing, I stopped and got out of the car with my son. We weren’t hurt at all; we had our seatbelts on, of course. We had been hit by an Audi behind us, which had in turn been hit by a Toyota. The damage to our car turned out to be minimal – just a scatch on the bumper, not even a dent. We waited for the police, who came quickly, got our reports from them and went our separate ways.” “So was the damage covered by the Toyota driver’s insurance?” “Yes, of course. But that’s not the important thing. The accident barely affected me. But what really shook me was the time when all this had happened. I immediately connected the 83


crash to my unexpected get-together with the woman an hour ago. Except that lunch had been unexpected for her, and the accident was unexpected for me. I began to recall my jokes, when I showed off my advantage – even if it was in a veiled form. See, I knew about something, planned it, and she didn’t know anything – she was like a pawn in my plans. There was a kind of concealed bragging on my part, maybe even impudence. And God punished me for that right away. Now, you see, here is my vengeance and punishment for you, so you won’t boast anymore, won’t show off. We can arrange something unexpected for you, too!” “But here’s what’s interesting: if you hadn’t joked with her about your unexpected arrival, about how you’re like some kind of prince, would God have punished you?” “If I hadn’t said anything, or most importantly, not thought anything, since it doesn’t matter whether we say or only think things – because he reads our minds, of course – that is, if I had only met her but not said or thought about this, the accident wouldn’t have happened. God needed to send me a signal, so that I didn’t go too far. And he taught me a lesson.” “Do you mean to say that all of this nonsense can be useful in some way?” “Just imagine! In a few days I brought the car in for repair. I was given a rental car while it was being repaired. That evening, they called me and said, ‘Your car is ready. You can come pick it up.’ But I felt too lazy to go. I asked, ‘Can I pick up the car tomorrow.’ ‘Sure.’ So I decided to do that. In a few minutes, I remembered that on the way home, when I’d been driving the rental car home by highway – and I hadn’t purchased insurance for it – I remembered that I’d almost hit the car in front of me. I had been wearing dark glasses and didn’t see the car starting to brake. I slammed on my brakes and, barely controlling the car, darted into the left lane near the border, and it was a miracle that I didn’t hit it…” “Stop! That’s enough! Don’t tell me you thought this was another sign?!” “Yes. You’ve started to figure it out. I sensed that if I didn’t pick up my car today, then I’d wreck the rental car tomorrow. I called the shop back and said I’d come today, quickly got dressed, and picked up the car.” “And there weren’t any problems?” “Yes, everything went smoothly.”

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“But it’s impossible to test and prove all of these suppositions.” “Yes, just as it’s impossible to live life all over again.” Chapter 14

One Day in Nice “Of course, you become less active with age. With every year, you get less and less out of life. You get less and you give less, too. This is the essence of aging. Every day seems to be shorter than the previous one. This is why the last years of life seem to go fastest. Before you turn around, a day has passed, then a week, a month, a year... And you gradually start to live other people’s lives instead of your own. There’s essentially nothing left to do for yourself, so you get used to the role of assistant: you help buy groceries, you help make dinner, you help your grandchildren with their homework. In short, you don’t live for yourself but for someone else. And it’s good if you have dear ones, people to live for.” “Do you mean all of this in relation to yourself?” “How can I put it? Not fully yet, but I’m experiencing some kind of unnoticeable, hidden, unconscious shift. Less for myself, more for others. Because there’s already no more future, not for me.” “And what will remain then?” “Nothing will remain. There will no longer be real life, where people fall in love, have children, settle down, have careers, get up, fall down, bruise their heads and noses, and break their legs (I mean this literally and figuratively), but only something ephemeral, purely internal, ideal, very personal and not needed by anyone. Anyone.” “You’re exaggerating as usual. In old age people have created and continue to create interesting, necessary, useful things…” “I can tell you right now about some useless things, about something that happened to me. Precisely about what happened, not about what I was busy with at work the past couple of months. When we work, something is always happening, of course, but you can’t expect anything extraordinary. In general, things are routine, monotonous, and … boring. There’s only one type of news: someone gets married, someone else gets divorced, 85


someone else has a child… Genuine adventures – this is something completely different, and of course you need to look for them…” “I’m all ears.” “We sent our kids to Nice for the summer, to summer school to learn French. For half a year, Yulia worked out a plan for how the children could spend their vacation. She came up with a big three-week trip around France. Freed from participating in this plan because of my old age, I had a week to visit the sites of my choosing until meeting up with them.” “Was it the first time you had been in Nice?” “I had been there many years ago, and I still had debts from that visit.” “To the casino?” “No, something entirely different. You’ll understand what debts I mean from my story. At that time, I was only in Nice for a few hours, and you could actually say that in effect I wasn’t there.” “You mean you registered there?” “Yes, let’s say I was just registered there the first time, but was really in Nice for the first time during this trip.” “And something happened to you this time?” “It didn’t happen to me, but to nature. We had the great ‘luck’ of being there during a heatwave that hadn’t been seen for 200 or even 500 years. Afterwards, when the trip was over and we were already back home, we found out that this heat, which hit all of Europe, had killed around 20,000 people!” “And this was your first ‘adventure’?” “Yes. Yulia left with the children, and I stayed in Nice by myself. The heat wave affected me immediately, because there was no air conditioning in my hotel. There was no escape from the heat except during the early hours by the ocean. I sensed that if I didn’t think of something quick, I’d die from the heat: it was impossible to breathe in the hotel or outside. An idea for saving myself hit me: that the newer hotels near the airport must have air conditioning. I rushed over there. ‘Do you have any vacancies?’ ‘We do.’ ‘With air conditioning?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Could I look at one?’ ‘Go ahead.’ They gave me a key to a room, I opened the door, and felt cool air for the first time in three days. I knew that I was saved!” “And you didn’t die in Nice.” “No, I didn’t. My next task was to pay off my debts.” “That’s interesting…” 86


“Yes. I was in debt to Herzen and Chekhov. I knew that Herzen had been buried in Nice , and that Chekhov had stayed there several times for treatment…” “And???” “The first time I didn’t ‘visit’ either one.” “Did you have too many other things to do?” “Yes. But this time, there on my own, I decided to visit Herzen’s grave and Chekhov’s hotel no matter what. These are the ‘useless’ things I mentioned… I knew that I should have the time to do both things in a day, but I had to be quick, decisive, and efficient. Unlike Yulia, I’m disorderly and unorganized. I never prepare for anything ahead of time; instead I rely on chance and pure improvisation. I don’t read tourist guides, and it’s doubtful that the American ones would mention Herzen and Chekhov anyway. But I had to find the sites somehow! I had heard that there was a Russian Orthodox church in Nice – they’d certainly know everything there! I went to the lobby and asked the girl behind the desk about the church. She knew where it was: ‘Take bus no. 23.’ ‘Is the bus stop far away?’ ‘No, it’s around the corner. The bus goes almost right up to the church.’ “I put on my hat and went out. The bus stop wasn’t really that close. The sun shone down mercilessly. The first person I walked up to at the stop told me he knew where this church was, and that he was going there right then with his wife and children. That was good luck. “A man was sitting at the entrance to the church selling entry tickets. He spoke Russian and was from my hometown, Kharkov. That was my second bit of good luck. I bought a ticket, perused the inside of the church, and on my way out, told Viktor about my plans. He told me that Chekhov had visited Nice many times and stayed in different places. ‘Which hotel did you have in mind?’ ‘The one where he lived from 1897 to 1898.’ ‘This hotel is on 23 Gounod Street, about a ten-minute walk from here.” “Why were you interested in precisely these years?” “That’s a long story.” “Sum it up briefly.” “I can’t do that – it’s too complicated. When I wrote a play about Chekhov, I found out many interesting things that I hadn’t known before, including a certain fact about Nice. Nice was a winter resort in Chekhov’s time. His stay there from 1897 to 1898 coincided with Emile Zola’s trial for defending Dreyfus. Chekhov followed this trial in the French and Russian newspapers, by the 87


way. He loved reading newspapers. In the Petersburg paper ‘New Times,’ the Paris trial was covered by Aleksei Sergeevich Surovin, Chekhov’s close friend and patron, and the publisher and editorin-chief of the paper, who was present at it. His notices in the paper were called ‘Little Letters.’ I read them in the University of Chicago library: they were classic examples of anti-Semitism. And in February of 1898, Chekhov wrote to Suvorin from a Russian hotel in Nice. In this letter, he for all practical purposes broke off relations with his patron and friend of many years.” “I see.” “Viktor showed me on a map how to get to the hotel and Herzen’s cemetery, warning me that the ceemtery closed at 7:30. “Gounod Street is among a series of streets named after composers: Verdi, Rossini, Bizet, Donizetti. This corner of Nice is a ten-minute walk from the so-called English Promenade (the British also turned Nice into a summer resort). An endless stream of people stroll both sides of the Promenade. It is located above a pebble beach many miles long, a few steps down. One beach leads to two or three streets, which open to the sea at a perpendicular angle. Each of these beaches seems to be divided into two parts: a paid part with beach chairs, snack bars, awnings, showers and toilets, and a free part. Along the road parallel to the Promenade and adjoining it there are six-to-eight-story houses, built in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the Baroque style, all in bright colors, like on the main boulevards of Paris.” “In our day, in the Soviet Union, the word ‘Nice’ had connotations of a cult. But you’ve gotten so carried away with your story about Nice that you’ve forgotten about Chekhov.” “No, I didn’t forget about him. I just wanted to convey the spirit of the epoch. The houses of the ‘composers’ patch’ were almost as nice as the ones on the embankment. Everything was pure, wiped clean: a heavenly little corner. But Chekhov wouldn’t have been Chekhov if he hadn’t stayed in a house that differed in some way from all the rest around it. On these streets, where each house nestles against another, forming a straight line, is the hotel ‘Oasis’ – that’s what the hotel is called today. It has an inner courtyard with old trees, under which there are benches and little tables and chairs with awnings. The hotel, now repainted bright yellow, is in the depths of the courtyard. When I was there, a few people – men and women – were sitting at tables in the little garden, and there were bottles on the table. One tree with a very thick trunk and a mighty crown stood far in front of the others. 88


How old was this tree? 150 years old? 200? More? I stopped at the entrance and asked the clerk to show me the room Chekhov stayed in. He said that the building had been renovated many times, and the room had not been preserved. He added that if I wanted to stay at the hotel, they had vacancies. “I thanked him and went out onto the courtyard. A marble plaque with three inscriptions hung on the front side of the hotel. The upper inscription said that the Russian writer Chekhov had stayed here from 1897 to 1898. The second attested to his presence in Nice from 1900 to 1901, and that had written Three Sisters at that time. The third inscription was not about Chekhov: ‘V. I. Ulyanov-Lenin stayed here in 1911.” “I started to photograph the hotel, the memorial plaque, the little garden, oak tree, and courtyard from various angles. Then I asked a man sitting with a woman at a table to photograph me with all of this in the background. He took a picture of me, and I told him about Chekhov, Zola, Dreyfus, Suvorin, and Three Sisters. And he told me that they came here with a large group from Scotland for a week to tan and swim in the warm sea, and were all staying in this hotel. When I started to leave, the Scotsman invited me to join them at the table and drink beer with them.” “And did you stay?” “No, I couldn’t. I still needed to make it to Herzen’s grave. It was already about 6:00, and the cemetery closed at 7:30. I went to the Promenade. The cemetery was located on a mountain hanging over the sea, and the Promenade seemed to run up against this mountain and end. Fortunately, you could go up in an elevator that was built into the mountain; otherwise, I wouldn’t have had the strength to climb up in such heat. The elevator took me to the park, at which point a wonderful view opened up of Nice lying below. It took about twenty minutes more to walk from there to the cemetery. I asked several passers-by for directions, but not everyone could tell me the right way, and a couple of times I was sent on the wrong path. “Finally, around 7:45, out of breath and drenched in sweat, I approached the cemetery gates, which fortunately for me were still open. I went down the center alley and saw a worker watering the flowerbeds. He saw me and immediately started waving his hands, sending me to the gates, to indicate that the cemetery was already closed. It was a good thing that Viktor had warned me about the closing time. I went up to the worker and 89


showed him my watch, telling him in English that I knew his workday was ending. The Frenchman continued to wave his arms. I quickly reached into my pocket and thrust a few euros at him, repeating just one word: ‘Herzen, Herzen, Herzen!’ The Frenchman regained the gift of speech and in broken English started to explain how to get to Herzen’s grave, that it was not far away, even very nearby. From previous experience, I knew that it was practically impossible to find an unfamiliar grave in an unfamiliar cemetery, and I practically grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and dragged him with me, stuffing a few more banknotes into his pocket. The Frenchman put down his watering can and walked ahead. The grave was indeed very close. “A bronze life-sized statue of Herzen stood on a marble pedestal. There was the familiar mane of hair, the beard and moustache, the very high forehead. I started to photograph the statue and grave. His entire family was buried with him. The Frenchman was kind enough to move away the overgrown branches around the bushes, so that I could photograph the inscriptions on the gravestones. Then my new friend took my picture with Herzen’s burial vault in the background.” “And what state is the grave in?” “Let’s put it this way: it doesn’t seem neglected, but it doesn’t look like it’s visited often, either. There are no fresh flowers.” “And did you bring flowers?” “Are you kidding?! I was on the border of life and death! It was so hot and stuffy that all I could think about was to gather the strength to walk out of there alive.” “Do you think tourists from Russia visit the grave?” “Not in large numbers, I think. And in light of everything that’s going on in Russia today with those tsars, whom Herzen fought not for life but to the death, he doesn’t have much of a chance to attract tourists”. “I said good-bye to the Frenchman and headed for the exit. Fortunately, there was a water fountain right beyond the gates on the wall of a small building. The water flowed from the mouth of the sculpted head of some Greek mythological hero, and fell into a kind of washbasin. This little fountain saved my life. I drank my fill and, taking off my shirt, washed myself. It took me a few minutes at this fountain to come to”. “On the way back to the elevator, I took some pictures from the top of the hill. I tried to catch a taxi on the Promenade, 90


but nobody stopped, and the heat didn’t abate. Barely making it to the first beach, I went to the free part and threw myself into the water in what I was wearing.” Chapter 15

Joseph the Beautiful “I came to you just to talk, and to tell you about my experience. I think it will be very interesting for you.” “You look great. Slim and fresh, a lively face, almost no wrinkles, sparkling eyes. I swear, you look younger than me, though I’m actually younger than you. I’d love to be so slim, but I just can’t get rid of my gut.” “And I want to prove to myself and everyone else that I can still do things, that I’m still capable of something. My granddaughters are always saying, ‘grandpa, grandpa,’ but I thought to myself, ‘what kind of grandpa am I?!’ And so, to show everyone, I decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. Do you know it?” “Yes, there’s Hemingway’s story ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro.’ But at your age, climbing such a mountain! It’s the highest point of Africa! How high is it?” “Mount Kilimanjaro is higher than Mount Elbrus!” “It can’t be.” “Yes, it’s almost four miles high.” “That’s unbelievable! I don’t know a single one of us, not a single person, I swear, who would do something like that. I can’t even find the words…It’s impossible. Yes, so getting back to Kilimanjaro. How did you come up with this idea?” “I read an announcement in a local paper.” “Ours?” “No, an American one. I saw the announcement, called to inquire about it, and they sent me a prospectus.” “Is it an American travel agency?” “Yes. It’s right here in Chicago.” “And they organized the whole thing?” “Yes. I was in Kilimanjaro in March. That’s the end of summer there.” “Is Kilimanjaro sub-equatorial?” “Yes, it’s in Tanzania. That’s equatorial Africa.” “But wasn’t it very hot there?” 91


“No, not very.” “So, you just packed up and went?” “Well, I had to pay $2,500 for the trip.” “And that incuded everything?” “Yes, the flight, meals, housing, and an instructor. Everything.” “And how many days were you there?” “Two weeks.” “Then that’s a very low price! It’s about what a flight there would cost!” “Yes, I also thought it was very cheap.” “Did you go alone?” “Yes. Because I’d decided to prove myself to everyone! And no one would have gone with me anyway…” “Still, I can’t imagine just simply going to the center of Africa out of the blue, alone… Did you ever go mountain-climbing before?” “Yes, I was an alpinist for several years.” “That’s very different.” “But you don’t need any professional preparation or skills to climb Kilimanjaro.” “So I could climb it?” “Yes, you could, and so could almost anyone else.” “Don’t you need to fasten ropes around yourself, pound rocks and pins?” “No, you don’t need to do anything. All you need to do is provide proof that you’re in good health and are up to date on your shots. I asked my doctor, ‘What do you think of me climbing Mount Kilimanjaro?’” “And did he give you permission?” “He said, ‘Joseph, I don’t recommend it. If this is what you want, you’d be better off taking the elevator to the 110th floor of the Sears Tower.” “So you didn’t listen to the doctor?” “I sensed that I could do this! Do you understand, Doctor? My earlier experience as an alpinist helped give me confidence, of course. I wasn’t afraid: I knew what this would be like! But it turned out that most of the people there had never climbed mountains.” “And women were there?” “Yes, women too.” “And were you the oldest there?” 92


“Yes, they called me ‘babi’ – that’s how they say ‘grandpa’ there.”

“How did you fly there?” “I flew first to Amsterdam, where everyone gathered from all over the world. And from there, we went straight to the foot of Kilimanjaro – there’s an airport there. It was eight hours to Amsterdam, and ten more from there.” “And was the flight all right?” “It was fine.” “Was it full?” “Yes. There were people from literally all over the world.” “Russians, too?” “Actually, there were no Russians. There were more Japanese than anyone else. By the way, there were several elderly Japanese women among them.” “How did you sleep?” “We usually slept on plank beds, with upper and lower rows, like in barracks. Did you ever serve in the army?” “No, I was never in the army, but I’ve slept on plank beds. So how many people were in your group – 50? 100? 200?” “About 200. Kilimanjaro is part of a national park. There are many parks like that there. The airport is located nearby, about 30 miles from the spur of the mountain. It took us two days to walk there.” “Was it very nice there?” “Yes, very. Africa is the only inhabited place in the world where nature remains in its primeval beauty. You can’t see this anywhere else.” “And what kind of terrain is there – forest? steppe? desert?” “There’s a great deal of vegetation, unusual plants that we don’t have.” “And are there monkeys? Other animals?” “There are some animals there, but not many.” “So, you were walking for two days. Then what?” “Then we walked and climbed from one camp to another, adapting to the mountains.” “Did you walk during the days and then rest at night?” “We stayed in each camp for one or two days.” “So what did you do?” “We walked around, looked at things.” 93


“And how was the food?” “It was wonderful!” “What kind of food?” “There was a lot of meat.” “What kinds?” “Local animals.” “Was it fresh, tasty?” “Very! I never ate such meat.” “And what else was there?” “Different kinds of fruits and vegetables. Women brought the food to our camps in big baskets that they carried on their heads. They brought them each morning, so everything was fresh. The animals were killed just the night before, and we ate them the next day. And the fruits and vegetables are completely unfamiliar to us. I can’t even tell you their names. Very juicy. We were fed three times a day. We didn’t need to drink anything during the meals because the fruits were so juicy.” “And how were your stools? At your age, you’re probably prone to constipation.” “Yes, naturally, at my age.” “So how was it there?” “They had wooden toilets with small holes, like ours were in the villages, remember?” “So you needed to squat?” “Well, yes. It only took a little time – no more than a minute and a half.” “You kept track of the time?” “Yes, I did. You didn’t have more time than that for the toilet.” “So everything went smoothly?” “Yes.” “Incredible. I should go there myself.” “Sure, Doctor. I’ll give you all the information.” “Do you think I could do that?” “Why not? I’ll tell you what clothing to buy, what you need to take along, and everything will be fine.” “But I have mountain sickness. As soon as I go up higher than half a mile, I get heart palpitations and dizziness.” “As you gradually get acclimated, Doctor, these things won’t happen.” “Well, I don’t know. And carrying a backpack…”

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“It’s only 20-25 pounds, In the Caucasus, my backpacks were 50-60 pounds.” “Why do they weigh so little now? “Because everything is synthetic, and very light. A sleeping bag weighs only about five pounds. Also, there were porters with us, and they helped anyone who was having trouble carrying their things.” “OK, you’ve almost convinced me. Tell me more.” “So, our group came to the last camp.” “How high up was it?” “About three miles.” “So there was only a little over half a mile to the top?” “Yes, about that much.” “Were there steep slopes?” “Almost none. And we had two instructors in the group; they were eighteen or nineteen years old.” “Local?” “Yes. Everyone there was local, and we all got along with them very well.” “And what did you do in the evenings?” “We sat around after dinner singing songs. Everyone had their own group – Japanese, French, Germans…” “You were arranged by ethnicity?” “Yes, there were only Americans in our hut.” “And you were the only one singing Russian songs?” “There were also Poles and Czechs in our group. They knew a few Russian songs, and we sang them together.” “Was the sky beautiful?” “Yes. It’s the Southern Hemisphere, and there’s no Great Bear constellation. Everything in the sky was unfamiliar. Africa has the most beautiful sky in the world. The stars seem to shine right down on you. Have you ever been in the mountains?” “I’ve been on Ai-Petri and Sinai. But ‘the best mountains are the ones you haven’t seen.’ So, tell me about your last ascent.” “Our last ascent began at 12:00 at night. We were dressed warmly. It was about four degrees below zero at that height. Fortunately, there was no wind. There was a full moon. The incline wasn’t too steep. The whole group was extended in a long chain. In these equatorial regions, the sun rises at exactly 6:00 in the morning, and sets at 6:00 in the evening. The days are split evenly into day and night, twelve hours of each. Everything was calculated so that the group would reach the top by 6:00 in 95


the morning, or even a bit earlier. Kilimanjaro is an extinct volcano that ends with a small crater at the peak, and the crater is usually filled with snow. There was no wind. But about 100 feet from the top, I suddenly felt that my feet were refusing to go any further, and that I was losing my balance. I stopped and sat on the ground, so I wouldn’t fall.” “So you didn’t make it to the top?” “No, I didn’t. But I saw everyone walking around the crater in the shape of a semicircle. The sun started to rise at exactly 6:00. It was an unforgettable spectacle! First the dawn appeared and the brighest star dissolved and disappeared. I think it was Venus. Then, as soon as the stars were gone, the disk of the sun started to appear, gradually turning into a fiery ball, filling the sky with flashes of crimson light. Everyone was standing above, and I sat a little ways down, but I could see everything, no worse than them. There were about 100 feet separating us, no more.” “Were you upset that you couldn’t get to the top?” “No, I was as happy as everyone else – not a bit less. It was my victory. My victory over myself. And no victory comes without sacrifice.” “Were you able to go back down?” “Yes. By some miracle, as I was sitting there, my legs regained their strength, and I was able to make it back to the camp with everyone else. From there, we were driven back in buses. At the airport, we learned that the plane from Amsterdam wouldn’t be arriving for us, that there was a serious problem and it wouldn’t be repaired for at least three days. They let us call home and warn our relatives so they wouldn’t worry. Then we were put back on the buses and taken to a neighboring park for a safari.” “So you also got to see animals? That’s great!” “Yes, they drove us around for two days. To see animals in the wild was a novelty, something we had never experienced. The animals had gotten so used to jeeps and people sitting in them that they didn’t react to them at all. The monkeys simply tried to jump on the roof of the jeep.” “And the lions?” “We drove very close to one lion. He was lying half asleep next to an unfinished carcass of some animal that he had only just caught and tore to pieces. He was lying there satisfied, having gobbled his fill. We drove close enough to see his eyes, which he 96


opened for a second. But he didn’t stir or show any kind of emotion, no sign of fear or anxiety. Then we drove past, and he again closed his eyes. And what was terribly interesting was that gazelles were standing right near him chewing on grass. They knew that once the lion had eaten his fill, he wouldn’t touch anyone. The most interesting thing was to observe the interrelations, the contact between different groups and species of animals, they way they interacted with each other. We have no understanding of animal ‘society,’ but there really is one, it really exists.” “What is your profession, Joseph?” “I was a mechanical engineer in Minsk.” “What about your wife?” “She graduated from the same road infrastructure institute that I did.” “And how did you get settled here?” “We started working immediately. As soon as I reached 65, I retired and went on my pension. I have a good one.” “And what about your wife?” “She still works now.” “Have you traveled anywhere else?” “My wife and I traveled all over Europe, and we went to Mexico and the Carribean. We’ve also been to many places here.” “So your pension is really good?” “Yes, I actually have two: one from my salary, and the other from my union, because I worked in that particular place. My wife also earns a lot.” “And was your work difficult? What did you do?” “I worked in a company for the repair and inspection of city buses, the city vehicle fleet. Well, I started out as a simple worker. My task was to remove the wheels from buses that were designated for repair or protection. Some days I rolled two hundred wheels. My back hurt a lot.” “Did you roll them yourself, or with a partner?” “One person can’t roll a bus wheel unless he’s some kind of Goliath.” “But it’s still fascinating. How could such a thin, delicate person as you perform such heavy labor?” “I myself don’t know, Doctor.” “And how long were you rolling wheels?” “For a year and a half. Then they began to promote me – after all, I’d graduated from a road infrastructure institute. I get 97


along well with people. We had a kind of internationale – people of all nationalities and races.” “Or maybe they just felt sorry for you?” “Maybe, but I don’t think so. You know how it is at work. You can’t work under threat of punishment, and they sensed that I could work with people – I made friends with everyone, didn’t have any conflicts. I helped people, and they helped me. I never tattled on anyone, you know, if someone went out for an extra smoking break…” “And do you smoke?” “No, I’ve never smoked.” “Well, you’re simply like Joseph the Beautiful! Yes, so, what did they think when you came back from Kilimanjaro?” “The girls asked me to make them copies of the certificate. We were all given a certificate for conquering Kilimanjaro.” “Will you show me it?” “I’ll bring it to you next time. But there’s something else I wanted to tell you, Doctor. Do you remember my problems? After I returned from Kilimanjaro, I noticed that everything changed.” “Changed? In which direction?” “Well, everything became normal, Doctor. I thought it was just a temporary improvement, but it’s already been nine months, and everything has continued to be normal without any medication. “How do you explain that, Doctor?” Chapter 16

Theater Druggies “I was starting to worry that you wouldn’t come…” “As you see, I’m here. Is this a good place to meet?” “Yes, I’ve never been to McDonalds. They say the burgers are tasty.” “I’ll order you anything you’d like.” “I’m not sure. Order whatever you think is good.” “OK. You eat, and we’ll talk. At the theater yesterday you said that you called yourselves theater druggies. How many of you are there?” “About thirty.” “Have you known each other for a long time?” 98


“About twenty-five or thirty years, maybe more.” “And you meet somewhere?” “No, we don’t have any special meetings. We meet when we pick up journals, and at the theaters, of course. In general, I’m a freelancer. You see, first you need to find out what’s playing where. You need a lot of information on all the productions. There are so many theaters, tours, and festivals of all kinds now that it’s hard to keep track of all of them.” “Then how do you find out about them?” “I have three sources. The first is the place near the Nevsky Prospect subway stop. If you go down the stairs, there’s a restaurant. The coatroom attendant knows us well, and he lets us take magazines for free; they have ‘Ten Days,’ with a theater program for the month. The second source is the restaurant ‘Europa.’ When you enter, there are magazines on shelves to the right: ‘Pulse,’ ‘Turn-key,’ ‘On Nevsky Prospect,’ and they list everything. And my third source is the newspaper ‘Poster.’ It used to cost three rubles – now it costs five. The usher gives us this newspaper at the Malyi Opera Theater. It’s very convenient. We don’t need to go inside – the usher is right at the entrance.” “And how often do you go to the theater?” “Every day.” “Did you go by yourself yesterday?” “Yes. Everyone had already seen ‘Faust,’ but I’d had to put it on hold, because there were other shows to see.” “Do you go to all of them indiscriminately?” “No, of course not!” “And what about the circus?” “Even as a child I didn’t like the circus and musical comedy. In general I like benefit performances. Belsky always spoke as if he were presenting an honored guest before the performance. Actually, I was at a benefit performance for the ballerina Kruglovaya at the Mariinsky Theater.” “And how did you find out about that?” “There’s a schedule at the Mariinsky, and it included a performance devoted to this ballerina…” “And what productions do you like best?” “How can I put it? We go to watch the performers. I like opera, ballet, drama, and philharmonic concerts. I rank the theaters in order of how much I like them: Pushkin most, then the Lensoviet Theater, where Vladislav Borisovich Padi was the director.” 99


“I saw Caligula there. Did you see it?” “I sure did! With Khabensky, who has gone to work with Tabakov.” “In Moscow?” “Yes. I know everything about him. Khabensky has already made his mark among the young actors with Tabakov. I’m in a hurry, because according to ‘Culture,’ ‘The Corsair’ will be playing at 3:00, and ‘More Than Love,’ about Mayakovsky and Lily Brik, at 8:00. There are many new productions there.” “So did you already see this?” “Well, yes, they’re showing it again. There are many complicated questions there. When they stopped by, you know, the police, the teapot was warm. How could this be – he drank tea and shot himself? But his is how it went. She stopped by to see him, that is, Polonskaya did. So, they drank tea, and everything was normal, and then he started to demand that she divorce her husband. And that’s when things got hazy. Maybe she shot him, and then left? Or she left, and Mayakovsky then shot himself? Nobody will ever know.” “And do you go to the little theaters? You know, the ones that have just opened up?” “Good Lord, that’s amateur!” “And what do you think of Eifman?” “He’s wonderful. I love him.” “And what about the Baltic House Theater-Festival?” “It depends. There are four theaters under one roof there.” “And do you like modern theater?” “Now the director Samokhin came here once. I saw the way he ruined The Queen of Spades. I’m a romantic at heart. When they show the gates and fence of Summer Garden at the Mariinsky, my whole soul is shaken. And all this together – the canal, the gambling hall, the old Countess – ohhh – there, in the depths, a large window, up to the ceiling – ohhhh – such a mystical atmosphere, flickering lights… I’ve gone to the Mariinsky for thirty years, and each time I see it, I get the creeps. And what did this Samokhin do? He modernized it. He hung some kind of sheets, and Polina and Liza were singing behind them. Can you imagine? And the scene with the Countess at the Mariinsky! The servants are walking by, and Hermann, hides behind a painting. The Countess, the ‘Muscovite Venus,’ preferred the game faro, and she’s saying my god, my god, I lost, she sits there and repeats, 100


my god, my god, I’ll win for one rendezvous, the Count was not a coward… And Samokhin has some kind of screen over the whole stage, like a television. Absurd, that’s all it is!” “So you don’t like modern theater?” “No, that’s not true. But I can’t stand remakes. My favorite films are Guilty without Guilt and Without Dowry – not so much Forgotten Romance and At the Railway Station, where they just unzip their fly.” “For sex, or to urinate?” “For sex, of course. To just screw someone and then zip up your fly, that’s just vulgar! But Without Dowry… Remember when he takes off his coat and throws it in the stream? It’s worth it just for that scene! ‘Let’s drink to the mothers who leave us only a locket!’” “But you must like some modern directors?” “My favorites are Viktyuk Romashka and Mirzoev, the Muscovite.” “And where do you plan to go in the next few days?” “We’re going to see the Japanese the day after tomorrow, the sixteenth. There’s a dance festival now. You’ve seen the flyers posted all over the city. Everyone’s coming here – the Japanese, the Germans, the Dutch. Everyone. The whole world has come here!” “What other modern directors besides Viktyuk Romashka and Mirzoev have you seen?” “Kostya Granatkin toured here with this theater – he’s still very young. Did you hear about this?” “No, I haven’t.” “This director is gruesome, with a capital G. What is his specialty? All kinds of suffering, he has to turn everything into garbage. He directed a staging of The Belkin Tales. Do you remember - ‘The Snowstorm,’ ‘The Undertaker,’ all the stories? And what did he have on the stage? A cesspool filled with straw, hills of dirt! Where is the stationmaster here, where is the snowstorm? Everything is mixed up, twisted around, the viewer stops going to his productions. And in one of his other productions, I don’t remember which, people are crawling on tables in skins…” “What kind of skins?” “In normal bearskins.” “Then what is it you like? Classics?”

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“I’ve seen about forty Hamlets. In the last one, my darling Seryozha plays Polonius. He plays him so well that you could call the play Polonius instead of Hamlet.” “And where do you live?” “Near the Mariinsky. It’s an awful communal apartment. Crowds of neighbors, dirt, there isn’t even a telephone. I exchanged my private apartment for it.” “Why did you do this?” “Because it’s a five-minute walk to the Mariinsky. We all stay there until midnight or one in the morning.” “But why do you stay there?” “What do you mean, why? To get autographs!” “What is your pension?” “1150 rubles.” “Is that 35 dollars?” “Yes. We get the tickets for free. Complimentary. I go to the administrator, and he gives me a complimentary ticket for admission if there’s seating.” “That’s great. Do they know all of you?” “Of course. But we don’t all go together. We agree on one production ahead of time.” “So you were the only one in the group to see Faust?” “Yes, I was.” “And did you like it?” “It’s a good production, but the singers weren’t very good. In short, not the Mariinsky.” “What is your nationality?” “My father is 100% Polish. My family name is Kositskaya. And my mother is Russian. By the way, her last name is Pushkin.” “She’s not…” “No, no relation. I looked into this. My mother’s full name is Olga Yelpidiforovna Pushkina.” “And her father?” “Her father, my grandfather, was Yelpidifor Yevlantyevich Pushkin.” “Cool names. No one has names like that today. So, no relation, huh?” “Not a formal one, but I sense instinctively that there’s something.” “What do you mean?” “First of all, I really hate that prostitute. You can only hate someone if there’s some relation involved. Everyone drools 102


over her – such a beauty, the most beautiful Russian woman! The tsar’s whore! She was riffraff, trash.” “You’re exaggerating. Take Lermontov: he met with her and they say he forgave her everything. And in general, he was in ecstasy over her!” “First of all, the fact that Lermontov met this prostitute hasn’t been proven. There’s no evidence of it.” “There’s no evidence of many meetings. Take our meeting. If I weren’t planning to write a story about it, there wouldn’t be any evidence of that, either.” “But let me ask you something. You bring up Lermontov. Who do you feel sorrier for – Pushkin or Lermontov?” “Lermontov.” “It makes sense. He was so young. Just a boy. But I understood that I shared Pushkin’s blood right when I realized that I felt sorrier for him than Lermontov. Do you understand? Since I feel sorrier for him, it means he’s my relative!” “But don’t you have any family?” “No. I never married. Excuse me, but can I wrap up this cutlet and take it home?” Chapter 17

Speak Louder! “He was born in Odessa in 1917, right?” “Yes.” “What kind of family did he have?” “They were civil servants.” “So his parents were well-to-do?” “Yes, they seem to have been. They had a drugstore in Odessa. But it didn’t do him any good, since ‘civil servants’ was in the ‘social origin’ column on his passport, and he wasn’t accepted into the university. You needed to receive some kind of workingclass professional qualification to get into the university.” “And did he get one?” “Yes. He went to a factory and got the qualification of metal-worker of the sixth class, and then bragged about this for the rest of his life.” “Please tell me about his musical interests. I know that he was a wonderful violinist.”

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“Yes, his teacher was Pyotr Solomonovich Stolyarsky. He began studying violin at the age of six. Stolyarsky taught David Oistrakh, Liza Gilels, Busya Goldstein…” “Were they all about the same age?” “No, Oistrakh was older. When Yitsik started to study with Stolyarsky, Oistrakh was already studying in Moscow. Yitsik told me that when Oistrakh traveled from Moscow to Odessa, Stolyarsky showed him his youngest students. “Since Yitzik’s mother was very sick, he went to Stolyarsky alone. And sometimes he skipped his music lessons, wandered around with his violin, and then returned home as if he’d just had his lesson. And sometimes he didn’t practice what Stolyarsky assigned him at home. When he went for his lesson, Pyotr Solomonovich said, ‘Play!’ He played. Then Stolyarsky covered the score and said, ‘Continue playing.’ He continued playing the same thing. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘you scoundrel, so you didn’t practice anything!!!’” “I don’t understand.” “Well, he played the same thing with and without the score.” “You mean he improvised, from memory?” “Yes!” “So is this good or bad?” “It’s bad, of course, from the teacher’s point of view. He had given him something specific to learn. Later, after some time, Yitzik stopped taking lessons. But when he was in the university, he returned to Stolyarsky, who continued teaching him.” “How long did he study with Stolyarsky altogether?” “I don’t know. But I know that after the war, people were wondering if he would become a musician.” “Was he a first-rate player? Could he have joined an orchestra?” “Oistrakh himself, when he heard him in Odessa, once said to him: ‘Come to Moscow. Even though you have no formal special education, I’ll put you in an orchestra, and I’ll arrange your training by correspondence.’ But at this time, he started to study mathematics again.” “But he kept his violin? What kind of violin was it – a good one?” “He had a violin with ‘Stradivarius’ written on it, but this was true of many violins. It was the most ordinary instrument. Well-known professional musicians visited us. They said, ‘How 104


can you play on this violin?’ But he was able to draw a very good, full sound from it. His violin is still there. I’m waiting to get it from Moscow.” “So he was thinking about a career as a musician at first?” “Apparently not very seriously.” “What was his specialty in mathematics?” “Functional analysis.” “And he became a graduate student in 1939?” “Yes, but he was also drafted into the army the same year, in the Polish campaign. Then he returned to the university and studied there until 1941.” “And what did he serve as?” “An ordinary soldier. The war wasn’t going on there. He enlisted, went there, and that’s it. When the war with the Nazis began, he volunteered. He served through the whole war, fought at Stalingrad. Then he was at the Battle of Kursk. He served in the artillery division.” “Was he wounded?” “Once, in the leg.” “Did he limp?” “No.” “Did he mention saving someone on any occasion?” “He was generally a person who was capable of everything. Once the staff car with all his superiors wound up on the German side. And he needed to go there and remove them.” “And did he do so?” “Yes, he gathered all the men, organized everything, and saved them.” “And did he kill any Germans himself?” “I don’t know. I don’t think he did. I read in his memoirs that one German got on his knees before him and begged for mercy.” “And he didn’t kill him?” “No, he didn’t.” “And how does he describe the war in general in these memoirs?” “It was a sacred time for him. He dedicated himself wholeheartedly to the war. But he had nightmares for ten years after the war. Every night for ten years. And he joined the Party during the war. You know how it was then. Before an attack, you’d yell: ‘For the Motherland! For Stalin!,’ and you’d enter the Party.” 105


“No, first you’d enter the Party, and then: ‘For the Motherland! For Stalin!’” “And after the war, back in Kharkov, he defended his candidacy dissertation.” “Then explain to me, an idiot, what kind of work he did. What was the essence of it? Just sum it up in two or three words.” “There was a certain hypothesis from the theory of operators. Pure mathematics. About definite operators, their properties and characteristics. For example, as the result of a series of mathematical actions the operative number can take on the value of 2 or 2N. This was not proven, but was considered an axiom. And then, when Isaak began to calculate it, he proved that the index can take on all values from 2 to 2N. And this was a discovery.” “So he disproved the previous hypothesis?” “Well, yes. And he was also a very good lecturer.” “I heard that his students were transfixed by him.” “Yes. He spoke vividly and with great wit, providing numerous examples. I was at his lectures, of course. It was pure spectacle. Everyone forgot that he was talking about specific mathematical problems.” “There were several math lecturers like that in Kharkov. I attended lectures of Boris Yakovlevich Levin. I remembered them my whole life. I recall him in a gray suit with a piece of chalk in his hand. The chalk was always crumbling, and he was covered in it. It was a kind of dance in front of the board. He was continually erasing some formulas and writing different ones on other boards, turning around, commenting, joking – it was all unforgettable. And his face! What a handsome face he had!!!” “We all liked Boris Yakovlevich very much. Yes, and then Isaak Grigorevich worked with Akhiezor and Lyubich. They published several books on functional analysis, and he became the department chair.” “Were there Jews in the department?” “No, there weren’t. They worked in different places. He advised their dissertations, but could not include them in the department. Then they set themselves up in other places, though it was very difficult. I could have written a book about each of these incidents.” “But didn’t any of them try to establish their own institute?”

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“Yes. For example there was the mathematician Kogan. Isaak Grigorevich started to pressure the director to accept Kogan into correspondence graduate courses, at least, and he was able to do so.” “Did he continue playing violin?” “Yes. He also wrote songs. There was a song for each of our children.” “How did he spend his days?” “He was incredibly busy, from morning till night.” “Didn’t he have a routine?” “No. The phone rang off the hook. He helped everyone. People called him nonstop. Then there were lectures. Then people came to see him in the evenings. It was like a constant whirlpool, with arguments and plans. He was very, very active.” “And who else got one of his songs? Did he write them for people outside the family, too?” “Even our housekeeper had a song. And the children were upset if he didn’t write them a song…” “And each one was new?” “Yes, they always demanded new ones…” “Did he curse?” “No, I never heard him do so at home or at work.” “What about money – was he stingy?” “No, he wasn’t interested in money. Of course he earned a good salary. But I took care of all household expenses. He didn’t even know how much bread cost.” “Are you kidding?!” “No, it’s true.” “I thought only Stalin didn’t know how much bread cost. Did you have a car?” “No. He would joke, ‘Let’s buy a Zaporozhets, and we’ll drag it to the fourth floor.’” “In this photograph here, I see that he was very goodlooking. A full head of curly hair. A very handsome man, one of the pure Jews.” “Yes, his complexion was very dark.” “Were his eyes brown?” “Yes, they were kind of a greenish-brown, but his skin was dark. Now our daughter… When she was on the street, they could immediately see she was Aisman’s daughter…” “Was she dark, too?” “Well, yes.” 107


“Were you ever allowed to go abroad?” “No, we weren’t. He did too many risky things.” “In what way?” “Once I heard an argument between him and my papa: ‘Why are you so careless? You have a family, children!” “But what did he mean by careless?” “He said whatever he thought. And he said to my papa, ‘Now imagine if the Jews resisted! They’d send them off to the slaughter.’” “So people should resist?” “Yes. That was his opinion.” “Did you listen to ‘Voices’?” “I remember once we went to Truskavets, and we listened to it all the time there. He said malicious things about it.” “Was he a cynic? A romantic? An idealist?” “When the Czechoslovakian affair took place, he said aloud to someone: ‘We’ll send our troops there! Don’t you understand me?’ He told me this story at home. He said: ‘I felt the gaze of hateful eyes. I sensed that this man was ready to kill me!’” “Did he speak about Czechoslovakia with irony, mockery?” “Well, of course.” “But he died before the invasion on August 21, didn’t he?” “Yes, he died on May 30. But he foresaw everything.” “What about the Mathematicians’ Congress?” “There was an International Congress of Mathematicians in 1966 in Moscow. He met people there who had read and knew his work, who were seeing him in the flesh for the first time, and he was seeing them. His books had been translated into German, English, and French by that time.” “But you didn’t get any royalties for them, did you?” “No, nothing, because there was no agreement. But later, after Isaak Grigorevich’s death, the publisher wrote from New York, telling us that they had made us a gift. I assumed that it would be some kind of book, but it was an announcement of the establishment of a fund providing graduate stipends in Isaak Grigorevich’s name.” “For which graduate students? Soviet?” “For graduate students from all over the world.” “So graduate students in math departments from Berkeley to Dehli could receive this Aisman stipend?” 108


“Yes, this fund is continually replenished, and I found out that graduate students have benefited and continue to benefit from it. The mathematicians he knew have told me this.” “That’s really something! But let’s get back to the 1966 Moscow Congress. What else do you remember about that?” “Well, for one thing, we met a mathematician from New Jersey there – I don’t remember his last name, but his first name was John…” “Oh, John Schmon, what’s the difference?” “Yes. So he had a list of all the Soviet participants in the Congress, and he put a cross opposite the names of Jews and a half-cross opposite the names of half-Jews. And I found out – yes, now I remember – his last name was Schwartz. And he asked me whether or not I was Jewish. And they had marked him as an enemy.” “Whom? Schwartz or your husband?” “Everyone. They gave me a mark, too.” “Speak louder! Every time you say something important, you start to speak quietly! We’re no longer in the Soviet Union! Louder, my goodness, louder, please!” “They had collected material for a long time, and I had worked in the Military Academy.” “They surveilled you at the Congress? Listened to your conversations? Did you go to restaurants there?” “Yes, I did. When we returned to Kharkov, they didn’t ask him anything, but they called me immediately to the First Department. And before I left for the Congress, I had gone there to request permission to go on a business trip. And the head of the First Department told me that he couldn’t give me official permission from the military institute to go to the Congress, but he gave me verbal permission. ‘Just don’t tell anyone where you work,’ he said. Well, I didn’t tell anyone there where I worked. Nevertheless, when we were at a banquet there, a man in a brown suit came up to me while I was having a lively conversation – I vividly remember it. So he was listening, biding his time until I finished my conversation. Then, this man came up to me and said, ‘I think we met somewhere or studied together. Where are you from?’ In short, he started weaving some kind of nonsense, and I said to him, ‘No, I don’t recognize you.’ It was clear that he was observing me, which we figured out later. Yes, so in the First Department, when I returned, I was told, ‘You were at a Congress

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in Moscow. Write down everything you did there.’ But I still didn’t like all of this – it meant I was already under surveillance.” “And what about Isaak Grigorevich?” “He wasn’t called there at first, but they could obtain information without doing so… We had a full house of people, after all, and among them were informers. I suspect two people in particular.” “You’re still speaking very quietly! Louder, speak louder! So, name these people We’ll bash them together!” “I can’t do that. To this day, I’m not sure about them.” “Were they Jewish?” “Yes, they were. One of them is in Israel, and the other took off for England. I couldn’t make any assumptions, but Lyubich warned me about one of them. I said, ‘How can you say that about this religious person who was so close with my papa?’” “Do you have any proof of their KGB contacts?” “No, but there are suspicious details. When the kosher rabbi came to visit, he asked, ‘Can I make a phone call?’ And right then he called someone about some kind of trifle. It was a sign that he might be the one.” “So do you think he was hiding a recording device in his pocket?” “I don’t know if he even needed that.” “Do you think Isaak Grigorevich was reckless?” “Very!” “From naiveté? He wasn’t naïve, was he?” “No, he wasn’t. He just couldn’t stay silent. From pride. Inner pride. Any kind of degradation disgusted him – degradation of any person, whether he was Jewish or not. He spoke his mind on all issues.” “So, do you think they were building a case against him?” “Yes.” “When?” “I think it was after the Moscow Congress.” “But didn’t he restrain himself at all?” “Yes, of course. He wasn’t a complete idiot. He didn’t slip into conversation with just anyone. But during the Six-Day War, he couldn’t hold back – he was glowing.” “So was he eventually called to the KGB?” “One fine day he brought home a Polish newspaper in Yiddish. He couldn’t read Yiddish, but later learned to from me. And these papers were lying around our apartment.” 110


“So anyone could come in and see them?” “Yes. So he came home one day and said that we needed to bring the papers to my aunt. We went there together, and he had an attack of renal colic on the way.” “Did he have kidney stones?” “Yes, these attacks happened occasionally. I gave him pyramidon, a warm bath, and cognac. He got a little better, but I decided to invite one of his graduate students over, because his temperature got higher and I was scared.” “I don’t understand! So he was called there?” “Well, yes. He didn’t tell me everything then…” “Was he afraid of upsetting you?” “Yes. He only gave me tiny hints, but the decision to remove the papers was of course connected with his visit to the KGB.” “But did he really have an attack?” “Yes. He had kidney stones in the urethra. They splintered, and that’s why he had a high temperature.” “Tell me more about this.” “He was resting at home. And I actually had no lessons at that time. The next day, I went to school, and my boss asked, ‘Where have you been?’ And I understood that the KGB had called looking for me. I went to my lecture, and someone from the administrative office was sitting there. I gave my lecture and went back home. Then someone called from the rectorate, and Isaak went there. The rector had a chat with him and said that he should come tomorrow at a certain time. It was Wednesday, the 29th. He went there the next day. I came back home in an awful state. Then they called me and sent a car for me. When I got rocked on a turn, the driver looked at me. I felt that he sympathized with me, that his eyes said, ‘Hang in there!’ I arrived. Two men met me with Isaak. They were extraordinarily polite. They took my coat and hung it on a coatrack, and one of them said, ‘Isaak Grigorevich wants to talk with us in your presence. We wouldn’t have invited you here otherwise.’ So, the conversation began.” “What did they ask you about?” “About our conversations at the Congress, about literature.” “Speak louder, louder! Why is the tape recorder transmitting my voice just fine, but I can barely hear yours?! Louder, for heaven’s sake!” 111


“He said, ‘My wife doesn’t know anything.’ Then they said, ‘Why don’t you go back home. We won’t write anything down. Just go back and think it over tonight, and in the morning come back and tell us everything in detail. Where you were, what you did, what you heard from whom, etc. Now we’ll drive you back.’ And they drove us back home.” “In a Volga?” “Yes. And the painful night began. Borya was at my parents’, and my daughter was at home. Papa came by in the evening, but I sensed that Isaak didn’t want to say anything in front of him. When Papa left, he started talking with me: ‘You know, I have no way out. I don’t want to let down my friends.’ I said, ‘Why go to that extreme? So you’ll be imprisoned…’ And he said, ‘You’ll be imprisoned too.’ ‘So let me be. That’s life, too.’ And he said that they’d beat it out of us and slander us all anyway. And that there was only one way out – death. I stayed with him the whole night, and he talked about this with me the whole time. “I remembered that when I met him at the KGB that time, he said quietly to me, ‘They know everything.’ But he didn’t sign anything. He was afraid that if he survived, they’d still say he signed everything. He told me at night that he couldn’t do something like that without my permission. I said to him, ‘What are you talking about?! How can I give you that kind of permission?!’ Perhaps I didn’t completely understand what was going on at that point. “I said to him, ‘Let’s discuss everything calmly tomorrow morning, Isaak. We’ll find a way out. Let me give you a sleeping pill, and I’ll take one myself; we’ll sleep well.’ And he said, ‘But it has no effect on me.’ ‘Then I’ll give you two.’ “I remember that he gave me two pills first, and I asked him, ‘Did you take yours?’ and he said, ‘I’ll take them, I’ll take them.’ And I also remember his gaze. He held my hand, and I remember they way he put his hand on mine. “That night a man visited who loved him very much, and considered him a second father. This young man, his graduate student, was also born in Odessa and studied at Kharkov University. He now lives in Philadelphia. He came that evening at my request and stayed the night. I put him up in the big room.” “Did he know about the KGB?” “Yes, he knew about it. I didn’t tell him the details, but he knew.”

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“But was he already in your home when you were talking with Isaak?” “Yes, but he was sleeping. So, as I was saying, I put him in the big room. When I woke up early in the morning, the kitchen window was open. I looked out…” “Was the window on the side of the courtyard?” “No, it was on the street, and at that moment they were already knocking on the door. Papa had brought Borya home, and they saw Isaak on the ground. That moment stayed with Borya for his whole life.” “He must have died instantly. Weren’t you living on the seventh floor?” “On the eighth.” “Did they apologize to you?” “No, but a prosecutor called me in, asked me this, that, and the other thing. Isaak had left a note, and they showed me it. In the note, it said that I didn’t know anything, and that his decision was connected with his condition. But in the other room…” “The prosecutor’s?” “Yes. They were both sitting there, a young man and an elderly man.” “And they didn’t apologize then?” “No! When I stopped by, they both got up, shook hand with me, and offered their condolences. “Every year until I emigrated, the members of his department gathered at his grave on the anniversary of his death. The first year, I knew they would come, and I arrived a little early. And two guys were already hanging around. They knew the department would be gathering.” “But the KGB didn’t bother you, did they?” “Not the first year, but later the deputy director of the institute called me in: ‘They say you have first-level access, you can work wherever you want, you have connections…” “Are you a doctoral candidate?” “I’m an associate professor. After I was fired from the institute, I was able to get a position at the Kharkov Institute of Radioelectronics. When I arrived, the rector said he’d been given some time to think it over. He ‘thought’ for several weeks, and 113


then took me anyway. Maybe it was the shame and disgrace of leaving me, a mother of two small children, without work and the means to survive. They couldn’t sink to this low.” Chapter 18

The Foundations of Karvelism Julius Leontyevich Karvel asked for my help, as a hematologist, in connection with some problems his daughter was experiencing. During yet another blood test, done without any complaints on her part, I discovered that she had eosinophilia. That’s how I made his acquaintance. A normal eosinophil count usually doesn’t exceed 3-4%, but Karvel’s daughter’s was substantially higher. There could be many reasons for this: allergies, intestinal worms, bronchial asthma, various granules, and a series of other diseases acccompanying the eosinophilia. Eosinophils are unique cells. When you examine a blood smear under a microscope, you can immediately recognize them. They have a distinct red-colored graininess around the nucleus. Karvel was very concerned about their quantity and the lengthiness of the condition, although his daughter felt fine. During my acquaintance with Karvel, after two or three meetings, I immediately sensed his persistence, his desire to get to the bottom of everything, to bring this business to a conclusion. It seemed to me that this was the only thing in life that interested him. We all love our children, and worry about their health. But I had never encountered what I would call such violent determination in relation to a child’s condition, such dedication and interest on the part of a father. We – I say “we” because it became clear from the beginning that it was our shared project – ruled out one condition after another. But within the limited possibilities in Kharkov, it was very difficult to diagnose this eosinophilia. We gradually became friends. Karvel was an associate professor in the physics department at the Kharkov polytechnic institute. There was a chair there, naturally, a full professor. Although Karvel spoke neutrally of his boss, there were rumors – and I don’t want to slander anyone without reason or proof – but 114


I repeat, there were rumors that his boss could be characterized as an anti-Semite. Maybe he wasn’t an anti-Semite, but regardless, it was surprising and even unnerving that Karvel, a Jew, had been in this department for so long, and demonstrated “peaceful coexistence” with an anti-Semite, whether genuine or imagined. Karvel, it’s true, found an appropriate explanation for this, as for everything else. Not puffing himself up as a great scholar and innovator, he hinted, as though in passing, that if his boss got rid of him for this kind of reason, then the department affairs would immediately worsen, would “go south,” as they say. This was because Karvel, among all the other mediocre faculty members, was the motor of the department as both a researcher and teacher. And to top it off, he published two books: one on his own, and one with a co-author. His theme was coacervate theory. He told me many colorful, interesting, and even funny things about this theory. Previously, the only thing I knew about water droplets was their use in Chinese water torture: the criminal sits with his hands and feet bound, and drop after drop of water slowly falls on the same spot on his skull, with unhurried, exacting Chinese precision. And the unfortunate victim goes out of his mind from this constant dripping, and either dies on his own, begs to be killed, or is killed without requesting it, with no sympathy or mercy. It was very interesting to speak with Karvel, and on top of that, he had a very unusual hobby. In those days in the Soviet Union, “anti-Zionist” booklets periodically came out. There were more than usual after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, when the Soviet Union broke off diplomatic relations with Israel, and when, as they say, there was no longer any reason to hold back. You could count the authors of these booklets on your fingers. Everyone despised them, but there would always be someone who loved and praised them. Before Karvel, I’d never read or even opened up a single one of these booklets. But Karvel collected them, he hunted for them as if they were rabbits. He clearly didn’t stint on them despite his modest associate professor’s salary. I visited him at his home. His wife Lilya was a pretty, thin, Jewish woman, sharp-tongued but not mean, actually rather pleasant. She always tried to treat me to something tasty she had made, and you could tell that it came from the heart. When she stated her opinions on various topics, she rarely departed from her husband’s views, but it didn’t come across as slavish 115


agreement. To me, they simply seemed to be like-minded. While Lilya set the table, Karvel showed me the shelf in his bookcase with “those booklets.” They stood next to each other, and he showed me one “discovery” after another, reading aloud “selected passages,” as with Gogol. It would have been very funny if it weren’t so sad. By the way, I first saw and tried kosher food at their home. Karvel didn’t wear a kippah, of course, and we didn’t have any deeper conversations about Judaism. It turned out that Karvel not only worked side by side, as a Jew, with a suspected anti-Semite, and indulged in a strange hobby that would have attracted the attention of the official organs of power (I don’t think I was the only one Karvel “treated” to this “dish”), but also openly kept kosher. This really surprised me. Did I like Karvel? Yes. He didn’t worm his way into your confidence or impose on you; he presented his suggestions in such a way that you didn’t feel any pressure. I can’t say the thought “Oh, he’s so aggressive! He’s so pushy!” didn’t cross my mind. But after all, it was a matter of his daughter! I was struck by Karvel’s ease with everyone. He never returned to the past or had any thoughts of the future. He told me, “Musya, never plan further than two hours ahead. Don’t think about tomorrow or what will happen a year from now. Just a twohour interval. No more than that.” I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t. I didn’t go in for all that Buddhism, Zen-schmen, extreme individualism, Judaism, or the rational egoism of Vera Pavlovna’s fourth dream! But Karvel spoke and behaved in such a way that it was his own, Karvel’s, and no one else’s behavior and philosophy, and everything was in harmony: his behavior fully corresponded to his philosophy. I even came up with a term, Karvelism, maybe not right away, but later, after many months of contact and friendly relations. Karvel’s appearance was not in any way remarkable. He was thin, spry, with an oval face – not very handsome, but certainly not arousing any disgust – with lively eyes, reddish, slightly graying hair, a long nose without a “Goebbels hook” and expressive lips. His face, naturally, would change as he began to speak. His speech was fluid, correct, without profanities, slang, or superfluous words. It was the speech of a cultivated, well educated person. He was not boring, and for me this was the most important thing, because I passionately dislike bores.

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His intellect shone whenever he opened his mouth. To my regret, I often meet people, especially among our “brother Jews,” who have “intellectual” faces, almost like copies of Einstein (could they be his children?!), but who upon acquaintance turn out to be as primitive as everyone else, if you’ll pardon the exaggeration. One such “intellectual,” a “son of Einstein,” once asked me in all seriousness, when the conversation turned to Hitler’s last days: “Didn’t he sail to Argentina on a submarine after the war ended, as they’ve written?” Karvel was not at all arrogant. He never bragged or boasted, although he could certainly do things other people could not. I’m running ahead not by two hours but several years. Karvel visited us in America (I won’t say from where, since it wouldn’t be interesting to read about). In our Chicago suburb of Wilmette, there is a Bahai church, a temple of all religions, or the five there. We were still new enough in America that this temple, especially with the flowerbeds arranged around it – the best in the city! the best in the world! – seemed to us to be the acme of architectural perfection, although it was in fact only an impressive imitation. We showed it to all our guests, considering it our sacred duty to show them this temple, this palace, this cathedral of white “carrara marble.” We offered Karvel this “tour,” too. He expressed interest in our suggestion, but we got worn out and didn’t make it to the temple until it was already closed. It was usually enough for us to walk around outside, showing guests the Dutch tulips, but Karvel wanted to go inside. My wife told him that the temple was closed, and it was impossible to go inside. There was an enormous iron door, as on any proper cathedral. But Karvel told her, that’s all right, I’ll go in anyway. He went in, and we stayed in the car in view of the entrance. When Karvel went up to the door, an attendant emerged. I told my wife, “You don’t know Karvel. He can get through a wall!” And sure enough, after a short conversation, the attendant opened the iron gate on the door, and they disappeared inside. If I were to write, like Stalin’s “The Foundations of Leninism,” a “Foundations of Karvelism,” I would focus on precisely those traits that could be set forth in the form of Karvel’s advice: don’t plan ahead, don’t look ahead any further than the next two hours, don’t tremble, don’t torment yourself, don’t think in the morning about what awaits you in the evening! Concentrate your will and energy on resolving the problems of the moment, and forget everything else! 117


But did these basic principles of Karvelism really apply to Karvel himself? Time went by, and we were completely unsuccessful in handling that damned eosinophilia. We could neither diagnose it nor lower the number of eosinophils in the blood. I was very puzzled by the condition of his daughter, who was 10-12 years old during this time. But Karvel, with his stubborn attempts to find the reason for the “eosinophil syndrome,” inspired a purely sporting interest in me, because the girl looked to be in excellent health, and even flourishing. Here I should make a brief digression. The events I am now describing happened 30-35 years ago, as I’m now already in my twenty-sixth year in America. The whole affair took place in three stages. The first stage was when the event took place. The second was when I dictated this story into a tape recorder 10-15 years later. And the third stage was another 10-15 years later, as in Dumas, today, on a flight from Chicago to Paris, listening to the old recording and transcribing it onto paper. I wanted to write down everything the way it had happened. But this story wasn’t only about who Karvel was, but also about who I was. Now I see that Karvel, without any particular effort, was able to completely pin me down. Was I naïve, trusting, stupid? It didn’t seem that way to me at the time. I was myself. All of this was interesting to me. I lived for it. I liked Karvel. I had no doubts about anything. I couldn’t even imagine that Karvel was making a fool of me, giving me phony analyses and not planning for two hours ahead, but expertly playing a well thought out, protracted game many moves ahead. I can’t remember now – and there’s nothing on the tape about it – whether even one analysis was done in our laboratory, the oncology wing where I worked. Karvel didn’t want to bring his daughter to the oncology wing – why traumatize a child? After all, she didn’t have cancer, and it never developed. He examined his daughter somewhere else, perhaps in the student polyclinic in his institute. He also did analyses of intestinal worms somewhere. Karvel only brought me papers, or maybe he didn’t even bring me those, but just said: “We did an analysis yesterday – the number of eosinophils decreased or increased by 4 percent.” Everything else took place through words, the words of the father himself. 118


Occasionally he disappeared for some time on a business trip to Moscow. At a certain point, my interest in the mysterious and unexplainable eosinophilia began to fade, since I didn’t discover anything new. After yet another trip to Moscow, Karvel said that the physicists there took him to the All-Soviet Institute of parasitology. Having infiltrated this institute, pretending to be a doctor, Karvel found a female Bulgarian graduate student, who had was writing a dissertation about a very rare form of intestinal worms: larvae that led to prolonged eosinophilia. These larvae, Karvel explained, could not be discovered through the usual method of analyzing feces in the intestinal worms. For that, you needed a special fluorescent color with serology tests, which were the only way to confirm the existence of these hidden larvae. This struck me. I had never heard of any such larvae, and gave Karvel my blessing, the way Aaron blessed his brother Moses, for his trip to visit the pretty Bulgarian woman in Moscow. Karvel took all his papers and a jar of his daughter’s feces, with a finely ground stopper, and flew to Moscow. The mysterious Bulgarian struggled with the analysis of the feces for several months, and finally a pleased Karvel announced the news I had been impatiently awaiting: his daughter had this rare, never before seen larvae. I was also happy as a child. I praised Karvel, and was ready to sit down and work on a tract, “The Foundations of Karvelism.” But it was a time when the city was seething, and several desparately bold Jews had bought and packed suitcases. They were imagining seas and oceans, deserts and mountains, skyscrapers and smaller houses beyond the horizon! Everything was leading up to immigration. When everyone was waiting for invitations to Israel, quiet as mice, hoping to travel as soon as possible to the Promised Land or – very, very secretly – to America, Karvel announced to me that he planned to go to London! To me, it was as if he had said he was planning to go to the moon! “To London?!” “Yes.” “But only the minister of Foreign Affairs, Gromyko, can go there!” “But I’m going anyway.” 119


“How? And what for? Who will let you?! We can’t even go to Israel, and you’re going to London?” “I learned from some physicists I know that there’s an institute there, where they can treat Sonya of these larvae. You know that we don’t have the means to do so.” “Indeed we don’t.” “So write me a reference, a big, serious reference with all the data, all the results. I’ll add everything that the Bulgarian woman did for me to the reference. She’ll even give me photographs of these larvae from an electric microscope. I’ll go to the organs of power with all these documents and my invitation from the London institute, and ask them to let me go there due to the condition of my daughter’s health. For purely humanitarian reasons, you know? If I’m not allowed to go, I’ll send a complaint to a European conference on collaboration and safety!” All of this seemed like a dream or ravings to me, but Karvel spoke so calmly and persuasively that I believed every word he said! In a couple of months, Karvel went to London with Lily and his daughter, and in the classic English manner, didn’t say goodbye to me. Rumors spread through the city. When someone began to speak about this to me, I said that Karvel possessed an exceptional, simply inhuman strength and persistence, and that he was able to do what we couldn’t even dream of doing! He could do anything, I said, telling everyone who was interested about the eosinophilia, the larvae, and the Bulgarian woman. Of course, people had their doubts. They called Karvel all sorts of things: a stool pigeon, a denouncer, a traitor and provocateur. It was hard for me to believe this. But I also had doubts, like all of us shitty intelligentsia, according to Lenin’s wonderful, precise definition. Here’s something about Lenin, by the way, if I ever write “The Foundations of Karvelism.” In the Tsarist Duma, there were five deputies, members of the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party. One of them, Malinovsky, was a provocateur, a Tsarist security agent. Lenin was guiding the work of the Duma from abroad, and knew all them well, and he valued Malinovsky the most. Those who knew Malinovsky better than Lenin, who after all was abroad, wrote to him and also told him in personal meetings that Malinovsky was a provocateur. But Lenin didn’t believe it. He resisted, hesitated, 120


doubted, and didn’t impose any sanction on Malinovsky’s review of the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party faction. In the end, Malinovsky was exposed and shot after the revolution. After leaving Kharkov, Karvel lived in London and taught physics in one of the colleges with the resonant name “Royal.” At this time, I settled in Chicago with my family. We rarely got in touch with each other, and then mostly by telephone. I had no interest in Karvel, and he had none in me either. However, once, on a trip to some conference, he spent a day with us in Chicago. I asked him about Sonya, of course, about her health. “Everything’s fine,” he answered, not going into details. I sensed that he wanted to put an end to this topic. In our last phone conversation ten years ago, he told me that he was planning to move to a more expensive neighborhood in London. The reason: Sonechka needed a “prestigious address” to enter into a good marriage. Chapter 19

An Ordinary Detective Story On Wednesday evening, her husband got a toothache. He took a pyramidon tablet and went to bed. But in the morning, his cheek was puffy. He called a stomatologist, and then called into work, warning them that he would be late. Later, Kostya called his wife twice from work: the first time when he arrived at work from the stomatologist’s, to tell her that he felt better, and again before leaving. “Should I pick up anything?” “Could you buy bread?” When Elena got home, Kostya wasn’t there yet. Their son came home. “Is dad here?” “He’s already on his way. Are you very hungry?” “Yes, very.” “Should we wait for your father to get back with the bread?” “What if his toothache came back and he went to the stomatologist again?” “All right. I’ll give you dinner.” “Sit down with me, mama.”

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An hour went by. Elena cleared the table and washed the dishes. She called the stomatologist. Nobody answered. Then she called Kostya’s department at the institute where he worked. Nobody answered there, either. So she called the front desk. “Your husband, Konstantin Petrovich, left with everyone else. I saw him leave,” said the security guard. Then she called the department head, Semyon Mikhailovich, at home: “Kostya hasn’t come home from work. Have you sent him anywhere?” “No, he left with everyone else.” At 10:00 in the evening, Elena couldn’t stand it anymore, and called the district police: “My husband hasn’t come home from work – he’s disappeared.” “Call the city morgue,” the duty officer advised her. At the morgue, they said that no one had been brought in. At 11:00, Elena called the police again. “If your husband doesn’t return by morning, we’ll put out a search.” At 1:00 in the morning, the phone rang. Elena grabbed the receiver: “Your husband is alive. Prepare 1,000 rubles for his ransom. I’ll call you again.” Horrified, Elena started to make calls to all her relatives in the city. At 3:00, they all burst into the police station together, and demanded that the duty officer report the kidnapping of Citizen Konstantin Petrovich Kudryavtsev. In the morning, the police called Elena and told her to stay home and wait for the detective. Another detective was sent to Kostya’s institute. A police officer visited the director, the deputy director of sciences, and the secretary of the party organization, and informed them of Kudryavtsev’s disappearance. The conversations with the family and at the institute didn’t reveal anything suspicious. Konstantin Petrovich was a splendid family man, and had never failed to come home. He had no enemies at work, was in excellent standing with the administration, and was respected by his colleagues. On Friday, the caretaker of the apartment building reported: “I saw Kudryavtsev yesterday at the store. He was buying bread.” “What time was it?” “About 6:00 in the evening. He left the store with a loaf of bread, and I followed him to our building,” she said. “I saw him 122


turn the corner of the building, and I went to the tram to meet my granddaughter.” “And you didn’t see Kudryavtsev again?” “No, I didn’t.” Nobody else had seen him. It was as if he’d vanished from the face of the earth. He had gone down the road leading past the five entrances to the sixteen-floor apartment building. His entrance was the last one. He had gone straight past it and … had disappeared, gone missing. It was like in Daniil Kharms: “And from this time, and from this time, and from this time he disappeared.” On Friday evening, the chief investigator of urgent affairs, Lieutenant Colonel Sergei Lvovich Bolshakov, headed a group to investigate the affair of K. P. Kudryavtsev. At the meeting in his office, they discussed two possibilities: kidnapping and murder. There had been two important pieces of evidence so far: the caretaker’s testimony and the ransom demand. A more everyday explanation was briefly discussed and dropped immediately: could Kudryavtsev himself have called and demanded 1,000 rubles from his own wife? As far as kidnapping, several questions immediately came up. Who plans a kidnapping near a person’s home, at 6:00 in the evening, when everyone is coming home from work? After all, Kudryavtsev had turned the corner of his own home, not someone else’s! He had gone up to his own entrance! Could he have been attacked two steps from his own entrance? Had he been overpowered, knocked down, and dragged off somewhere? Without resisting? Such a strong, wellbuilt guy? It was one thing for nobody to notice or remember a passerby, but someone would have noticed an attack with the goal of ransom or something else. Kudryavstev would have screamed, broke loose, fought back in some way! But it was a different matter if he knew his kidnapper. This meant the first possibility was that Kudryavtsev was stopped by a person he knew well. For what? Not for ransom, of course. The second possibility was that the person who called knew about Kudryavtsev’s “kidnapping.” And the third possibility was that the person called to lead the family astray, to send them on a wild goose chase to disguise a murder as an imaginary kidnapping. They called to buy time, because the murder would leave a corpse, which they would need to get rid of, and they needed time for this. While the police were 123


looking for a kidnapper, the murderer could destroy and remove the corpse. They decided that they needed to look for a corpse and a murderer somewhere near Kudryavtsev’s residence. Wherever the corpse was, the murderer would also be. Kudryavtsev was not kidnapped, but murdered, and it was a murderer, not a kidnapper, who had called his wife. On Saturday morning, the first announcement confirming the police’s version of the events came out: a human hand belonging, according to forensic conclusions, to a 40-45-year-old man, who had died around two days ago, was found in a public bathroom in a city park. The hand had been removed by cutting and other makeshift means… On Thursday evening, Kudryavtsev was heading home with a loaf of bread. He had walked along the asphalt road leading to his building and passed three entrances. His entrance was the last one, the fifth. At the fourth entrance, someone’s figure loomed ahead. Coming closer, Kudryavtsev recognized Prokopovich. “Kostya, greetings from the gym!” “Hi, Grisha!” “Are you on your way home?” “Where else would I be going? See, I just bought bread for dinner.” “Is Lena already home?” “I don’t know. I called her from work. Maybe she’s home, maybe she’s not. We get home at about the same time.” “Why don’t you stop by, have a drink before dinner? I have good Armenian cognac.” “Well, I don’t know…” “I’ll show you my tiles. I’m planning to retile my shower. Didn’t you just do this yourself?” “Yes, I did.” “Then you can show me how high to put the tiles. Come on.” “OK, but not for too long.” Kostya Kudryavtsev and Grisha Prokopovich took the elevator to the sixth floor. The box of tiles was lying on the hallway floor right at the entrance. Grisha took out one tile, and he and Kostya went to the bathroom. Kostya explained to Grisha what level he needed to put the tiles at. Then they went to the kitchen. “Sit down, take off your coat.” 124


“No thanks, I’ll stand.” Grisha got out the cognac and two glasses. He poured it. “Let’s have nuts for a snack. I picked this up in Bulgaria – chasing cognac with nuts.” Grisha brought a hammer and began to crack the nuts: “I’ll do it right away.” After he’d cracked the nuts, Grisha made a toast to Lena’s health. The men clinked their glasses and emptied them. “Yes, that’s nice. Now I’ll chase it with nuts, too.” Grisha refilled the glasses. “Let’s drink to Lina now!” suggested Kostya. “Lina went with Liza to Leningrad for the holidays, so I’m alone in the house. Listen, Kostya, I wanted to have a talk with you, so there wouldn’t be any misunderstanding between us. How long have we worked at the institute together?” “I came four years ago.” “That’s right, four years. And this will be your first business trip abroad?” “Yes, my first. What about you?” “It’s my sixth. Or it should have been my sixth. You already know all of this.” “Grisha, don’t get upset. It’s not the end of the world – you’ll have another chance.” “I doubt it. Let’s drink again, to our children, to your Pavlik and my Liza! And I’m not upset. I just want to understand why I’ve been allowed to go abroad five times, but not a sixth time, with you.” “Well, it has nothing to do with me. Your place in the group was given to a colleague in the main committee, a Muscovite, Molchalin. And you know this better than me.” “Yes, I do. But why was he given my place and not yours?” “Because you’ve already gone on many trips, and I haven’t.” “Why else?” “I don’t know what you’re driving at, Grisha. We’re not in competition. You work with molten construction and I work with block construction. Our work doesn’t intersect.” “But Molchalin isn’t a molten specialist, is he?” “No, but he isn’t a block specialist, either. He’s in a completely different field, you know?”

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“Fine, let’s speak frankly. All things being equal, what do you think? Why did they pick you and leave me out?” “Listen, Grisha, I’m telling you as a friend and neighbor. You’re not a child. You can see what’s going on, how many of our colleagues at the institute have gotten permission to go to Israel!” “That doesn’t affect me any more than it does you.” “Maybe not, but they say that you’re half Jewish, and your wife is Jewish. The situation, as they say, is not in your favor.” “I’ve sensed this for a long time, but just so you know: my father is Belorussian, and my mother is Russian. I’m not Jewish, and have never considered myself Jewish. Prokopovich is a purely Belorussian name. If I were Jewish, I wouldn’t have been allowed to go abroad five times.” “The situation was completely different then, though.” “But that’s blatant racism!” “That’s all the more easy for you to see.” “What do you mean by that? I’m a party member, I was secretary of the party committee, the director of a large laboratory, and you… you… you…” “Grisha, why are you blowing your top? I’m also a party member, and that’s something. Come on, let’s drink another glass and have some more nuts.” Grisha’s hands started trembling. Slowly, splashing the cognac, he filled the glasses. “Let’s drink to us, Grisha, to ourselves. You’re a good guy, Grisha, but you’re too trusting. Can I give you some friendly advice?” “Go ahead!” “Don’t talk about yourself so much, you understand? Don’t babble. Our people are lousy. Whatever they find out is immediately a secret to the whole world.” “What are you hinting at?” “There you go, twitching again. I told you, I’m telling you this as a friend, with good intentions, and you’re getting red as a turkey. I’m only telling you what I’ve heard…” “So?” “Does Gita Korotich work in your laboratory?” “Yes, she does.” “She told Svetka Grebneva…” “What did she tell her?” “She went to Baranovichi for her grandfather’s funeral…” 126


“Yes, about a year ago.” “So just by chance, she saw the grave of a Prokopovich in the cemetery…” “So what? There are millions of Prokopoviches!” “Maybe, I won’t argue that. But she noticed the name and patronymic, Baruch Moiseevich, and his birth and death dates…” At that moment, Grisha grew very pale, quickly grabbed the hammer he had just been using to crack the nuts, and with all his strength struck Kostya on the head. The blow landed in the very center, on the crown. Kostya’s eyes dimmed. He swayed, but found the strength to take a step toward Grisha and stretch out his right hand, as though defending himself. Grisha struck him again, in the same place. There was a cracking sound, and Kostya started to sink to the floor, but Grisha continued hitting him… Blood flew to the sides, spraying the walls, ceiling, kitchen cabinets, table, glasses, nuts, and Grisha himself… On Saturday morning, the chief investigator Bolshakov went to the Kudryavtsevs to personally conduct the inquiry. The atmosphere during the questioning was tense, even charged. It seemed to Elena – and her relatives confirmed this – that the police, who questioned them so meticulously, and all but accused them of complicity, were actually hiding their inability to find her husband’s kidnapper. Elena didn’t know about the hand that had been found in the bathroom. Bolshakov decided not to tell her about this, so that she didn’t lose her head, and could still provide evidence. Elena thought the actions of the police had frightened off the kidnappers. To all the investigator’s seemingly useless questions about Kostya’s relations with people, his character, and his possible connections with the criminal world, Sergei Lvovich got only monosyllabic, meaningless answers from her and her relatives. At the end of the six-hour interrogation, the lieutenant colonel asked Elena: “Could someone have been envied your husband the trip abroad he was preparing to take, or been unhappy with him?” “Envy him? I don’t think so. It was only his first trip. Many people had already gone abroad several times.” “But could he have been standing in someone’s way? For instance, maybe someone else wanted to go, but they sent your husband?” “I think two people from the institute were supposed to go, Kostya and Prokopovich, but Prokopovich was rejected by the 127


central committee in Moscow, and instead of him, they gave the spot to one of their own, a Muscovite, central committee worker Molchalin.” “And was Prokopovich unhappy about this?” “Of course. Although I don’t think he was terribly upset – he’d already been abroad many times.” “Do you know where he lives?” “He lives in our building, in the next entrance, on the sixth floor. Several of Kostya’s co-workers live in the building.” Bolshakov quickly said good-bye to everyone and called three police detachments on his walkie-talkie from his car. In twenty minutes, the building was surrounded and blockaded by masked policemen. Nobody turned up in Prokopovich’s apartment. Searching the apartment, they found a backpack with a pelvis in it on the balcony, and two legs in a suitcase under the bed. It became clear that Prokopovich, after killing Kudryavtsev, was currently getting rid of the remaining body parts, and would return home sooner or later for the rest of his “goods.” At 9:00 in the evening, Prokopovich returned home and was arrested at the entrance to his apartment. After six months of investigation, there was a trial. The trial lasted a little over two months. Prokopovich’s speech took four and a half hours. Admitting to the murder of Kudryavtsev, he testified that he had killed him in a fit of frenzied anger: “…over the course of an extended period of time, I experienced a suspicious, watchful attitude from the social leadership: the secretary of the party bureau and the chair of the local committee. It began when it became clear that my candidacy for a trip abroad was being investigated. In connection with this, I was asked twice whether it was true that my father was Jewish through my grandfather, that my wife was Jewish, and that she had relatives in Israel. This was humiliating and inspired a feeling of protest and deep outrage. “I couldn’t believe that this could be a reason to deny me a trip. After all, I’d already been abroad several times. But the timing couldn’t be a coincidence. I felt an atmosphere of hostility and mistrust thickening around me. I sensed studious glances and unspoken judgments behind my back. And for what? For what reason? I have never understood anti-Semitism. Only in a theoretical sense. And now it was crawling all over me. A wall of aloofness started to grow around me. It became suffocating. And 128


it was all the worse since it took place silently, without any insulting verbal attacks, hidden, secretly. There was no one I could clarify my situation with face to face, and demand an explanation. Outwardly everything looked proper, as before. The leadership was pointedly polite, and their subordinates were businesslike. Only when I happened to catch smirks and suspicious looks, secretly cast at me, did I sense with my whole being a deep hostility, suddenly arising between me and the collective I’d worked with for so many years. It dragged on for so long that it exhausted my nerves. It felt like skin with a thirddegree burn. Just the light touch of a gesture or word was enough to make me lose consciousness, to attack a person without any responsibility for my actions…” The prosecutor rejected Prokopovich’s arguments about his lack of responsibility as laughable, far-fetched, and untenable. He insisted that the murder of Kudryavtsev was premeditated and remarkably cruel to its victim. The medical experts counted 32 blows of the hammer to Kudryavtsev’s skull. In concluding his speech, the prosecutor demanded the highest measure of punishment for Prokopovich. After a short discussion, the court sentenced Grigory Borisovich Prokopovich to execution by firing squad. Nine months later, a short announcement appeared in a local paper: “G.B. Prokopovich, head of a laboratory at one of the leading scientific research institutes in the city, by nature an ambitious careerist, pursuing the lowest, most mercenary goals, carried out a premeditated, remarkably cruel murder of a colleague at the same institute, K. P. Kudryavtsev, a serious scientific researcher who enjoyed well-deserved respect among his colleagues. A panel of judges of criminal affairs, having examined the case, sentenced G. B. Prokopovich to the highest measure of punishment. The murderer’s pleas for mercy were rejected, and the judgment was upheld. The sentence was carried out.”

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Chapter 20

She Left “What year was Semyon Markovich born?” “1922.” “And where was he born?” “The town is called Shchorsk today, but he only lived there for a very short time, and later lived in the village of Mikhailovskoe. It’s in the far north of Chernigov District, right on the border with Russia. Many Russians lived there. It’s along the road from Kiev to Moscow.” “Can you tell me about his family?” “His mother was a dentist, and his father was a pharmacist. The village they lived in was part of the former estate of the sugar factory owner Tereshchenko, who possessed a great library. Can you imagine? Such a small village, but it had one of the best libraries in Russia.” “You just said that many Russians lived there. Were there also Jews and Ukrainians?” “Yes, many of both. There were churches and synagogues. It was like an international center. And already in Soviet times, there were two schools. Syoma studied in one of them from second to tenth grade.” “In a Russian school?” “Yes.” “Were his parents Jewish?” “Yes, both of them.” “Were they religious?” “No, they weren’t. His mother was very artistic, and took part in amateur artistic activies. There was a small amateur theater there.” “Did Tereshchenko live there?” “No, he lived in prerevolutionary times. All that was left was his estate and library. You could say that Semyon spent his childhood in this library. He was an intellectual, but around when he was in the fourth grade, he had a reputation as a hooligan. But after that, he got interested in reading, and had already read Capital by the sixth grade.” “So Tereshchenko had Marx, too?” “Yes, he did. He had everything.” 130


“So Semyon had free access to the books?” “Absolutely. Anyone else could have gotten the book. He just liked books a lot. And by the way, many of his comrades also grew up there. For instance, he has a friend in Moscow, Nikolai Kalinin, a professor at Moscow State University. He’s been friends with him his whole life.” “And this friend also used Tereshchenko’s library?” “Yes. When Semyon Markovich defended his doctoral dissertation, there was a banquet in Moscow, and this friend, Kolya Kalinin, spoke. He said that he started school in the second grade, and on the very first day, a red-haired boy beat him up. But he understood that this was the way things should be, since he was a new boy, and had gone straight into the second grade. Then he learned that this boy had also gone straight into second grade, and he turned out to be Syoma Derman.” “He was called Syoma?” “His family called him Sulya.” “Did he beat him up badly?” “Not too badly. Afterwards, they became good friends.” “And he had bright red hair?” “Yes, very bright. He cut it very short until the tenth grade, because he was self-conscious of it.” “Was his hair wavy?” “It was curly. And it stayed that way for his whole life.” “And he had a thick head of hair?” “Yes.” “Was he very active?” “Yes. He was the chair of the School Committee and took part in amateur productions.” “Was he a good student?” “He received a gold diploma and enrolled in Moscow State University.” “Was this in 1939?” “Yes, 1939.” “Were his parents still alive when he went to Moscow?” “Yes, his parents were still alive, but his father died that very year. He was 42.” “What did he die of?” “Apparently from a sudden heart attack. His mother was still alive, but she was evacuated during the war, and then taken into the army.” 131


“Why do you think he chose Moscow State University?” “For its prestige, I think – no other reason.” “And he enrolled in the math department?” “Yes, but he didn’t have any special interest in math. He had various interests. He entered the university when he was 17. But he was called to service in a year, when the Finnish campaign began. When he was in his second year, World War II began, and he was evacuated with the university to Ashgabat.” “And what did he do there?” “In Ashgabat he made friends with Esenin-Volpin, who later became a famous dissident. They studied at the same level and slept in the same bed. In 1942, he was drafted into the army…” “Was Esenin-Volpin also drafted?” “No. You know that he had psychological problems…” “Oh yes. And Semyon Markovich never tried to avoid the army?” “No! He went like everyone else. At first he was taken into the cavalry institute, but things didn’t work out with horses.” “What didn’t work out?” “He didn’t groom his horse properly, and he was removed from the institute. And he went right into the active army, into artillery reconaissance, at the sergeant’s rank.” “What is this – artillery reconaissance?” “It’s not battle reconaissance, but aiming. With an instrument like a topographer’s.” “And he ended the war as a sergeant?” “Yes.” “And where was he at the start of it?” “Right in the area of Stalingrad. Where no one just left: you either died or were wounded. At the beginning, they lay in the snow for three days; that’s the kind of curtain fire it was. His fingers and toes were frostbitten, but he managed to avoid amputation. Later he was shot by a sniper. Here he was ‘lucky,’ too. First, it was his birthday, January 3. Second, his shin was pierced through, but fortunately the bone was not grazed. This was generally considered a light wound. In any case, thanks to this he survived. He was removed from the front line. He stayed in a field hospital nearby. If it hadn’t been for this wound, he would have been killed like everyone else – you were either wounded or you died. That’s how it was. He was given a medal “for courage.” He was very proud of this medal his whole life. 132


Precisely this medal. In a couple of months, he returned to the army. And so he fought until the end of the war, and was not discharged until 1946.” “Did he have any other wounds?” “No, although he was in both Austria and Hungary. He had medals “For the Capture of Budapest,” “For the Capture of Vienna,” and “For the Liberation of Prague.” At the end of the war, he was in Austria. And after the war he was transferred to Bulgaria.” “Where was he on Victory Day?” “In Vienna.” “Did he get any other awards?” “No, just the medals. He was repeatedly nominated and rejected.” “How so?” “Well, for instance, he was nominated for the Order of the Red Star after the capture of Budapest, but the Staff Commander rejected him.” “Why?” “For personal reasons.” “Was the commander Russian?” “No, Jewish.” “Did Semyon Markovich offend him in some way?” “Yes.” “How?” “Right after the end of the war, the former Staff Commander himself told Syoma. ‘I,’ he says, ‘rejected you, because you beat me at chess. That’s how I got even with you.’” “Come on, be serious.” “I am! But this didn’t bother him much. Everything bounced off him.” “So it really didn’t bother him?” “A little, but not much.” “What was he, insensitive?” “No, not at all. For instance, one of his school friends, a pilot who was nominated for the title Hero of the Soviet Union, was given 25 years for some joke. And when we were already living in Lvov, and he was in prison there, his wife turned to us for help. She lived with us, and Semyon Markovich brought parcels to him in prison all the time.” “What kinds of feelings did he take away from the war?”

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“He threw himself into helping everyone. He was able to get along very well with people. He never got a big head.” “Were there people who spent the whole war with him, from beginning to end?” “Yes, there were some. But in general, very few people born in 1922 and 1923 survived.” “Did he tell you about any interesting events?” “There was this incident. They were sleeping in a village. But at night, the Germans captured it. So they had to find their way somewhere else. First of all, they had to find some kind of food. By the way, he was modest but no coward. And he volunteered every time other people were afraid. So, he left the house they were spending the night in, and got hold of some horse. When they ran from this village, they were able to eat it.” “They killed the horse?” “No, they found a dead horse, and while they were hiding in the forest, they survived on it for several days.” “But how was he able to drag away an entire dead horse?” “He was young and strong. He dragged it with all his might. At night.” “So he took it from the war. Is it hard to talk about the war like this? Does it come with deep feelings?” “Yes, he defended his motherland, his people.” “Did he get together with his wartime comrades after the war?” “Not very often, but he wrote to them, exchanged photographs.” “So he didn’t have any feelings of bitterness after the war, no resentment?” “No. It was a war against fascism.” “Did any of his relatives die in the Holocaust?” “Yes, his paternal grandmother, and his aunts and uncles. They were shot together with everyone else.” “So where did he go from Bulgaria?” “He returned to Moscow State University and studied there for a year. And his mother lived in Lvov and worked as a dentist.” “How did she wind up in Lvov?” “She was a military doctor, and after the war, she settled there. So, when there was a food shortage in Moscow, Syoma

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joined his mother and transferred to Lvov University. And that’s where we met.” “Were you in the same year as him?” “I was a year ahead.” “So you were 21?” “No, I was 24. I fought for three years, and he fought for five, that is, he was in the army for five years. Therefore, although I was two years younger than him, I was a year ahead.” “What was it like in Lvov then?” “The faculty was mostly Polish, since Lvov was part of Poland, and in 1946 all of them had to go to that country. The former Polish citizens were repatriated, and they were forced to leave. And in their places, a new faculty arrived, from Moscow and other cities, a very good Soviet faculty.” “But what drew them there? Who would go from Moscow to Lvov?!” “Well, let’s say someone in Moscow, or Leningrad, or Novosibirsk defended his or her doctoral dissertation, but there are no professor positions available, and he or she has no apartment, but has a family. Well, of course this person will go to Lvov for a faculty position and apartment, and the apartments there are very nice…” “What about you?” “No, we had a normal apartment. I lived with my parents. And that is how famous scholars came to Lvov. So there were people to study with.” “What year were you in when he arrived and you met?” “I was in my fifth year, and he was in his fourth.” “And how did you meet?” “He came to a seminar, and I happened to be giving a talk. He looked at me and thought: ‘Who is this unsmiling comrade?’” “And then you got married?” “We got married at the end of 1948.” “Did he live with his mother up to that point, and you with your parents?” “Yes. Later that year, I became a graduate student, and in a year he did as well.” “In Lvov?” “Yes.” “Did you also specialize in algebra?” “No, I studied probability theory.” 135


“What about him?” “At first he didn’t specialize in algebra. That’s just the thing: Semyon Markovich always had his own individual interests! Lopatinsky was his dissertation advisor. He gave him his theme of differential equations.” “Was Lopatinsky a Pole?” “No, he was Russian.” “Was he one of the professors who went to Lvov?” “He was born in Iran, and resembled a Persian, but considered himself Russian: Miroslav Borisovich Lopatinsky. He had an aristocratic bearing. He came to Lvov in 1947 from Baku. In 1949, Semyon Markovich became his graduate student, and in 1951 I had already graduated but hadn’t gotten a job. The campaign against ‘cosmopolitanism’ had already begun…” “Against Jews, you mean?” “Well, yes. I was lucky to find work at Uzhgorod University, where a physics and mathematics department had just opened. I was able to get a job as senior lecturer. And in a year, when he had finished graduate school, he also came to the same department in Uzhgorod. We lived there for 15 years, until 1967. He created an algebra school there. “Lopatinsky taught a field called ‘The Application of Differential Equations in Algebra.’ It wasn’t pure algebra, and Semyon Markovich was interested in pure algebra…” “What do you mean, he created a school? This is how you would say it in a meeting, but what does it actually mean?” “The thing is, he had a personal impact on everyone around him, and this led to a school formed of his students.” “What made him so popular? I had personal contact with him. I remember how charming he was. He drew everyone to him, some kind of magnetism emanated from him.” “People were constantly staying with us day and night. When we lived in Kharkov, they would come and live with us for a month. We had personal, informal relations with people who would come, listen to music, talk about literature, and even discuss politics without any fear or inhibition, saying everything they wanted to.” “Were you in Uzhgorod during the Doctor’s Affair?” “Yes. A friend of our friend told us then that we were on the list for resettlement. To somewhere in Yakutia. He told us in strict confidence.” “Did this frighten you, make you more careful?” 136


“We didn’t believe it, so we continued as before.” “You mentioned literature and music. What exactly was discussed? In Kharkov he was the first to show me an album of Salvador Dali’s paintings.” “Well, that was already part of our entertainment in Kharkov. He was a born pedagogue. If he was fascinated by something, he was ready to fascinate everyone around him with it. Most of all, he loved Beethoven. He loved Beethoven more than Mozart.” “Were all these people, his students, working on one mathematical problem?” “No, everything was somehow connected, but in general there was a pretty wide range. He gave his students problems, and they worked on them.” “Well, that’s not how it works in medicine. Does the head’s doctoral dissertation consist of candidates and colleagues?” “No, his doctoral dissertation, which he defended ten years later, was purely his own, his own work and solutions. A completely individual discovery. He loved teaching. One student said after her exam, ‘Instead of just giving me a D, he spent another half hour explaining something to me!’” “But he still gave her a D, right?” “Yes, of course. But he explained how she should have answered.” “Where did this come from, this kind of approach to people?” “From his mother. His mother was unusually kind and gentle.” “How were you doing financially?” “We did well enough.” “Did you have a car?” “No. We didn’t have extra money.” “How did he work?” “He was always thinking about something or other. He could write on a trolley ticket. He took many walks, and thought while he did so. He wasn’t trapped at his desk.” “Does a mathematician need to write a lot?” “Well, he would come up with ideas while he walked. Then he would come home and write down the formulas.”

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“He often went on walks with me, too. So, could he have been thinking about these formulas while talking with me about different things? Conversation didn’t prevent him from thinking?” “Yes, people didn’t even notice this. It was as though he had many floors in his mind. He didn’t like just talking on the phone. He preferred personal contact.” “And why did you eventually move to Kharkov?” “We considered Uzhgorod a kind of pit stop. We needed to provide an education for our children, and we needed professional training. Kharkov had great mathematicians and math schools.” “And did certain people help you move?” “Yes. There were people who wanted us to move there. There was a competition, and we were accepted into the newly created Institute for Radioelectronics: him as a professor and me as an associate professor. They gave us an apartment on Pavlov Field, on the seventh floor of a nine-floor building. Later, when Gluzkin had a heart attack, Semyon Markovich became chair of the Mathematics Department.” “And was your life the same as in Uzhgorod? I mean in terms of contact with people, openness, discussions, talking about political events?” “Yes, we lived the same way.” “And this apartment was also filled with people?” “Yes, it was full of students. But the thing is, the KGB in Kharkov was persistently searching for a certain figure, to uncover a Zionist ‘conspiracy.’ They decided that they needed to choose an academic for this purpose. They considered other names, but those people were for the most part very careful and led their lives discreetly: work, home, wife, children, grandchildren. And they didn’t fit the role of conspirator that the KGB-men were looking for. They therefore decided that Semyon Markovich was just the right person. Many people were coming and going, there were constant conversations. In short, it was just the perfect place for them, the best river to catch a big fish! I think they bugged our apartment starting in 1972. We went to Moscow, brought an underground publication, and talked a lot, especially about Solzhenitsyn. Everything was recorded and scrutinized, and then they started to call in these people. They went to Moscow, Uzhgorod, Lvov, Kiev – everywhere where they could collect dirt and at the same time show that they were doing an enormous amount of work. 138


“For instance, they called in our friend and student Valya Tairova, an associate professor at Kharkov University: ‘Where do you spend your time, who are you friends with?,’ they asked. She sensed that they were talking about us, and she came over and told us about it.” “What year was this?” “1976. She told us, ‘Apparently, they’re talking about you.’ Then she went to Uzhgorod on vacation, and they were already waiting for her there. Kharkov people. And they started questioning her openly. She called us from Uzhgorod and decided to use coded language. She said, ‘Keep in mind that the canned food Tanya ate was bad, it was poisonous. You need to pump her stomach.’” “And who gave testimony against you?” “Semyon Markovich had a student, Kostya Derevyanenko. He liked him very much.” “Tell me more about him, please.” “When we came to Kharkov, Kostya worked in the Physics and Engineering Institute for Low Temperatures. He went to Semyon Markovich then and said he wanted to work with him on a candidacy dissertation on algebra.” “How old was he?” “About 27. But he was supposed to be called for army service then.” “Why?” “Well, he hadn’t served, and the war committee was starting to harrass him. And then Semyon Markovich said, ‘I’ll take you as a graduate student, and this will exempt you from army service.’ And Kostya became a graduate student, having gotten very high marks on his exams.” “So he was a capable fellow?” “Very capable. He wrote his dissertation on algebra in just a year and a half.” “So he was talented?” “Yes. He gave a brilliant defense of his dissertation. It was the only case when a student who had never studied algebra solved a problem so quickly. And we came to like him very much. He was always at our home, every evening, taking part in all the conversations. He was a good fellow, one of us. Then, when we began to receive information that someone had said something, Semyon Markovich asked him: ‘Kostya, did anyone ask you anything?’ ‘No,’ he said. In general, Semyon Markovich never 139


asked anyone about this, but he asked Kostya. And later, we were shown his reports about us, in which he said that we defended Sinyavsky and Daniel, because they were Jewish.” “But Sinyavsky wasn’t Jewish!” “Well, he didn’t know that. Then Semyon Markovich got together with Kostya and said, ‘I asked you about this!’ Then Kostya told him the following story: ‘They called me and suggested I surveil someone, but they didn’t say who it was. I was sure that it was Verkin…’” “Wasn’t he the director of the institute?” “Yes. ‘I was sure,’ he says, ‘that it was Verkin, so I agreed to do it. And then,’ he says, ‘when I found out that I needed to surveil you, it was too late to back out.’” “Did he continue to visit you?” “No, he didn’t come back any more, because he didn’t need to – all the material was already collected. Then he complained to someone that the last time he went to the apartment, Semyon Markovich threw him down the stairs.” “But this didn’t happen, did it?” “Of course not.” “So he got everything he wanted from you. He defended his dissertation, became a senior research associate?” “He became the chair of a department with 200 faculty, and Verkin worked closely with him.” “Is he still in Kharkov?” “Yes.” “And he got away with all this? Isn’t this event in that book with Semyon Markovich’s biography?” “No. And his name isn’t anywhere, either.” “And he didn’t experience at least some moral punishment anywhere? He’s still afloat, even after the collapse of communism?” “I don’t know exactly, but I was told he lost everything in some kind of finance venture.” “Recently?” “Yes.” “But you don’t know where he is now?” “No.” “And he didn’t call when Semyon Markovich died? He made no attempt to repent, to apologize?” “Oh no, he didn’t.” “So how did all this end?” 140


“In March of 1976, I was being investigated by the KGB at the same time as Semyon Markovich. I was on the second floor, and he was on the third.” “Exactly like me and my mama – every unhappy family resembles each other! And was it after this questioning that everything I’ve witnessed took place?” “Yes, they passed the business along to the district committee, which expelled Semyon Markovich from the party, and they worked me over at the trade union line. And then his affair went along the chain of command, and the district committee suggested that the rector of the Kharkov Institute of Radio Electronics strip him of his teaching duties and transfer him into the scientific research sector, but Semyon Markovich didn’t agree to it. I have to say that the rector, Novikov, showed some decency. It was a year before he fired us.” “Under what article?” “For moral degeneracy. Then Semyon Markovich was put on trial. And the director of the institute failed three times to appear at the trial. Then they reformulated it to say that, supposedly, they were had a competition, and he lost. In this case, you could only complain to the ministry, and then only if there was a formal violation. “In response to Semyon Markovich’s complaint, they sent a lawyer from the ministry. And this laywer, a doctor of legal studies, said, ‘What are all these formalities for? Once you are expelled from the party, you can’t stay one more day at your job!’ “Then Semyon Markovich started to submit appeals for reinstatement to the party. Otherwise, he couldn’t work anywhere. So he reached Moscow with the wonderfully worded formula, ‘Expelled from the Soviet Communist Party for Failure to Put a Stop to the Spread of Subject Matter with Anti-Soviet Views!’” “Terrific!” “In this way, the affair reached the control commission under the Central Committee Politburo.” “Under that old man, 86-year-old Pelshe, the Chairman of the Party Control Committee?” “Yes. Then voices were heard, saying, he’s a frontline soldier, this and that, and he felt that they’d reinstate him. He was told, ‘Say a few words there, and everything will be fine!’” “You mean, repent?”

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“Well, yes. ‘We know that you were talking about Brezhnev. We know everything you were saying.’ After all, they were eavesdropping on us. There were bugs in the flowers, the electrical outlets, the lights – it was the same everywhere. Conversations were monitored in every room and the kitchen.” “So was he reinstated to the party?” “Yes, he was, but he wasn’t given back his teaching job.” “Did he write them a letter?” “No, he didn’t write anything. But he told them orally, and they simply felt sorry for him and reinstated him to the party. He was allowed to stay in the scientific research department and permitted to give lectures, but without pay.” “And that’s how things were until the end?” “Yes.” “Nobody harassed you?” “No, nobody harassed us anymore. But the students defending their dissertations were blocked if Semyon Markovich was their opponent. He was blocked in the Higher Attestation Commission.” “Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko died…” “Yes.” “But your situation didn’t change?” “They promised to reinstate his teaching duties, but they didn’t do so.” “And he didn’t want to emigrate?” “No.” “Did he get sick? How did everything happen?” “He was a little sick for about three days.” “What time of year was it?” “It was in February. I gave him an aspirin. He said that it helped a lot, and he took another at night. He came out to the table. Natasha Soblinsky arrived. She read an article from the ‘Literary Gazette.’” “This was in 1987?” “Yes. During perestroika he started to feel more cheerful. Yes, so he sat down. Later, he got up and went to the hallway, and suddenly we heard the sound of a body falling. An ambulance arrived, and they tried mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.” “Did they perform an autopsy?” “Yes. They said his heart had completely ruptured.” “How old was he?” “65.” 142


“And you left in 1989?” “Yes.” “And the government and KGB took no steps to talk with you? Even though perestroika was in full swing.” “No. Nobody said anything or contacted me.” “So you left?” “Yes, I left with my children.” Chapter 21

The Smile of Augurs We’re sitting in my office enjoying our conversation. Tony’s wife has left. She has her own business and is always in a hurry. We’ve known each other for twenty-five years, but with a long break in between. We first met in Rome. Have we changed in all those years? No, we haven’t changed at all. I swear we haven’t changed, but Tony is still twenty years younger than me. Tony knows things about my life, and I know things about his. I especially enjoy it when Tony tells me about his oldest son – neither he nor I have any doubt that his son is a genius. I’m not joking! His son really is a genius. Tony is short, but well built. He has large eyes, black hair and a very Jewish face. But how did a Kievan Jew wind up with the name Tony? The story of this is where we begin. In his first interview at the American embassy in Rome, Arkady Iosifovich Guberman was told that he could change his first and last names in his application to emigrate to the U.S. He suffered greatly in the old country because of his last name, Guberman, so he decided to shorten it and add an “r” before the “u” to make it more American. He changed his first name, too, to make it sound good with the new last name. That’s how Tony Gruber was born in Rome. His new names gave him a new feeling of strength. From his first day in Italy, he shone with the kind of vigor only a free man was capable of, and he experienced the taste of freedom right away. Tony, who did not live idly, used the money he made from the sale of his Soviet junk to buy a second-hand six-seat van. Hiring an Italian chauffeur, he began to offer Soviet emigrants a completely new service, which combined tourism and commerce.

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Everyone was dying to see Italy, and they also wanted to sell the goods they had brought in their suitcases: nails, screws, cutting tools and screwdrivers, wrenches, hammers, chisels, sandpaper and grinding wheels, flashlights, cameras and radios, microscopes, lenses, ropes, binoculars, meat grinders, graters, saucepans, frying pans, pressure cookers, glasses with glass holders, knives and forks, nickel silver and silver, laquer boxes and enamel, playing cards and dominoes, Orenburg boas, terry cloth towels, bed sheets, robes, and folding bicycles. All of this was sold in a market that stretched along the Tiber River for a couple of miles. Mainly Italian dealers operated this enormous bazaar. Taking advantage of the inexperience of the novice negotiators, they cleverly brought down the prices, buying up the items laid out on trays for pennies. Tony, having driven to the south with his chauffeur, established that prices on the outskirts were considerably higher, sometimes three times higher, than in Rome. From this trip he discovered the following sales locations: a little bazaar next to the ancient amphitheater in Pompei (for cameras, lenses, flashlights and ropes); a place in the park along the embankment with a fantastic view of the Neapolitan gulf in Sorrento (for bedsheets, Orenburg boas, terry cloth towels and robes); a little square by the wall surrounding the church of St. Sebastian in Naples two blocks away from the Neapolitan Museum with the largest Titian collection in the world (for cast iron pots, playing cards, and dominoes); an open market not far from the grotto on Capri (for silverware, china, lacquer boxes and enamel, bedsheets). Tony would suggest that a family of four or two couples pile the maximum number of suitcases on the roof of the van so that it looked like a four-story house, and in a two-day trip see all the beauty and treasures of the Italian South, at the same time selling all their belongings for a profit. Talk of Tony’s van spread quickly, and I became one of his clients along with many others. Our trip started from Rome. The van usually stopped across from an “attraction” chosen by Tony, and he would tell everyone about it. His speech was rapid but precise, without excess emotion, without stress, gesticulation or grimaces. He spoke as if he were reading from a book. But the main thing was that his information was always new and unexpected. “The emperor Vespasian began the construction of the Colloseum in 75 CE, and his older son Titus completed it. By the way, the name ‘Colloseum’ probably didn’t refer to its enormous 144


dimensions. There’s a theory that the name came from the words Collis Isaaeum, ‘the hill on which Isaaeum is located,’ that is, the temple of the Egyptian goddess Isis. The Colloseum was situated next to this hill. It opened 80 years after Vespasian’s death. On the day it opened, Titus showed the spectators some surprising things: elephant battles, a naval battle on an area sunken by water, hunts for animals. That day about ten thousand animals were killed. At the end of the show, Titus ordered badges with corresponding signs to be thrown up to the spectators: some for food, some for clothing, others for silver or gold utensils. The people caught these badges, and then were required to present them to the distributers to receive the designated items.” We listened to Tony and regretted that he had come to Italy so late, and we weren’t living in the time he described. The van moved and Tony, bidding farewell to the Colloseum, quoted a Medieval monk who had been burned at the stake for heresy: “As long as the Colloseum stands, Rome will stand. When the Colloseum falls, Rome will fall. When Rome falls, the whole world will fall.” Tony demonstrated such precise knowledge of history throughout that we got chills. It seemed as though everything he was describing had happened not two thousand years ago, but yesterday. Near the Arch of Titus, Tony entranced us with his words: “In 68 CE the deposed Nero committed suicide by asking his bodyguard to stab him with a sword. On January 15, 69 CE in Rome, rebel soldiers killed Nero’s successor Galba and made Othon the emperor. But earlier, Roman legions in Germany proclaimed Vitellius their emperor, the same Vitellius who, as the Roman provincial governor in Syria with the subjugated Judea, removed Pontius Pilate, the fifth procurator of Judea in 36 CE at Tiberius’s orders. “In the spring of 69, Othon committed suicide, and the legions in Egypt proclaimed Vespasian, who had defeated Vitellius, their emperor. In this manner, Rome went through four emperors in a year and a half. “Vespasian died in 79, and Titus, who had seized, plundered and burned down the temple at Jerusalem in 70, became the emperor. This arch here was erected after Titus’s death in 81 in honor of that event. Titus was punished by God

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after the destruction of the temple – he was only emperor for two years. “They say that before his death he was at his younger brother Domitian’s banquet and ate something bad. It’s possible that he was poisoned, because the young, healthy, handsome Titus died right after the banquet, and Domitian became the emperor. This man was a beast. He had a little book in which he wrote the names of future victims across from the dates when they were to be killed. In this manner he destroyed nearly the entire Senate. He killed everyone in succession. All attempts to remove him failed. But here’s what eventually happened. In the evenings, Domitian often invited over a dwarf who amused him and stayed with him until morning. One night the dwarf managed to take this book from under the sleeping Domitian’s pillow. The dwarf quietly left the bedroom. As luck would have it, Domitian’s lover was walking toward him in the hallway. She saw the book and ripped it out of his hands. The dwarf was horribly frightened, because the lover was planning to go straight to the emperor with the book. The dwarf implored and begged her to read the last page: her name was written on it with the day ‘Tomorrow,’ that is, “Today,’ since it was already late at night. Then the lover and the dwarf ran to the head of the Praetorian Guards who protected the emperor. His name was also in the book, with the same execution date. The head immediately called the strongest athlete, a black giant, and ordered him to kill Domitian without delay. The three of them returned to the bedroom, and the powerful athlete smothered the emperor in his sleep. “Everyone hated Domitian except his army. The army loved him, because he went on campaigns with them. Learning the circumstances of Domitian’s death, the troops demanded the immediate execution of the conspirators, and they were all killed right away: the dwarf, the lover, the head of the Praetorian Guards, and the black giant. “After allowing the army to slake its thirst for vengeance, the Senate, when the army had calmed down, decided to proscribe Domitian. His name, like those of Caligula and Nero before him, were removed from all books, and the numerous statues of him were destroyed. The aged Nerva was chosen as the new emperor…” Tony’s success was extraordinary. People flocked to him. He worked without a day off. His wife left him right there, in Rome, and went to America with a Kharkov engineer. And Tony hung 146


around in Italy for about a year, which almost no one was able to do. When he appeared at my office many years later, he already had a different wife, and his life in Chicago was very well-ordered and successful. Just as he used to back then in Rome, Tony worked very hard. He owned a factory that produced special copper wires. He also invested in other businesses that brought him additional income. Although Tony was busy from morning till night, he didn’t look worn out or tired. I never heard him brag or complain about anything. You never sensed any of the arrogance of a typical highly successful businessman, which he in fact was. His behavior was always calm and polite, and he didn’t claim any special favors. But before Tony arrived, I nevertheless asked my secretary to arrange the schedule so that we weren’t interrupted for at least two hours. We didn’t spend much time on purely medical issues. In the presence of his young, pretty wife Kira, I chided him for not following his diet or exercising enough, for gaining weight, disdaining fresh air and relaxation, high levels of cholesterol and uric acid, and other transgressions that we all have so much trouble avoiding. With all aspects of his health, Tony was under Kira’s watchful eye. At her demand, he quit smoking, and under her supervision, he conscientiously took his medications. Keeping herself up to date, Kira took in every detail of my recommendations, modifying them to fit the situation and circumstances. With her, Tony felt as though he were standing behind a brick wall. But there was another part of his life in which Kira had almost no impact. Tony, a numismatist from childhod, collected ancient coins. His uncle was a famous numismatist. On Arkasha’s fifth birthday, Uncle Yasha gave his nephew a silver drachma, a Greek coin from the fourth century BCE. The coin depicted the head of Alexander the Great in profile, recognizable by the bump on his nose, and on the other side was a statue of Zeus on the throne of his temple in Olympia. The coin was large and beautiful, and Arkasha hid it in a porcelain coffee grinder, which no one used, on the lower shelf of the kitchen cabinet. After this, Arkasha’s uncle started to bring him to numismatists’ meetings in the Botanical Garden. Arkasha learned 147


to read at a very young age, but not children’s books: ancient Greeks and Romans replaced the heroes of fairy tales for him. By the time he was 15 or 16, he was already well known and experienced in coin-collectors’ circles. Along with coins, Arkasha also collected books, drawing from them knowledge of the coins themselves, the countries and cities in which they were minted, and the tsars and leaders whose images and names were depicted on them. In time, the history, culture, and mythology of the ancient world, especially Greco-Roman civilization, took on an even greater interest for him than the coins themselves. To be more precise, it was as though a unified, indivisible aggregate of the wonderful, vanished classical past and its contemporary, material embodiment in the coins that had been preserved and spread around the world had been minted in his mind. During his visits, Tony often took a new coin out of his pocket and showed it to me. This time, I violated the “rule” and showed him a coin that a numismatist had obtained for my brother. I was curious whether Tony would be able to identify the coin, and how precisely he’d do so. The coin was small, the size of a penny, and dark brown. You could only make out the inscription and portrait with difficulty. The coin was not perfectly round, with a projection. Tony took out a magnifying glass that he always had with him, and started to turn the coin around in his hands. “The coin is bronze. An irregular form from improper preparation for minting. In the inscription, I can make out the letters T, B, E, and… I think it’s Tiberius in Latin. Tiberius was a Roman emperor who ruled after Augustus from 14-37 CE. And this must be the period of the minting. There’s no depiction of the emperor on the coin… I see some kind of leaves… No, it’s sheaves. One, two, three… Three sheaves.. And this is some kind of stick with a twisted end… And I don’t think there’s anything else on the coin. No image of an emperor, animals, Roman gods or goddesses…” Tony was stumped for a second. I sat there with a neutral expression on my face. “It’s a Judaic coin!” he didn’t so much say as exhale. “It was forbidden to depict dead people or animals on Roman coins minted in Judea. This was permitted in all other Roman provinces. The sheaves are a symbol of fertility. Jews often depicted leaves, sheaves, and plants on their coins. We only have to determine what procurator the coin was minted under. Judea 148


had already lost its independence under Augustus, and it was ruled by Roman prefects, also called procurators. There were fifteen procurators in all. Between 14-37 CE, I think there were three or four procurators…” Now it was my turn to be surprised. I could hardly hide my delight at Tony’s unerring thoughts, the magic of his logic, the magnitude and depth of his knowledge. Tony pondered again, and then blurted out: “It’s a coin of Pontius Pilate! The stick with the twisted end is none other than an augur’s staff, a lituus. You often find symbols of augury on coins minted in Rome at this time. But this symbol was not used for any other procurator of Judea besides Pontius Pilate.” “Why not?” “Because before he was named prefect, Pontius Pilate was an augur.” No other numismatist had ever told me anything about augurs, or that Pontius Pilate himself was one. This was the first time I had heard it in my life. I decided to ask him about augurs. “Who were augurs?” I asked. “Augurs were Roman pagan priests, collected in a special collegium – a collegium of augurs. They didn’t work independently, but together, as colleagues. Their goal was to detect and interpret signs given by the gods. Originally, their ritual dated back to the gods of fertility; that is, they predicted, for instance, whether there would be rain, and more broadly, if the crops would be good. Gradually, the augurs started to expand their range of observations, analyzing and evaluating natural occurrences such as bird flights and songs, the behavior of wild and domestic animals, and also sacred chickens during feeding. Special significance was attributed to telling fortunes by the flights of birds (auspicia). “Gradually, the social role of the collegium of augurs grew to such an extent that not a single important military, political, or governmental decision was made without an auspicious outcome of the fortune-telling. If the collegium of augurs gave a negative response, a military campaign could be postponed.” “And where did the expression ‘the smile of augurs’ come from?” “We are indebted to Cicero for this aphorism. Once he happened to observe the fortune-telling procedure. And he 149


noticed that one of his friends had written in a letter – and this letter is preserved – that during fortune-telling the augurs smiled at each other in a way that made it seem as though they didn’t believe in what they were doing.” “So how do you know that Pontius Pilate was an augur?” “Pilate’s name is mentioned in seven reliable sources: in the four Gospels, by Josephus Flavius, by Philo of Alexandria, and in Tacitus’s Annals. Of course, none of these sources says that he was an augur. But I read about it in a book when I was already here. The author of this book was Florence Banks.” “And who was she?” “She was a coin collector. Her book came out in 1955.” “Did she have another profession?” “Yes. She was a high school history teacher in Oregon. Her photograph is on the dust jacket. I remember that she had the pleasant, open face of a teacher.” “Was she alluding to something by suggesting that Pontius Pilate was an augur?” “No. Her logic was very simple. Insofar as no other procurators had augur symbols on their coins (the characteristic staff, ladle, and cup), but Pilate did, it meant that he was close to this cult, so he must have been an augur. She even thought that his progress in the administration was connected to the interest in augury of Tiberius, who named Pilate procurator.” “And do you believe this?” “That Pilate was an augur?” “Yes.” “I think it’s quite possible.” “But Bulgakov, who for all intents and purposes wrote a novel about Pontius Pilate, never mentions augury.” “There aren’t any direct references, but there are hints.” “What do you mean?” “Well, how can I put it. Bulgakov probably wasn’t suggesting, like Banks, that Pilate was an augur. But he sensed something, had a premonition.” “I know the Gospel chapters of The Master and Margarita almost by heart. Bulgakov emphasizes that Jesus was a great doctor, and that he cured Pontius Pilate’s headache, his migraines, which served as the starting point, the beginning of their becoming closer: you cured me of my headache, and I’ll save your life…”

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“That’s correct. This is, so to speak, Bulgakov’s main plot line. But recall the atmosphere he creates around the interrogation, what accompanies the investigation of Jesus. The atmosphere is almost mystical: the blowing of the wind, the cooing of doves, the gurgling of water in the fountain, the elaborate movements of the sun with the constant alternation of light and shadows, all these sounds – rustling, knocking, the strange behavior of Pilate’s dog Banga and the secretary – all this is on the border of reality, the transition from the real world to the transcendental world. You’re right that Bulgakov mainly focused on the ‘doctor theme,’ since he himself was a doctor and it was therefore close to his heart. But the instinct of a writer and a person interested in cults, in the otherworldly, beyond the limits, the irrational, pushed him in a different direction.” “What direction?” I asked. “Look. If Pilate really was an augur, a pagan priest, if he really participated in fortune-telling and soothsaying, if he – to put it crudely – was a member of a cult, then it would have been easier for him to understand and sympathize with Jesus, even on the professional level, one could say. And this, more than anything else, might have called forth his sympathy for Jesus, and in the end, guided his subsequent actions.” “That’s a very interesting theory.” “But that’s not all. Do you remember how there’s a swallow flying around in Bulgakov?” “Yes, I think there was something like that.” “Do you have The Master and Margarita here?” I went to the bookcase and took out the book. Tony quickly found the place. “Listen: ‘… At this time, at the colonnade, a swallow rapidly flew in, circled the golden ceiling, descended, almost grazing the face of the copper statue in the alcove with its pointed wing, and hid behind the capital of the column. Perhaps it was thinking of building a nest there. In the course of its flight, a plan took shape in the procurator’s now clear head. It was this: Hegemon had thought over the affair of the itinerant philosopher Yeshua, nicknamed Ha-Nozri, and found no evidence of a crime. In particular, he found not the slightest connection between Yeshua’s actions and the chaos that had recently taken place in Jerusalem. The itinerant philosopher had turned out to be mentally ill. Owing to this, the procurator did not approve HaNozri’s death sentence, pronounced by the Lesser Sinedrion.’ 151


“So, as you see, Pontius Pilate first made the decision to save Yeshua from death spontaneously during the flight of the bird, the swallow. How is this not augury?” “But this is just chance, a coincidence.” “Wait a minute. Do you remember what comes next? Pilate’s secretary passes along the denunciation about Yeshua’s relations to power. Pilate continues the inquiry. ‘‘Be quiet!’ yelled Pilate, and with a violent gaze followed the swallow, which had flitted to the balcony again. ‘Here!’ he yelled.’ And when the secretary and guard returned to their places, Pilate announced that he approved the death sentence pronounced in the meeting of the Lesser Sinedrion for the criminal Yeshua Ha-Nozri, and the secretary copied down what Pilate said.’” Tony put the book on the table and stared at me. I sat there, shaken. Tony had masterfully “disposed” of everything, first my coin, then me, proving that the world is full of unsolved mysteries for those seeking adventure. I tried to say something, but nothing came into my head. Tony, noticing my confusion, changed the subject: “I often have the very same surprising dream, not even just one, but two. I’ll tell them to you next time.” And he added, smiling, “I’ll be interested to see how you interpret my dreams.”

Chapter 22

A Routine “I was with my brother around the clock. We weren’t apart for a minute. I really don’t remember being anywhere without him for these six days.” “And you never once wanted to be alone or with someone else?” “No, I didn’t. Sasha told me a lot. We walked around, I looked at the people, buildings, trees, trolleys and trams, cars. Sometimes I just looked down at my feet, and he talked, and I listened…” “You weren’t saying anything?”

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“When I visit my brother in Kharkov, I’m usually silent, because I’m looking at everything from a distance, although it’s my native city, while he’s looking at it from within. I feel like a newcomer, a stranger, and he feels at home. And if I said what I think – and I don’t like to lie and pretend – we’d be cursing at each other. And then it wouldn’t be a meeting of two brothers, but the opposition of two systems, two worlds, two philosophies, and two ways of life.” “So you never argued?” “There may have been a couple of times I couldn’t hold back. For instance, we’d be passing a building with half-collapsed balconies with rods sticking out from under the fixtures. And this building is not somewhere on the outskirts, but in the center of town, on the main street. And these decrepit balconies didn’t just annoy or even outrage me – they killed me. I wanted to shout, moan, and curse at the whole street, and not because the balconies were falling apart, but because no one around even noticed it, and my brother didn’t notice it either. Everyone had gotten used to this, and nobody cared about these damned balconies and the people who had not gone out onto them for ten years already.” “And you got worked up?” “Yes, and so in these general cases, when nobody is guilty of anything specific, and certainly not the people who live there, my brother, trying to justify the situation, says, ‘It’s a complicated question’ or ‘It’s a very complicated question,’ and we begin to get bogged down in thousands of reasons and circumstances, as if we were in a swamp. But everything comes down to the same thing it always does: there is no money, there are no means or opportunities, and nobody, including my brother, knows when any opportunities will appear. And sensing that I won’t get anything out of my brother, I don’t ask him about anything else. Now, I’ll start from the beginning, so I don’t leave anything out. “I arrived in Kharkov on a flight from Vienna, exactly as I did the year before, in the first days of October or, to be exact, October 1. In principle, nothing unexpected should have awaited me on this trip. I didn’t expect there to be any substantial changes in the past year, and there really weren’t any. In the first few minutes, as soon as you descend the ramp of the airplane, you immediately experience a sense of desolation that seems unusual for an airport. It’s as if you hadn’t just flown into a city of a million and a half, a great city, from my point of view, but into some kind 153


of province, some district capital. Two or three old, draped airplanes loom in the distance. And then, your glance moves to an airport train station in the ‘Vampire’ style, with the roof crowned by an arrow that the resembles the Admiralty spire, only without the gold. Next to the main building of the railroad, you can see adjoining structures resembling barns, in fact not even resembling them, but actual barns. All of this immediately, from the first minutes and seconds, puts you in a philosophical state.” “In what sense?” “In what sense? Well, you need to compose yourself, restrain your emotions and take everything as it is. “25-30 people in all got out of the plane and everyone, after the first passport check right there by the ramp didn’t get upset, or taken aback, or conceal anger, but withdrew into themselves. Nobody smiled or talked in the bus. Everyone seemed to be preparing for something, awaiting something, and a kind of nagging melancholy glided in the air.” “You’re passing along your own sensations?” “I didn’t know or say a word to anybody on the plane…” “So you were only observing others?” “Yes, that’s right. If I hadn’t been flying alone, I would have had a distraction, but this way, I saw everything with eyes wide open, on all sides. And in general, I’ll tell you that it’s sometimes good to be alone… “We all got onto one bus, which brought us to the barnlike structure that said ‘Customs’ in Russian. We went through a narrow door into an empty room. I say ‘empty’ because no one was there. Everyone somehow imperceptibly wandered around the room, and then began to wander from corner to corner like street urchins. This room had a door to what was probably another room, and next to the door there was an opening on the wall, closed by two shutters, and under this opening a wooden ledge stuck out with scattered papers on it. The foreigners were standing quietly, and I, like a native, walked up to this ledge and took a paper, which turned out to be a long customs declaration form in Ukrainian. I understood that I needed to do something, so that my brother, standing somewhere at the exit, didn’t have a heart attack from the long wait. “I stood at the ledge, filling out the piece of paper. A line of foreigners stretched behind me, but there were no English declaration forms, so they took the same one I did. In a few minutes – but it seemed to be an eternity, or maybe it just seemed 154


that way to me because despite my outer calm, I was already agitated by gloomy presentiments – some kind of official entered the room and threw some declarations onto the ledge. The foreigners threw themselves at these forms like chickens at feed, and they started to fill them out, consulting with each other. “After I filled out the declaration form, I was the first to try to open the mysterious door that led to an mysterious room, as in Pushkin’s fairy tales, but someone inside told me I needed to wait for further announcements. In a while, two porters came into the room with the first of the suitcases, and everyone rushed after them. I saw my suitcase and happily grabbed it and rushed to the door that I was already familiar with, and a line formed gradually behind me.” “What are you, the first one everywhere?” “It’s a sickness. I’d probably be first in line for the gas chamber, too. But listen to the next part. In a few more minutes, the door opened from inside without any warning, and we wound up in a dark hallway no longer than seven or eight feet. And there were two sentry boxes in this little hall, on the right and left, with windows above and slots to stick passports into. Two women in uniforms and shoulder straps sat at each window. One sat in front of a screen, and the other sat at her side, and they were talking about something. Everything was happening very slowly…” “It only seemed that way to you, because you’re crazy!” “No, I swear, they fussed over my passport for a long time, but in the end returned it to me, punching a big stamp in it. From the little hallway we went to another room, where customs officials were bustling around. “Overall, the environment was very domestic. You immediately entered into close, almost family relations with the customs officials. I asked one of these ‘relatives’ what I should do with my suitcase, where I should put it. Here I overdid it, shedding the universal docility, bordering on servility, and a kind, pleasant half-smile flitted across my face. The customs official whom I addressed in this manner, so that he’d melt like wax, pointed to a car, resembling a Scion, and muttered something about the border. I took him to mean that in the place we were in, I was crossing the border, like Pastor Schlag in Seventeen Moments of Spring, only not on skis. “I loaded my suitcase onto the space in front of the Scion and waited while ‘my’ customs official dealt with the declaration form. By the way, it was my second declaration, because on the 155


plane we had already filled out one which, here on the ground for some reason didn’t interest anyone. The main point of the declaration, of course, was currency: how many dollars and euros we were bringing into the country. From previous experience, I knew that I didn’t need to hide anything, so I boldly put down everything I had on hand, that is, everything in my pocket. I confidently wrote down all the money I had – two thousand euros, since I’d be flying from Kharkov to Frankfurt for a book exhibit, and two thousand dollars. “The customs official signed my form and stamped it, circling the number of dollars and euros. Then he asked me to recount my currency. I reached into the pocket where my dollars were, and then the other where my euros were, and laid them out on the little table. The customs official signaled with his eyes that I should check the other pockets, too. I checked them and told him confidently that I didn’t have any more money. Then the customs official said, ‘Count it.’ I got flustered and frightened, because I don’t usually count my money in front of someone else. The situation was further complicated by the fact that I had many small bills. I’m telling you honestly that I’m usually good at math, but here I was unable to count it properly, and I recounted it several times. When I finally told the customs official the right amount, he compared them with the declaration and told me that I’d filled it out incorrectly. “I answered him calmly, with a smile. What is the problem, I said, if the sum is twenty dollars or euros off, if the difference is within this range? To defuse the situation, I said that I was a doctor, not an accountant, and as a rule don’t count money, that I have a receptionist in my office for this. The customs official objected that a doctor, and in America to boot, should be able to count money. It’s unheard of, he says, for a doctor not to be able to count money. And I repeated what I said about my receptionist, adding that the patients didn’t pay in my office, but in the waiting room, and that I don’t even see this taking place. “Then the customs official, with a sigh, explained to me that since the declaration was signed and stamped by him, he could not enter new numbers; he didn’t have the right to do it. And he couldn’t allow me to fill out a new declaration, either. There were special instructions about this, and he wasn’t planning to violate them. I told him that all this wasn’t a ‘big deal,’ and wasn’t worth a hill of beans, and that he could find 156


some kind of way out. I said that I was an old man, that my brother was also an old man, that he was standing there, past the door, worrying and suffering: why was I taking so long? That I visited him, an old, sick man, once a year in Kharkov. That I was born in Kharkov and had worked as a doctor there, and had treated everyone, including workers in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, indiscriminately, and was asking him, a customs official, to find a solution to the problem. Then he said to me, ‘Let’s go to another room.’ “We went to another room. Do you remember Chekhov? ‘She left. For another room.’ In the other room, which was really small, we were alone, and I told him I was willing to do anything. I told him this, again, very confidently, calmly, without any anger or annoyance – just the opposite, with a feeling of deserved guilt and complete penance, and all with the same simple expression and gentle smile, speaking kindly.” “You played it well!” “I wasn’t playing at all. I swear, I meant everything. I was glad that all this was happening to me, that I had an interesting story from the very beginning, and that I was the one who got into trouble in this way. I was a little frightened, but also cheerful. I tried not to show this feeling of cheerfulness, of course, so as not to embarrass the customs official, but this inner cheer was transformed into a disarming openness and friendliness. At this point I sensed that he was ready to settle this business amicably. And I said, ‘How much? 100?’ ‘That’s a lot’ he said? ’50?’ I said. He said, ‘That’s a lot, too.’ I said, ‘20?’ He glanced at the little table, and I put twenty dollars there. The customs official took me back to where my suitcase was waiting. I took it, and went to my brother.” “Did you tell him everything immediately?” “No, I didn’t say anything to him then.” “And he didn’t notice anything on your face, in your mood?” “No, he didn’t notice anything, because everything that happened had just bounced off me, like a ball off the wall. I just forced myself not to think of this episode! Not to think of it! “My brother met me with his niece, Liza. They rented a car, and we drove to my brother’s home. I looked out the window. It was chilly and overcast, as it usually is in Kharkov at the beginning of October. The leaves on the trees were not yellowing yet, but autumn could be felt all around: in the gray, cloudy sky, 157


the drizzling, and a sense of general sadness that couldn’t be mistaken for anything else. My brother heatedly told us about the upcoming presidential election, and I looked out the window, thinking my own thoughts, immersed into a familiar but at the same time no longer familiar world. “What was I thinking about then? That everything I saw had passed from my life irrevocably, and that my quarter-century in Chicago had made me into a completely different person. The feelings I was experiencing seemed to be telling me that although I was here physically right now, it was all in my past, and would never become my present. A person who has abandoned his native hearth somewhere, at some point crosses a line that divides the past and present. He can physically return to this past, if it’s his native city, but he’s already in a different state. “Nothing had changed in my brother’s apartment either. The same old rotary telephone, the same old couch on which I’d be sleeping, and the same dilapidation that you quickly get used to. Liza left right away, leaving me and my brother alone. After a twenty-hour flight with multiple stops, I collapsed into bed. The next morning, I went to my brother in the kitchen, where he slept on a little couch. Sasha was in the tiny space between the refrigerator and the kitchen table. He was exercising and preparing breakfast. All of this was happening at the same time, and it’s hard for me to describe it all.” “‘Very complicated’.” “Yes. Don’t laugh. I could divide the text into two vertical columns. On the right side, say, I’d describe his process of cooking, including all the ingredients, and on the left, I’d describe the exercises. But I’m afraid that this would be more appropriate for an academic article than an informal presentation.” “Then just lay out everything you can.” “OK. Before I came in, my brother had arranged a few saucepans on the gas stove to boil water. While they were heating up, he went through his first set of exercises, stretching his arms forward and raising himself on tiptoe at the same time. As soon as the water was boiling, he put six tablespoons of wheat bran into one of the saucepans and kept it boiling for half an hour. During this time, he did 60 squats, counting aloud so he didn’t lose track, and then, putting his hands on his hips, turned his body left and right 60 times. The synchronizing of his exercise with his cooking was just unbelievable! As soon as he was done with the exercises,

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the bran was ready, and he ate it right in front of my eyes as cereal, without adding salt or pepper, or anything else.” “Did he seem to be enjoying it?” “He ate with calm concentration. I wasn’t planning to try the cereal myself, but I asked him what it was like. He said it had a flavor of hay.” “What does hay taste like?” “I’ve never eaten it, so I don’t know. You’d have to ask some cows. Then, before beginning the next set of exercises, my brother began to cook the next course, the main dish, buckwheat kasha. To cook this, he used a special cast iron pot. He put ten spoonfuls of kasha at the bottom and poured in water, barely covering the groats. He left the pot on a low fire for half an hour so that the kasha, he explained to me, steamed instead of boiling. At the same time, he boiled a medium-sized alyssum for thirty minutes. He used this period of time for his next exercise: arms in front of his chest and to the sides 60 times – 30 times to one side and 30 to the other – and arms up and down 60 times.” “Was he counting out loud the whole time?” “Yes. He counted out loud and didn’t lose track. So now, the kasha and alyssum were ready. He gave me some kasha, and I added butter. It was very tasty: when I went back home, I showed everyone how to cook it this way. For himself, he made what he called an alyssum-buckwheat-cheese-apple salad, grating the alyssum, two sweet apples and two ounces of mild cheese. He mixed it together, seasoned it with corn oil, and ate it. Then he started to boil water for tea, which I’ll tell you about in a bit, and moved on to the next set of exercises. He asked me to move from the couch to the stool he was sitting on while he ate, and lay on the couch on his back. This exercise consisted of touching his sides 60 times, alternating with his right and left hands. Afterwards, he rotated each hand 30 times on his wrist, and clenched and unclenched his fist the same number of times. The last exercise was 15 presses against the night table. There was one exercise that I didn’t see. Sasha told me that when he woke up, he lay in bed on his back and pressed his right leg and then his left leg against his stomach 180 times! Now, let me tell you about the tea. The tea was a mixture of grasses for the treatment of gastritis (my brother had once suffered bleeding ulcers), so-called gastropathy. He brewed two tablespoons of the mixture – one for a large cup, which he drank in front of me, and the other for a small cup, which he’d drink at 8:00 in the evening.” 159


“What does he eat during the day?” “At 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon, he eats three and a half ounces of fresh cottage cheese in the park. At 6:00 in the evening, after a walk in Gorky Park, he returns home and cooks about a pound of cauliflower, also by steaming it, then cuts it into small pieces, adds corn oil plus one grated fresh, sweet apple – socalled apple cauliflower salad. Once a week he eats beef or chicken, and fish once a week, so he gets some animal protein. If he eats meat or fish, then he doesn’t eat cottage cheese that day.” “This is his whole routine?” “No, that’s not all. He usually passes a stool an hour after eating and exercising, abundant and not too hard in consistency, and he doesn’t go anywhere before this point, while he waits for the stool. Then he takes a hot bath, sitting in it for twenty minutes, and after the bath he relaxes for forty minutes. He leaves the house around 1:00 in the afternoon, and gets up at 7:00 in the morning, so this whole routine takes about five or six hours.” “Is he healthy?” “He’s two and a half years older than me. He never measures his cholesterol or prostate level, and takes practically no medicine, compared to my eight pills per day. He has a muscular and youthful body, and again, doesn’t have a belly, like me. He used to weigh 20-30 pounds more than me, at the same height, but now he weighs less than me. He used to run, and now he walks a lot. If it weren’t for his frequent dizziness, probably connected with his osteochondrosis, and his poor vision, he could be considered a completely healthy person.” “Does he ever travel anywhere?” “He’s never left the former Soviet Union, and now he longer travels anywhere.” “Why not?” “He used to have clearance. But when his clearance ended, he continued traveling only to Crimea, and then he stopped going there, too, so he wouldn’t interrupt his routine… It’s well known that people who lead measured, monotonous lives live longer.” “Doesn’t he have any other goals?” “You mean other than living longer?” “Yes.” “No, he doesn’t. His whole life is subordinate to this goal.” “Is he senile at all?”

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“On the whole, no. He’s started to make slips of the tongue more often. Overall, I see him as a mirror of what will happen to me in two and a half years. Once he mixed up Caligula and Caracalla when he was telling the history of the horse, saying that Caracalla forced the Senate to make his horse a Senator, when of course this was done by Caligula. But in general, Sasha is in good shape mentally and physically. He spends a lot of time in the library, as much as his vision will allow. As in Soviet times, he regularly listens to the foreign program ‘Voices’ on the radio, trying to stay up to date on everything. But his main passion, of course, is numismatics. He is still the chair of the Kharkov Numismatic Society. This is now his only ‘social burden’… “During my visit, Sasha told me how he had persuaded Vera to marry him: ‘I told her that I had collected coins from the age of nine, but didn’t smoke, and would never do so. Think how much it would cost if I smoked a pack a day. I don’t even drink beer, and won’t ever start drinking, and this is also a considerable expense. I don’t play cards or other games of chance, and I don’t go to the racetrack. I don’t have a habit of going to soccer games or other sporting events, or to restaurants. I’ll never insist on buying expensive furniture, cars, or other luxuries. I’ll live a modest and temperate life, making do with only necessities – inexpensive clothing and simple food. I promise to give you my whole salary, keeping for my coin hobby only what the statistically average person spends on cigarettes and alcohol. And Vera agreed.’” “Did he keep all his promises?” “Yes, with one exception. But now, if the routine maintains him physically, the coins and numismatic activities provide spiritual support. I regularly send him a bi-monthly numismatic magazine catalogue, and when I visit him, I bring additional books and catalogues, according to his requests. No books or textbooks on history can compare to the living information contained in a four- or five-line description of one ancient coin or another. Here you have the portrait of an emperor, and information about the year and place in which the coin was minted. Nobody knows history better than numismatists. They are obsessed with it. They remember everything and forget nothing. I know one numismatist. I asked him one question, and he sat in my car and gave me and my wife an hour-long lecture. No, it wasn’t just a lecture but a stream, an avalanche, a hurricane of information and opinions. He spoke 161


about Constantine the Great as if that leader were his dad, and not the father of his handsome son Crispus, whom he ordered to be killed at the urging of his second wife. He listed all of Constantine’s relatives as if they were his own, and in an hour he was able to convince us that Constantine was simply an intelligent, talented military leader and a fine swordsman, but that in every other respect he was only a clever, unprincipled, cruel tyrant and robber, who would stop at nothing to attain his goals. Now, I talk with this numismatist about once a month, but I’ve spent time with my brother my whole life, and he knows history just as well.” “And what does your brother do in the evenings? Does he watch television?” “Yes. But after the news, he looks at coin catalogues with a magnifying glass, and then takes a handful of coins from his collection, turns off the light, and lies with them.” “What do you mean, he lies with them?” “He puts the coins next to him in bed.” “What for?” “He pinches them, strokes them. Once he told me that he could identify any coin from his collection by pinching it in the dark.” “So he practices every evening, playing a game to see if he can recognize a coin or not?” “No, I don’t think it’s a game. There’s something more important. For him, it’s a higher pleasure, a passion, a kind of love. The love and passion of his whole life. He doesn’t just pinch every coin – he caresses it, the way a mother caresses her child.” Chapter 23

Work although we had the same friends and a lot in common we were very different it was simply in our genes our different traits were clear from the very beginning i played soccer but my brother didn’t he traveled a harsher path he did his homework and i didn’t he was more honest in this way he needed to solve all math physics geometry and trigonometry problems himself while i was a typical slacker in school i did my homework during breaks and would copy from someone even from a C student i didn’t disdain it at all i had a purely practical goal of receiving an A and 162


to reach it i brazenly exploited my brother who was only one class ahead of me sasha started reading thick novels early on much earlier than me but i remember how we would discuss the poetry of blok or pasternak or mandelstam but if he had a poetic musical interest then it didn’t survive maybe he didn’t have a musical ear just as our mama didn’t he sometimes hummed to himself but in general he wasn’t that interested in music whereas if i was at a friend’s house playing chess and heard beethoven’s fifth symphony ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta then we were playing chess to the sound of this ta-ta-ta-ta it was my life and that’s the way i felt about music it was like drinking water or breathing i couldn’t imagine life without beethoven without music and without poetry one pasternak stanza stayed with me for many years it was like a prayer or incantation “and plunge into obscurity, and cover up your tracks, the way the farmland hides in haze, when it’s completely black” i can’t live without this just as i can’t live without the tram or trolley i take every day but as i knew my brother never had this feeling and still doesn’t you couldn’t call him an unfeeling person but he was guided by a practical approach to everything and this led to a certain degree of conformity in his career and life and therefore our paths were completely different almost the way lenin said and if everything was hard for me enrolling in one institute and then another various crises i was on the verge of expulsion from the komsomol and had to rely on my father’s intervention then although my brother viewed the system the same way i did he took a pragmatic approach to everything and didn’t take it all personally beginning with enrollment in a closed educational institution and entry into the party in this closed institution which was necessary for his career he clearly had to become a party member but for me this was absolutely impossible although if i had studied traditional soviet science and become an associate professor in some department i would have had to join the party but that’s just the thing that’s why i couldn’t have traveled this path all of these things were connected of course i would have liked to give lectures in order to see the students in front of me especially the female ones and their faces i gave hourly lectures at the institute of advanced training of doctors when there were about 20-25 doctors and laboratory assistants in the auditorium almost all of them were women i experienced the excitement of lecturing when you are surrounded by people asking questions and you can’t stay but since i was against the whole ideological 163


system doing this regularly was out of the question for me but my brother followed this path consciously and willingly he wrote his candidacy dissertation in this closed institution and took a corresponding position and it would seem that in his career he should have been happier than me and should have had more than me but i was a free man i worked in a hospital and also became a doctoral candidate but in my case i was free every day we went to work in the very same tram and got off at the very same terminal stop he had to walk a little farther than me to get to work our buildings were about a mile apart but if i could come and go when i pleased to consultations or others sorts of business for him being even a bit late caused major problems if he thought he would be late even within say five minutes it was better for him to turn around return home call in sick and not go at all not to mention that he never told anyone about anything we had a general understanding of the institution where he worked but he never said anything about his work to me mama or papa his life was completely closed to us so in one sense he was free but at the same time in another way he was not i remember one episode not told to us in connection with anything in particular it was about some note or paper but for several months he went around either white as a sheet or black as night it turned out that he had not burned some paper on time or he burned it but didn’t document that he did so properly in short it was pure nonsense a piece of paper that clearly had no real importance but because he didn’t do what he was supposed to he was given the bureacratic runaround it’s a good thing this didn’t happen under stalinism or right after it but at the end of the sixties he was rebuked by the administration or party although it could have been even worse one of my patients here in chicago told me that he worked in a similarly closed institution and someone was sent to his office late at night to check his safe after he had left for the day nothing unusual was discovered in the safe except for one piece of paper with the phone numbers of people he was supposed to contact during a business trip but it was strictly forbidden to write down their phone numbers they were supposed to be memorized and he was fired for this malicious breach of security so my brother was actually lucky sometime during the middle of his tenure in this closed institution he wrote a letter of resignation and kept it in the inner pocket of his jacket not showing it to anyone until he found a new position eight years later for all these years it was as though he were living two lives that is he had a secret life and he 164


kept these two lives separate you know like having a wife and a mistress one life with a wife and another one with a mistress and perhaps this fully satisfied him and was enough for his spiritual health to a degree but his second life was visible to me both of us would come home to mama after work and after the dinner she had prepared he would lie on the sofa as the older brother and i as the younger would perch nearby and not every day of course but whenever he added a new coin to his collection he would show me one that he traded for our bought not going into detail about its value and he would tell me everything about the coin not only what was depicted on it but also how it wound up with one numismatist then another and finally with him and this history of the coin itself was more interesting than the detective novels of georges simenon or agatha christie especially when the authenticity of a coin was in doubt that is whether it was fake sasha would put it under a microscope and show me a scratch with his finger nail he never cut one of his nails for this reason he explained what a patina was and why it was important that it was there and what else was needed to authenticate coins he was the chair of the kharkov society of numismatists and stayed in that position practically forever and he never had any financial motives he never collected gold coins and his main interest in a coin was in its aesthetic and historical value its state of preservation and its rarity not its monetary worth at least i don’t remember him at any point in his numismatic career saying this coin is worth this many rubles he found his first coin at the age of nine he collected different types of coins but in the end he focused on ancient greek silver coins of unusual beauty and manufacture and these coins are like the parthenon nobody has surpassed them just as ancient greek sculpture and architecture have remained a model of classical art ancient greek coins occupy the same position in numismatics my brother instilled in me an interest in and love of the history beauty and unsurpassed value of antiquity and the achievements of human genius you can read and hear about the greek myths and their gods and heroes many times and not remember anything but it’s enough to glance at the profile of alexander the great on a silver drachma minted over three hundred and forty years before the common era depicted in the image of hercules in a lionskin robe never to forget anything as we know hercules’s first labor was his victory over a nemean lion hercules killed the lion stripped its skin and made himself a robe out of it so on coins of alexander hercules resembled the 165


king but you could tell it was alexander not only from the inscription but also from the distinctive shape of the nose and chin and the upper part of the skin of the lion’s scalp on his head of course sasha was not the most prominent numismatist in the country that was the muscovite sinyagin whom sasha often visited i went with him once sinyagin was a short thin elderly and highly intelligent man he had a first-rate apartment with high ceilings in an old building in the center of moscow its striking cleanliness and taste could be felt in everything along the walls what seemed to be bookcases in the big main room were small shelves with openings and from each opening you could pull out something like a tray in which a coin was neatly placed in a velvet depression only sinyagin could sort out the coins in this ocean my brother usually visited him for a consultation as a rule his question concerned the authenticity of one coin or another and sinyagin played the role of expert and sasha considered his opinion it’s true that one time sinyagin turned out to be wrong he judged a certain coin to be fake when many years ago my brother had established that it was actually genuine pyotr ilyich received us and probably other people hospitably without any arrogance or pomp which one might expect from such a master his authority was almost absolute he was a doctor of economic science and he held a prestigious position in some institute or ministry and was almost an advisor to the government it seemed that nothing could happen to him because of his authority connections and position but one morning it was a saturday he was called and told that some famous people he knew had arrived from simferopol and they agreed on a date and time to meet in the apartment when sinyagin wouldn’t be at work and he would send his wife to visit their daughter who also lived in moscow sinyagin opened the door to his guests and right then two men in masks came in they grabbed sinyagin tied him to the toilet pipes with wire and gagged him then they filled sacks they’d brought with coins from the little boxes and left without taking anything else sinyagin sat there in the bathroom for several hours with the gag in his mouth until his wife returned and freed him sinyagin lived in the very center of moscow on gorky street near belorussky station so the robbers were even more brazen to complete this raid in broad daylight they were never found but in a few months the coins from sinyagin’s collection reappeared in christie’s auction in london and he realized that the robbery had been ordered and someone had organized a transfer of his coins 166


from the soviet union to the west no matter how interested my brother was in numismatic activities he spent most of his time at work and occupied himself mostly with business having to do with his job but i think the secrecy, the closed nature of his position humiliatd him, as if he were emotionally castrated and i couldn’t for the life of me figure out how my brother could live such a life without desires or hopes i didn’t understand what this was all for all those long absences of several months even though there was no war and he was without his wife and children or a big city or his coins in the end what is the use when our one and only chance at life is absolutely worthless our one and only chance to take part in the eternal life of the universe and even if we can’t clearly imagine what this means there’s nothing worse and more frightening than wasted time for my brother work was not slavery or serfdom he could be fired but he toiled away for many years he lost his health due to his work he came back from business trips looking green my philologist friend wrote a candidacy dissertation about this subject why is melancholy associated with green i don’t know where my brother went he never talked about it i could only notice from his face what was going on with him his sunken cheeks the somehow hungry look of his drawn-in face with the pointed nose and bulging eyes i don’t understand why he needed to pay such a price his mentality changed in those years there was a shift from his ordinary narrow pragmatism to a feeling of almost slavish humility humble yourself proud man said dostoevsky my brother scorned the smallest comfort but comfort means a normal bed on which normal people sleep and not on nails like rakhmetov the moral position of asceticism gave my brother a halo in the eyes of his friends a man completely devoted to lofty intellectual goals with an almost monastic, hermit-like existence he wore a threadbare shirt worn-down shoes frayed pants flaunting it in this way justifying his inner puritanism as though he were saying you accumulate money but i don’t need anything and it was hard to tell to what extent this was conscious alienation from material things and how much of it was the kind of stinginess this alienation usually masks i’ll never forget how we were with him in moscow and his daughter was with us and somewhere on the arbat we wound up at a fair where artists were selling their paintings and other small items and right then and there i bought a still life that has now been hanging in my kitchen for twenty years and i’ve never ceased admiring it but he didn’t buy his 167


daughter anything not even for a ruble but if you look at it differently from another point of view and compare the two of us then maybe we get a different picture one brother constantly wants something is always straining to get somewhere always seeking something seized with ambition and along the way tearing down warping and destroying firm ties and relationships bringing sorrow to those close to him and ruining his family and the other brother loves his city his street his building his attachments privileging not material values but inner perfection human constancy and irreproachable honesty the idea of just bread and water has always been advantageous to those who wrote the bible and had few material needs like my brother and like pimen in pushkin’s boris godunov our minds are designed in such a way that everyone tries to justify themselves and first and foremost themselves this is how our self-preserving genes work just as we instinctively jerk our hand back from a flame there is a well known anecdote or parable in which a man runs around a city and yells have pity on me have pity on me i just killed my parents time equalizes the righteous and the guilty everything decays who will judge me who will judge my brother each of us lived our life by his own rules and each of us guilty in his own way we repent in life but later we find this saving “but” for me this “but” is that I did destroy my family leave the soviet union and take my mother my children and my wife with me leaving my brother alone “but” we all became free genuinely free and it turns out that this “but” is more important essential and meaningful than the fact that my brother was left alone so i judge myself as any person judges himself but if this were the only judgment no living person could bear it one thing always excludes the other there are no saints there are no righteous men we are all sinners we can’t be completely united with our brothers this is impossible to do with living people my brother is one kind of person and i am another like all people and we need to accept this and we need to humble ourselves before it humble yourself proud man I copied down these lines I had recorded in 1994. Now, ten years later, in Kharkov, during my last trip, my brother was more open and frank than ever. I asked him the same questions I had asked myself during my dictation. Or more precisely, I asked him almost nothing: everything came out on its own. We returned to the same spiral, descending through time, stopping to sort 168


through facts that seemed well known to me and to him, as if we were turning the pages of a familiar book. But even in a wellworn book you can discover something you didn’t notice previously. “Why did I stay in this office for so long? Why didn’t I leave? Why did I spend half of my time in miserable conditions on business trips? Why did I suffer tormenting silence? Because my work was interesting. Because it was a race with the United States: who preceded whom, who went farther, faster, more precisely, higher. For each of their two launches, we needed to answer with four of our own. If their rocket launched two satellites, ours had to launch four, and for five of theirs, ten of ours. Theoretical calculations were turned into practical solutions then and there. The rocket’s flight was an extension of human hands and the human brain. And the rocket needed to be invulnerable. It flew far from us, higher than the stratosphere, into the night darkness, but it was as obedient as a child.” “So did your work have an element of romantic idealism?” “Not at all. We weren’t playing with toys. Thousands, millions of people were activated: the best minds, the brightest people, the most talented organizers. This was a genuine mass exploit, comparable to the victory in World War II in scale and importance, except without the human sacrifice. Why do you think nuclear weapons weren’t used after 1945? Because we maintained a parity of mutually assured destruction. The bombs had no importance in and of themselves – you couldn’t explode them in your own country. They were needed for a goal. And we responded to this demand. We considered ourselves the guardians of humanity. Everything else seemed meaningless, trivial to us, not serious.” “But you thought about going into teaching, right?” “Yes, I thought about it, and I actually kept a letter of resignation in my pocket for many years. And after such work and such security clearance, I probably would have been hired. But what I was offered seemed boring and uninteresting, and couldn’t compare to my job, with all the secrecy and discipline it entailed.” “But you quit anyway.” “I did, thanks to you. When you decided to emigrate, even before you applied to the Visa and Registration Department, they found out. I was called in and told that my clearance was incompatible with your emigration. Either you left and I would be 169


fired, or you stayed and I would keep my position. These were the options. My argument that you were a doctor and thus had nothing to do with my work and clearance fell on deaf ears. The rules were clear: no relatives abroad. That’s how my career ended…” “Your career as a sentry.” “That’s right. I have to mention that phone calls between the special departments helped me find an associate professorship at the institute. And after that, as you know, came perestroika, the breakup of the Soviet Union, lack of budgetary support…” “And bye-bye to your former office.” “Yes, my former director tried to find customers for our products, but global politics interfered: Ukraine returned all of its bombs and rockets to Russia and became a nuclear-free country.” “What’s in the building now?” “The Academy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Their officials repaired it very nicely, with sculptures inside and outside. I’ll show you it: you won’t recognize my building.” Chapter 24

The Defense My first memory of Sosnitsky dates from August 1943, when Kharkov was liberated. We were living in Central Asia at the time, in Termez. Papa returned late that evening from the institute and said that there was a person there who celebrated the liberation of Kharkov as passionately as he did. This was the junior lieutenant Artem Grigorevich Sosnitsky. He was six or seven years older than papa. Papa invited him over to celebrate. It turned out that he had lived two blocks from us in Kharkov before the war. Papa taught artillery at the institute, and Sosnitsky taught a social economics course, the so-called SOTSEK. This course combined all political and economic disciplines, including party history, political economics, and philosophy, that is, Marxism-Leninism, in a very concise format, because the cadets studied for only a short time. After the liberation of Kharkov he immediately sent his family a telegram. His wife and two children had stayed there during the German occupation. He still didn’t know if they were alive or not, if they had survived the occupation. He only found 170


out when he received a telegram in response. His family was no longer living in their prewar apartment, because the building had been destroyed, and they had moved to a neighbor’s building. The postman and neighbors passed along his telegram. Fortunately, they were all still alive. His son was twelve or thirteen, and his daughter was about seven. His wife was a doctor. Living in the center of the city was hardest of all during the occupation, because people on the outskirts had yards and vegetable gardens. This allowed them to have some extra food, and they had more than the groceries they could get by exchanging different items they owned. But his family’s life was very difficult; the city was frightful. Even after Kharkov was liberated, they continued to go hungry. “How did Sosnitsky wind up in the institute?” “I know that he wasn’t wounded, and all the teachers came to the institute after serious wounds. But he had a stomach ulcer, and he was very thin – tall and thin – he resembled a question mark – a tall, thin brunette. Because of his ulcer, he was declared to be of limited fitness for army service, and was transferred and not sent to the front. “Sosnitsky graduated from the history department at Kharkov University before the war, and he was allowed to stay as a graduate student. He finished his dissertation, but wasn’t able to defend it since the war started. His family stayed in the city, and he was called up in July, three months before the occupation of Kharkov.” “And how did he survive the conditions in Termez?” “There were two ways officers could eat: you either ate in the cafeteria, or you received dry rations each month. But only officers who had families with children were given dry rations. In general the high command understood that the army took a loss on food provisions for the command staff. Any father, any husband would share the food with his family, and would be undernourished himself. And here the situation was complicated since Sosnitsky had a serious ulcer, so he was on a special diet. He was given rice cereal and milk in the cafeteria.” “So he ate at the cafeteria?” “Yes. Like all single men, he didn’t have dry rations. But when he found his family, of course he decided to help them, that is, he needed to start receiving dry rations no matter what. The chief of the medical-sanitary department in the institute – and

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this was our mama – was the person who had to approve his need to exchange cafeteria meals for dry rations.” “And did she give him written permission?” “Yes, she sent a report, and Sosnitsky started to receive rations. Living in hunger himself, he collected groceries using the rations and sent them to his family in Kharkov.” “What was he able to send?” “Canned goods, crackers, dry milk, groats, sugar, dried fruit. He sent several packages. Because he was undernourished, his ulcer started to bleed, but as far as he was concerned, it was a victory. In 1944, when conditions at the front improved, the officers started providing leave for visiting families in the liberated territories, and Sosnitsky was eventually able to get one. His son had a non-healing fistula on his thigh, and later limped for the rest of his life. Sosnitsky gathered all the groceries he could get, and went to Kharkov. He was given around a month’s leave.” “Were there other Kharkovites in the institute?” “Probably not. Immediately after his return from Kharkov, Sosnitsky visited us. He told us that our building had survived, although there was a big hole in the wall on the second floor, and the stairway from the first to third floor of our entrance was gone.” “Our home really didn’t burn down?” “No, it never did. A shell landed on the second floor of the apartment. And the parquet in all the apartments was torn up for heating. Everything in our apartment remained: the door, the oilcloth, and even Mama and Papa’s last names on the small board on the door. No one was living at our entrance yet, but in the next entrance they already were. Sosnitsky told us that the trams were running on our street, and that the plumbing and electricity were working, although the entire downtown of the city lay in ruins. I remember everything: how he told us, how they were drinking and crying… And at the end, he said, ‘You know, Shura, now I’ll tell you the big news. I’m now a doctoral candidate in history.’ ‘Really? How did you manage that?!’ ‘I told you that I finished my dissertation before the war. Despite my hunger, despite the fact that all my things were exchanged, my wife turned out to be a hero. She saved the typed version of my dissertation. I stopped by the rector’s office, of course, and the secretary immediately let me in. Sergei Sergeevich recognized me. I brought him up to date about myself. Then I said to him, ‘I have my dissertation, which I still haven’t defended. Could you help me get it typed at the 172


university printer’s, so I could defend it in front of our academic committee?’ And he asked me what the dissertation was about, and I answered, ‘The Development of Poor Peasant Committees in Ukraine.’” “Wait – what were these committees? Were they operating in Soviet times?” “Well, of course. The Poor Peasant Committees were formed during the revolution. They were committees of the poor, that is, the poorest people were on them.” “Why were they formed?” “To take away power – and not only power, but everything – from the kulaks, the prosperous middle class peasants, and to take it for themselves.” “I see. So what happened next?” “Then the rector, Meleshko, asked him, ‘But why should we wait for you to return? Do you have your dissertation?’ And he said, ‘It’s at home.’ ‘Its been preserved?!’ ‘Yes, my wife kept it in its complete form.’ ‘Good for her. Have her come along to your defense.’ ‘When?’ ‘Go home now, bring your dissertation, take your heroic wife along, and we’ll put the academic committee together in the meantime. When you return, you can defend it.’ “How? Don’t we need opponents, and an abstract?’ ‘Don’t worry about that. We’ll find opponents, and we can manage without an abstract.’ “In short, when he returned with his wife and his dissertation, some professors were already sitting in the rector’s office, members of the academic council…” “And was the university operating at full strength?” “It was two months before the university repatriated from Kizil-Orda…” “Where is Kizil-Orda?” “It’s in Kazakhstan, halfway between Orenburg and Almaty. Kharkov University was evacuated to Kizil-Orda. So there were no historians among these professors – the history department still wasn’t functioning. In his presence, Meleshko said, ‘Professor so-and-so will be your first opponent, and this professor will be your second. And now,’ he says, let’s go for a smoke, and your opponents will familiarize themselves with your dissertation.’ Everyone went out. When they returned, Sosnitsky gave an introduction, and his opponents indicated in their comments that the dissertation was good, and fulfilled all the requirements, and the author was fully deserving of a doctoral 173


degree in history. Then Sosnitsky answered their questions, and afterwards they voted unanimously to award him the degree. The rector asked the secretary to type up a certificate, stamped it, signed it as the chair of the academic committee, and asked everyone present to sign the certificate as well. ‘Here it is,’ Sosnitsky showed us the certificate.” “And you remember all of this?” “Yes, I do.” “And the Higher Attestation Committee wasn’t there?” “No. Everything was done by the academic committee of the institute, university, or scientific research institution. Of course, they all had the right to confer academic degrees. So all of this was absolutely legal.” “And what did they do at the institute when Sosnitsky returned a doctoral candidate?” “He was assigned the rank of lieutenant and his duties were increased. He used to be simply an instructor, but now he became a senior instructor. By 1945 he had already been a senior lieutenant, and before the end of the war, in May 1945, the rector of Kharkov University summoned him. Since the university badly needed scholars and teachers in its personnel, he asked them to demobilize the history candidate Sosnitsky from the army and put him at the disposal of Kharkov University. And he was discharged in the spring of 1945.” “And did papa’s friendship with him continue after we returned to Kharkov in 1946?” “Yes. At that point, Sosnitsky was already the chair of the history department.” “Did he visit us?” “Only once in a while. He was incredibly busy, and papa and mama were also terribly busy, but they got together two or three times a year. He would visit us, and our parents would visit them.” “And was he at the university when you were?” “Yes, but our paths didn’t cross, since I studied in the physics and mathematics department.” “Did he play any role in your enrollment in the university?” “That’s an entirely different story, not about him but about me. And I’ll tell you that story at some point.” “Did Sosnitsky survive papa?” “Yes, by about twenty years. He died in the early 1980s.” 174


“Was he at papa’s funeral?” “No, he wasn’t.” “What about you? Were you at Sosnitsky’s funeral?” “No, I wasn’t there, either. It was a very different time.” Chapter 25

Jogging “How did my departure affect you?” “It affected me fundamentally.” “Did everyone turn their backs on you?” “No, I wouldn’t say that. The most important people didn’t, although there were problems with some people close to me, very close to me. But all this began a long time before you left.” “But I wasn’t allowed to leave for two years.” “Yes, actually you could say everything began two years before you left, as soon as you applied to the Visa and Registration Department, perhaps even earlier. The first person to find out about this was Jan. I usually stopped by his office unannounced. If he wasn’t there, the secretary let me in right away with no questions. But suddenly, when I came by while this was going on, she stopped me: ‘Jan Moseevich is busy. Don’t wait for him; he’ll call you.’” “Did he go to our school?” “Yes, he was two classes ahead of me, and three ahead of you.” “Actually, I remember him. He was very tall; I think he was tall and red-haired. Is that right?” “Yes. Then he filled out, but not too much. We ran together in the forest.” “You went jogging?” “Yes. We were some of the first here to be enthusiastic about jogging. But he wasn’t just two classes ahead of me. Did you know that when I was in seventh grade and he was in ninth, we worked together?” “What kind of work were you doing?” “I went to Elizaveta Petrovna and told her I wanted to join the literary club. Only students from the eighth grade on could register for it, but they made an exception for me, a 175


seventh-grader, and I was allowed to join. Soon after I arrived there was an anniversary for Pushkin. We decided to organize a formal evening, with presentations, an official part, so to speak, and of course an amateur production. Jan was the president of our club. I told him I wanted to give a presentation on Pushkin. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘You present his biography, and I’ll talk about his works.’ He took me to the library and, in general, guided me.” “How much time did you spend preparing?” “A few months.” “Was it the anniversary of his birth or death?” “His death, of course. There was no longer anyone in school by June 6. As soon as my presentation was ready, Jan suggested that I memorize it. So I learned it all by heart.” “What about him?” “He also presented from memory. It caused a furor! People were not used to this. Nobody expected anything like this from some snot-nosed seventh-grader. And so, we were in the literary club together for two years.” “Were you friends?” “How can a seventh-grader and a ninth-grader be friends? But I had already shown him some coins I had collected, and he started to respect me.” “What happened later?” “He was a brilliant person with unique capabilities, so he eventually became the dean of our institution, and was well known throughout the Soviet Union. In certain circles, of course.” “Did you write your dissertation under him?” “Yes, he was my advisor, and not just mine. Many people were indebted to him.” “Was he a good person?” “Yes, if you can believe it, despite his position, which combined administrative power and academic advising, he was a good person. I never heard anyone say a single bad word about him. He was very demanding. He trusted people. But if a colleague didn’t justify his trust, he simply crossed him out of his life. Unconditionally. He didn’t need years to figure out a person. He set him a task to fulfill. And if the person didn’t do so, he could go to hell.” “So he’d fire him?” “No, that wasn’t done. The person simply lost his trust and left quietly on his own.”

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“Let’s go back to that moment when the secretary didn’t let you into his office.” “Yes, so he called me later. He told me not to come anymore without letting him know ahead of time. He made the motions of jogging, like this, with his hands. I understood. On Saturday, we met at our jogging path in the forest. At first we ran, and then he said, ‘Listen, Sasha, your goose is cooked in our office, but they still haven’t decided what to do with you. They’d drink your brother’s blood rather than let him go, but if they let him go in the end, then you definitely can’t stay with us. People with relatives abroad are categorically forbidden to work here, and they’re not about to bend the rules for you.’ ‘What should I do, then?’ ‘You need to warn them, because later it will be too late. If they make a decision, then nobody will get involved with you.’ ‘So should I give notice?’ ‘No, don’t give notice, just tell them that you’ll transfer. I know the rector of a very good institute. I don’t just know him – we helped him a lot. He’ll take you as an associate professor.’ ‘So you’ll call him?’ ‘No, I won’t call him. That wouldn’t look good. One Jew making a request on behalf of another. They’ll call him from the organization that reported everything about you to me. I’ve already told them that you’re in good standing, that you defended your candidacy dissertation here, that you’re a party member, that you’ve worked hard and honestly all these years, that you spent six months a year in danger zones, and I can’t just suddenly, without rhyme or reason, fire a man, whether he is Jewish, Russian, or Abyssinian, like Pushkin’s grandfather.’ ‘Great-grandfather. His mother, Nadezhda Osipovna, was Hanibal’s grand-daughter.’ ‘All right, greatgrandfather, then.’ ‘So then what?’ ‘Nothing. They said they’d think about it. That is, they gave me a breather. When they say they’ll think it over, that means you yourself should think it over. I know the methods of this fraternity. So think it over. Would the institute of city construction be acceptable? They just opened a department of operation of automatic systems – this suits you. I’ll send them three mathematical machines as a gift for their favor – they don’t have any. We’ve already written off these old ones, and we’re just about to get new ones. Understand?’ ‘And what would my position be?’ ‘At first, you’ll be a senior lecturer. You can’t sneak in as an associate professor right away. You’ll call attention to yourself. Later you’ll become an associate professor – I’m sure of it.’ ‘I still don’t understand – who will call them?’ ‘I told you, they’ll call them.’” 177


“So did everything work out?” “To the letter.” “Did you meet with Jan later?” “No, of course not. Why make trouble for him? But he learned everything about me through a third party, and I learned about him, too. Would you believe it – he was interested in you, too.” “He visited Chicago. They wrote about it in the newspapers. He was interviewed. He wanted to normalize work relations with America, so the Ukrainian rocket business wasn’t destroyed, but nothing came of it.” “Yes, his last years were tragic. By the way, this didn’t only happen to him, but also to other scholars like him.” “What did he die of?” “Cancer.” “Were you at his funeral?” “No. He died in Israel, where his daughter had emigrated.” “The best luck you can have in life is good luck with people. And you were very lucky to have him. I was also lucky to find one person. No, two people, no, three, four, five, actually six in the grand scheme of things, no, seven. Thank God the number of good people slowly increased while the bad people appeared and… disappeared.” “The picture here is very different. People are leaving us for your country.” “They used to leave…” “That’s true. Now they are no longer leaving. Now, you come to us. There’s a high mortality rate here. You bury one person and think – who will be next? You need two hands to count your ‘good people’ on your fingers, but one is enough for me. Overall, it’s a time of ‘all-forgiveness’ for us. Do you know what I mean?” “You’re ready to forgive everyone who turned from you then?” “I forgave them long ago, in my mind and my soul.” “How many of them are there? Do you need one hand or two to count them?” “There are two people. They were both physicists who worked in closed institutions. They had families and wonderful careers. I’d be lying if I said I took it lightly then.”

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“But here’s what I want to know: could you tell how they’d treat you from their careers, behavior, and character? After all, there were people like Jan who didn’t abandon you, right?” “Of course there were. And they were the majority, both people close to me and not so close. But it’s hard to answer your question. In retrospect, it’s easy to fit the events and facts into some kind of pattern.” “Tell me how it happened.” “I’ll begin with Lyova Shikhanovich. He’d been transferred to Moscow a couple of years earlier. They gave him a three-room apartment near the university. But Lara and his son stayed in Kharkov. They had a dacha here. I stayed with him whenever I visited Moscow, and when he returned for the summer, I stayed at their dacha in Rai-Elenovka. It happened to be the first summer after you left. You left in March, right?” “Yes.” “Lyova usually called me when he arrived.” “But that summer he didn’t call you?” “Yes. I thought he hadn’t come. And in the fall, I ran into one of Lara’s girlfriends and asked her, ‘Why didn’t Lyova come to Kharkov for the summer?’ ‘What do you mean he didn’t come?’ she said. ‘I was at their dacha!’” “So you never stayed with him in Moscow after that?” “Never. I never called him or stayed with him.” “And have you forgiven him?” “Completely. I don’t hold grudges.” “What about the second person?” “The second person is Seryozha Dymarsky.” “He was with us in Fedosiya.” “Yes. You had just graduated high school, and we were there after my first year at the institute.” “And what happened with him?” “Let me tell you about about him first, because you’ll understand everything very well from that. Seryozha’s father was a professor. He taught in the polytechnic institute of solid state physics. His mother didn’t work. They lived comfortably, of course. Do you remember their apartment on Danilevsky Street?” “Yes, I remember. It was an enormous four-room apartment.” “That’s right. So, when Seryozha was fourteen, there was a tragedy: his father died. They were given a tiny pension, which didn’t cover their living expenses, of course. They rented a room 179


to students from the aviation institute, and this was their main source of income. Thanks to Seryozha’s brilliant abilities, he finished first in the Olympiada in physics, chemistry, and mathematics. After eighth grade, when we all went to Crimea or Sochi in the summer, he stayed in sweltering Kharkov and tutored D students for their exams. He was an extremely good at drafting, and this helped him earn money while he was at the institute. He was used to every kopeck counting for his family, and he lived modestly and frugally with his mother.” “But didn’t he go to Feodosiya with us once?” “His mother had a childhood friend who had his own family. Sometimes he gave them gifts. Seryozha’s trip to Feodosiya was one of those gifts.” “Did you meet him and Stella?” “I practically brought them together. There were many talented guys in our class. These were the best of the best. In our class, for instance, 13 out of 25 were gold medalists. And you could say that Seryozha was the best of these students. He had a terrific combination of experimental and theoretical talent, in approximately even proportions; you see this very rarely. Plus he was incredibly organized and industrious. He graduated the university with a gold medal, of course, and defended his candidacy and doctoral dissertations earlier than the rest of us. Everything he did was connected. He never spread himself too thin. He concentrated on one point: his diploma work led into his candidacy work, and the doctoral work flowed from candidacy.” “Was he a nuclear physicist?” “No. Our nuclear physicists were the elite. They were examined from cover to cover. And Seryozha’s mother was Jewish.” “Did this interfere with his career later?” “I don’t think this in itself did. But he wound up in a university run by nuclear physicists, and they looked down on non-nuclear physicists. I’m talking about the general atmosphere, of course. In specific situations everything was more complicated. I wouldn’t want to oversimplify what I’m about to tell you.” “So Seryozha’s topic wasn’t nuclear physics?” “No, it wasn’t. He was an optical physicist, but the director of the institute, Sorokin, valued him highly. When Seryozha defended his doctoral dissertation, he offered him a position as head of a large laboratory. Seryozha quickly got up to

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speed, but the people working there thought that he was undeserving of his position, that he’d gotten it as a favor.” “Was there any truth to that?” “Generally speaking, there was. Sorokin’s sister-in-law was a good friend of Stella since school, and they visited the director’s home.” “And everyone knew about this?” “Of course they knew, because all the co-workers lived in buildings on institute grounds, a gated community, as it were. In short, there was tension in the laboratory, but while the director was alive, everyone settled down and everyone worked at full strength on the same very interesting project. Your departure coincided with the death of Sorokin, a genuine scholar of Kapista’s school. He was replaced by a purely administrative director with no serious scholarly accomplishments. This was a difficult time for Dymarsky, and it was right at this time that we decided to get together with one of our classmates to celebrate some institute anniversary. Seryozha and Stella didn’t come, and later one of Stella’s girlfriends called to explain the reason for their absence.” “Did they not come because you were there?” “Yes. And what’s more, she passed along their joint request, so to speak, that I not call or visit them anymore. And I didn’t do so for nineteen years, until 1999.” “And what was Seryozha’s fate?” “Here’s what happened. He was able to complete the project I mentioned. With the support of the ministry, he went to America, where he signed a contract to implement their work. This was a colossal success, and Seryozha received an engraved watch from the ministry. But when they read the contract at the institute, they discovered that the Americans had inserted a small honorarium, allocating in the general funding a paltry sum for Seryozha, really just a token, but a personal one, a kind of reward for the momentous work he was doing.” “How much was it?” “Something like a hundred dollars a month, but back then it was decent money.” “When did this happen?” “In 1985, right at the beginning of perestroika. The new director, Gorbunov, jumped on this trifle. He started to whisper in the ears of Seryozha’s colleagues at the lab, saying, you’ve worked for years, decades, you’ve sweated, damaged your health, and 181


now he’s not only making use of the fruits of your labor, but also getting a handout from the Americans. Another person would have demanded that each of his colleagues participating in the work be given at least an extra thirty dollars per month, but Dymarsky didn’t do this.” “How many people were working in the lab?” “About thirty scientific colleagues alone, not counting the staff. To finish off Seryozha, Gorbunov organized a lab under his leadership, parallel to Seryozha’s, athough with a veiled project. And naturally, the director started attracting Seryozha’s colleagues. One day, when four people announced that they were transferring, Seryozha couldn’t stand it and gave Gorbunov his notice.” “And where did he go?” “He became head of the department of general physics at a technical institute.” “When was this?” “In 1986. So his big scholarly career was finished, although he literally redesigned everything at his new department. I once met one of his colleagues on the street, and I remember what she said about him: ‘It was as if the sun rose on our department – the sun itself!’” “And how were you reconciled with him?” “Mutual acquaintances reconciled us, arranging a meeting with Stella.” “And how was Seryozha doing?” “He was in excellent spirits. As always, he was neat, efficient, organized.” “Did you visit them often?” “Not when Seryozha was there.” “Was he a secretive person?” “He was different from all of us. How can I put it? He didn’t look down on us, but he behaved like a man who had endured and experienced things that we hadn’t. And for this reason, I think that his responsibility – not only professional but his responsibility for everything – was on a higher level than ours. It was a kind of abnormally high degree of responsibility. And he had a complex because of it.” “What year did he die?” “2001.” “From what?”

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“Lung cancer. He died in two months, because the cancer metastisized and spread to his brain.” “Did he smoke?” “He smoked heavily his whole life.” “But tell me: how would you have acted in his place? Let’s say someone in your office said to you, ‘Don’t hobnob with Mr. X; he has a brother in America.’ What would you have done?” “I wouldn’t have socialized in public, but if the desire was mutual, I would have found ways to meet privately. They wouldn’t have constantly surveilled me – they didn’t have enough colleagues to do that. But now, I’ll tell you a secret. I met with Jan even after I was fired, right up to his departure for Israel.” “In the forest?” “Yes, in the forest. Good job guessing! We continued to meet and go jogging.” Chapter 26

A Trace in the Soul “On the background of our gray, dull life, things still happen sometimes. Now they say that a dormant volcano sleeps, sleeps, and then suddenly erupts, shatters, and when you look around, you can’t even recognize anything any more.” “Since you’re talking about volcanoes, why is Rome located precisely where it is? Do you know why?” “It was the place where the Tiber River flowed into the sea.” “Yes. This is one of the reasons. In the rise of every major city, a river or convenient harbor near the emptying of a river into the sea played an important, perhaps even primary role. But there was something else that no longer exists.” “If I remember correctly, the soil was very fertile, so people began to settle there.” “You’re getting warmer! But why was the soil fertile?” “Don’t tease me – just say it.” “Not far from the place where Rome was founded…” “On April 23, 753 BCE…” “That’s right. That’s the birthday of Rome, which is still celebrated… So, near this spot was an active volcano, and believe it or not, the lava that it periodically discharged contributed to

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fertile soil. So volcanoes can be useful. Now tell me what happened to you.” “Let me begin with a joke.” “All right, if it’s not an old one.” “It’s actually very old.” “Do you want to tell it like a parable?” “Yes, exactly like a parable. A Chukcha was given a mirror from the city as a gift.” “Yes, that’s a funny joke.” “He had never seen a mirror before. The Chukcha looked in the mirror and said to his wife, ‘Look, look, there’s a guy there, and he has a wife.’” “Stupid Chukcha. He not only doesn’t recognize himself, but his wife, too. That’s the salt and flavor of the joke.” “But I’m most interested exactly in the fact that the Chuchka doesn’t recognize himself. This is very real. Our sensory organs are constructed so that we don’t see ourselves and we can’t even hear ourselves the way we sound to other people. That is, we’re essentially all Chukchi.” “OK, Chuchka, go on.” “Wait, I want to put you in a serious frame of mind, because there will be some horrible things.” “You’re in fine shape – I can see this – and you haven’t killed anyone. It’s just not your style. So I wasn’t in the dark about something awful this whole time.” “All right. So I have only one last question: do you believe in God?” “I can guess what you’re driving at. We don’t see ourselves, we don’t know ourselves, but God sees and knows everything.” “Yes, he’s our mirror. We look at God as we look into a mirror, and we are reflected in it. But we very rarely look into this mirror. It was March 8, a clear, sunny day, but it was unseasonably cold for the spring, as it often is in Chicago.” “Yes, this March was very cold.” “I was in my work state, as usual. That is, with a pile of tasks I planned to fulfill, scheduled down to the minute.” “So you were in a hurry, as usual?” “Yes, but my hurrying didn’t go beyond my usually routine.” “So it was normal hurrying…”

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“Yes. I called Gosha in the morning to ask him to prepare a computer disk with my plays. I had to fly to Leningrad in a week…” “Did you need it for your trip?” “Yes. I told him to come outside to give me my disk, that I’d stop by for a second and then leave. As we agreed, Gosha was waiting for me in front of his house. I drove up, braked, opened the window, leaned out and held out my right hand, and Gosha gave me the disk almost while I was on the move. So holding the disk in my right hand, I drove about 300 feet to the intersection and turned right.” “While you were still holding the disk in your right hand?” “Yes. The street was completely empty – no cars or pedestrians. Two lanes on both sides, divided by plants. I had made that right turn thousands of times, because I went to Gosha’s very often. As I was going straight down the empty street, of course I decided to put the disk down. I was distracted for a second, turning my eyes to the passenger seat, but I didn’t even notice whether I’d put the disk down or not, because at that moment, there was a sound of a loud crash and screeching, like in Pushkin’s ‘Poltava.’ I came to, and saw yellowish smoke coming out of the airbags. The car was shaking, planted against a lamppost. The engine was roaring, and I sat inside, alive and – it seemed – uninjured. “I reflexively reached for the door and opened it. I got out of the car and onto the sidewalk. My chest, stomach, and both knees were aching. It was my second accident in which the airbags had opened, and I knew that when this happens, you lose consciousness for some time. And the pain was probably caused by the airbags. The first passers-by, who had called the police and ambulance, came up to me. I was shivering, but I sensed that I wasn’t seriously injured. “I looked around. The light from the lamppost lay about ten feet from me. The lamppost was bent over at a 20 degree angle from the crash. The whole front of the car was bent and warped exactly in the middle by the lamppost. I was wearing a coat that I had just bought for the trip, and it protected me from the cold. I looked at the unfortunate car and thought, ‘How did I manage to do that?’” “Could you have swerved toward the sidewalk because someone was passing you on the left?” 185


“You know, I’d like to tell you everything in order. I knew that because of a concussion resulting from the crash, my memory was disrupted, or more precisely, lost. And in those first few minutes, I really might have been unable to remember anything that had happened. But about two hours after the accident I remembered details that I’ll tell you later. And soon I’ll convey my actual sensations and thoughts at that moment in detail. Most of all I was annoyed, even depressed by the absurdity of what had happened, of the whole situation, and there was no excuse for it, just reasons. “I always talk on the phone in the car, and I also manage to eat and even drink kefir, tipping my head back and squeezing it down my throat. I look at the lake, at houses, at people. And since I drive very often, theoretically, by the laws of probability, such an absurd situation should have happened to me sooner or later. But that’s only theoretical. At that moment, I had every justification for thinking that the whole episode was somehow invented, planned, arranged by someone.” “By whom? God?” “I thought you’d ask me this at the beginning. But what for?” “That was my second question. This kind of punishment has to be deserved.” “You hit the nail on the head, although my first thought was not about punishment, but a warning, some kind of abstract warning, without any evaluation of my behavior in the moral sense or any other. The thing is – and I’ve already told you this – I needed to fly to Leningrad in a week. And the first thought I had in connection with this was: ‘Don’t go. This is a warning. You got off easy this time, but if you fly next week, you’ll die in a plane crash or terrorist attack.’” “So did you decide not to fly there?” “Yes. Everything seemed so logical and so close in time, and I had no other plans, that I really decided not to go, that is, I convinced myself of this idea. But then another thought came to mind: ‘Actually, you should go. You fulfilled your quota of horrible accidents, and nothing bad should happen on the upcoming trip. Everything will be fine, and even wonderful.’” “So you decided to go!” “No, I simply understood that with such an ambivalent interpretation of the warning, it didn’t make any sense on its own…” 186


“So the accident wasn’t a warning?” “That’s right. I then came to the idea of punishment, especially since I had done something deserving of it.” “Now, confess what you did, Musya.” “The accident happened on a Tuesday. And on Saturday, three days earlier, Greta, who tells me all the news, had called and told me that Lyova Kremerman died, telling me in detail how it happened. Lyova was twelve years younger than me, and seven years younger than Greta. ‘You’ll go to the funeral,’ she said – not asking but ordering me. I didn’t answer. They buried him on Monday, but I didn’t go.” “Did Greta?” “Greta was there, and she called me on my cell phone while I was shivering ten minutes after the accident. She didn’t know what had happened, of course. She was the first and only person who called me at that time.” “And then you realized what you were being punished for?” “Yes. Such coincidences don’t happen.” “Tell me what else you remembered when Yulia brought you home.” “The picture that was established in my memory was not pretty. What was scariest wasn’t how I grabbed the wheel with both hands, trying to control the car, which banged into the lamppost like a wounded beast, but my feeling of utter helplessness, a kind of lasting melancholy and a sense of the end of the world. That is, I suffered the minutes that Lyova probably suffered before his death.” “God decided to bury you alive in your car.” “Something like that, but at the last moment He had mercy on me.” “Were you close with Lyova Kremerman?” “We started out here together. Although I’ve been here twenty-seven years, he could be considered a friend from my ‘emigrant childhood.’ Insofar as everything starts over again in emigration, regardless of the age you were when you came over, the time of emigration can be divided into childhood, adolescence, maturity, and old age, like any life. Lyova came even earlier than I did, probably three or four years earlier. And in this sense, although he was younger than me, he always seemed more experienced and knowledgeable to me. I don’t remember ever giving him any advice. He was always the one who gave it. 187


However, it wasn’t the result of his vast experience as an immigrant, but of his character”. “Lyova graduated the Moscow medical institute and worked in Moscow as a phthisiologist. He arrived here a very young man, so he hadn’t worked for very long there.” “Was he good-looking?” “He had wonderful, slightly curly dark hair, brown eyes, a straight nose, sensitive lips and a mustache. He was stocky, neatlooking, not fat but not thin either, a thick-set, mustached man. He looked more like the Zaporozhian Cossack in Repin’s painting than a typical Jew, although perhaps there was something Jewish in his face after all. He spoke enthusiastically, persuasively, in great detail, but was not obnoxious or fanatic. He had a charming smile. One could sense his sincerity and warmth, which drew people to him and compelled them to listen to him and believe what he said. And he had one more important quality. He was a working man in the best sense of the word. His relations to work – not only that which was connected to earnings but to any kind of labor – inspired respect. As a typical Jewish member of the intelligentsia, who spent considerable time discussing and pondering conjectures and dreams, I liked his practical, earthbound qualities. I found in him what was completely lacking in myself.” “What do you mean?” “I mean everything. We lived different lives, and there were many differences between us. For example, he had a car in Moscow, but I never had one there. I alternated working on my dissertation with writing poetry, dreaming of saving the world from cancer or leukemia; he earned extra income after work, picking up visitors from various Moscow railroad stations in his Lada. He drove superbly, by the way, as well as the most experienced taxi driver. I felt entirely safe in his car, and everyone else probably did, too. Even though he drove at very high speeds, it wasn’t frightening. I remember how we raced from Chicago to Springfield when we needed to certify our medical diplomas. The trip was about 300 miles, and we made it in three and a half or four hours. “Lyova didn’t receive a single day’s worth of government assistance, as many who came here did. I don’t know what his English was like when he arrived. He already spoke well when I was here, communicating with everyone without any problems. He picked up the language the way he did everything else: purely 188


practically, working hard, not taking any language courses or hiring teachers”. “From his very first days in America, he started to work as a nurse in a psychiatric ambulance. The work was dangerous and thankless. Unruly patients could bite you, drench you in medicine or urine and spread feces on you, kick you, spit on you, hit you, smack you with a frying pan and even burn you. You always needed to be on your guard, like Stierlitz and Müller, and be prepared for the unexpected. In general, Lyova wasn’t an overt braggart, but he told me about one method he invented for ‘socializing’ with unruly patients. ‘The main thing,’ he said, ‘is the eyes. If I see by the patient’s eyes that he could pull some kind of stunt, I tell him, ‘We need to check the pressure on your legs.’ I tell him this very calmly’ (Lyova always spoke calmly). Our patient relaxed a bit because of my calm. I then gave the two attendants the signal to get ready, and I used the cuff to check the pressure – we always brought this with us – and I leaned over as if I were putting it on the leg, but put it on the hand. Then, I quickly ‘cut the legs out from under him,’ one attendant caught him from behind and twisted his arms behind his back, and the other tied a thick cord around his legs. We called this procedure ‘swaddling.’ “Lyova rode the ambulance for twenty-four-hour shifts three times a week, taking classes when he could. God only knows how he passed his exams. When I wound up in my residency, he had already been there for six months. Lyova hated everyone in the residency: the director of the program, the doctors in the hospital, and the residents. In his very first days, he didn’t impose on me at all. He just set forth his program minimum in the residency: perform the simplest actions and fulfill other demands, not speak out or, putting it more simply, be quiet (‘I won’t say a single word here: I’ll just finish my first year so I can get my license’). And the program maximum: ‘I’ll go into private practice, open my own office, learn everything as I go, accumulate experience and… in three years, you’ll see: I’ll become a millionaire.’ “In half a year, Lyova left the residency quietly, without any drama, without a sound, without a ‘word,’ as in Esenin – do you remember? ‘… Goodbye, my friend, no handshake or words …’ He left, and I stayed. He received his license and opened an office in the most dangerous part of the city. You could walk from 189


our hospital to his office, and I visited him there several times. He kept a pistol in the room where he saw patients, in the upper right desk drawer. ‘Is it loaded?’ I asked. ‘Of course it’s loaded! Who keeps an unloaded pistol?’ ‘What will you do with it – shoot someone?’ ‘Yes, if I have to!’ ‘Shoot a person?’ ‘Who else? I’m not going to shoot a dog.’ ‘And how do you handle them – the drug addicts, the homeless, the alcoholics?’ ‘I tell them, I am through with you!’ “Lyova wasn’t afraid of anything. I was struck by how calm he was. He always seemed to know what to do. In the practice that he started, there were not very many ‘problems.’ His clients most often had the same goal: to extort mixtures or pills containing codeine or another drug that would work as an anesthetic by any means necessary. In a couple of years, when I was still in my residency, Lyova had moved from this place to a better neighborhood. There were more people there who were ‘genuinely’ sick, and Lyova, having gained experience, could deal with them with minimal knowledge and medical treatments. “I was taught ‘American medicine’ in the residency: tons of tests, medicines, surgical interventions. But Lyova shared his simple and clear kind of medicine with me during my visits: ‘So tell me, how would you treat an enlarged prostate gland?’ ‘Well, first you need to do an ultrasound, then a blood test and, if there’s no cancer, prescribe one of the FDA-approved medicines,’ and I listed several new, expensive drugs. ‘Now, I tell the patient: pee more often, once every two hours, whether you need to or not.’ ‘What for?’ ‘Because problems with urination arise when the bladder is overfilled. Its wall becomes flabby, and in time the patient loses the urge to urinate. When the bladder is overfilled in this manner, the patient is no longer able to release urine on time. This causes the stoppage of urination (they call it occlusion, but that’s not accurate). The only remedy for this is frequent urination, right? And you don’t need your ultrasounds, biochemical tests and drugs costing thousands of dollars.’ “A few more years later, Lyova opened a new office in a neighborhood where immigrants from Eastern Europe had settled: Bulgarians, Poles, Yugoslavians, people who usually had no insurance, who paid cash. Lyova renovated the office and finally finished it, hiring assistants and doctors from those countries, people who were unable to pass the exam and get their license. He acquired the necessary equipment: an X-ray machine, ultrasound, and lab. He didn’t disdain any kind of work. He cut 190


open absceses, gave shots, provided referrals, and examined people from different walks of life: construction workers, chauffeurs, bus drivers and truck drivers. When I stopped by, there were always patients. “When I finished my residency, I took a three-day exam, which Lyova had never taken, and didn’t need to. He came all three days at 8:00 in the morning to root for me. He and my wife were there. The exam lasted until 6:00 in the evening, with two short breaks. They sat in the hallway and waited until I came out for those breaks. They couldn’t help me or advise me on the exam material, since the completed pages had to be handed in before the breaks, but they could give me moral support.” “For this alone you should have gone to his funeral.” “Yes, you’re right – just for that.” “Did Lyova become a millionaire?” “Yes, he did, and pretty quickly. Lyova loved construction. He bought some land in a wealthy suburb and built a home for himself. A large one that he designed. He traveled throughout America. He bought a mobile home and drove all over the country, from coast to coast. He loved nature, genuinely loved it.” “Did he have children?” “He had a wife who came with him from Moscow. They lived together for thirty, thirty-five years, but they had no children and never talked about it. Of course they could have had a child, but they never did so. They had a dog. Naturally, in the twenty-seven years I knew him, they had several dogs, one after the other, but for me they all merged together into one dog. He definitely loved his dog more than his wife. That’s how it seemed to me. He always brought his dog along when he was traveling around America.” “Did he bring his wife?” “I’m not sure.” “Did he have lovers?” “Who didn’t?” “Were you friends?” “I can’t say that we were. We knew each other, got together at conferences, and of course there were my rare visits to his office two or three times a year. He almost never stopped by my office, probably because he had nothing to learn from me.” “So you saw each other pretty rarely?”

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“I saw him even more rarely than other doctors who still worked with our Russians.” “Your professional work didn’t coincide? There were no attempts to work together?” “No. However, we were in touch regularly for a few weeks when I taught him to ride a motorcycle. I came over on my motorcycle, had him sit on the back seat, and then we changed places at a large parking lot in Forest Preserve.” “Did he get a motorcycle license?” “Yes. He was a good student. He passed the exam, bought himself a Harley Davidson, and rode it.” “Was he a kind person?” “Yes, in a way. He was always hospitable. There was a rotating glass gallery in his house, all the way up to the ceiling, crammed with bottles from top to bottom. He used a ladder to get the bottle he wanted. But I never saw him drunk, though he talked as enthusiastically about cognac, wine, liquer and vodka as about everything else. His hands never shook when he poured drinks. He always had vodka and glasses in his office at work, in the medicine cabinet, but he never drank in front of me.” “You’re talking so much about this that it seems like something is eating you.” “That happens in life. You know a person for a very, very long time. It’s not even important what kind of relations you have. But then you find out something about him or her that makes you think. Of course this is not something stunning, dramatic: ‘Yesterday Lyova robbed a bank! Shot his wife! Raped a patient!’ There was nothing like that thrusting itself at you. Also, to figure something out, so as to confirm or refute your suspicions, you must have something in common with the person. Lyova lived his life, and I lived mine, and our lives, as I told you, were different. He had a dog, and I didn’t. He didn’t have children, and I did. He lived peacefully with his wife; they probably had a drink together in the evening (why else would he have so many bottles?). I never drank with my wife, but I divorced her for other reasons, and then had children with my second wife. Lyova had a mobile home and traveled all over America. I didn’t have a mobile home and mostly traveled to Europe and the Soviet Union. Lyova bought a yacht and went sailing on it almost to the Caribbean Sea, while I, who suffered from sea sickness, never went within a cannon shot of a yacht. Politically, Lyova was a dyed-in-the-wool Republican who had a pistol at home, maybe even several of them, and 192


supported the death penalty. And I, God save me, was against everything Lyova was for. But not wanting to make trouble, I only listened to his passionate tirades and, as a discrete and well-bred person, kept silent most of the time.” “Did he personally do anything bad to you?” “I’ll tell you, and you can decide for yourself. About a year after I taught Lyova to ride a motorcycle, I needed a van for something. Lyova had a minivan, and I don’t know what possessed me to ask to borrow it for a few hours. Lyova agreed right away and I drove over in my car, left it at his house, and left in his van. In a few hours, when I was already on the way back, literally just 300 feet from his house, I got a flat tire on the right front wheel. I somehow made it back, stopped by his house, and told him about it. We all have AAA cards, and of course Lyova had one too. You pay fees for it every year, but in turn you get free service for emergencies. So, for example, the card guarantees free tire changes: you call them and someone comes and changes your tire. That’s it. I was ready to pay a tip, that is, to leave Lyova money for this, but before I could suggest it, Lyova looked at me not so much meanly as blankly and said, as if giving an order: ‘Look, take off the wheel, put it in your trunk. There’s a Sears not far from here with a tire department. Take your car there and buy a tire, bring it here and change it, and then you can go!’ I was stunned, and didn’t answer. I went outside and groaning, panting, and sweating, I took off the wheel with the flat tire, put it in my trunk, and went to Sears. They changed the tire for $130, I put the wheel back in the trunk, came back and put it in place, and left without saying good-bye. I swore never to see Lyova again. “At home, I told Yulia all this, and we tried to guess what it indicated from a clinical point of view. This is when I first suspected that Lyova was a malicious and vicious alcoholic, and that this occurrence was a clear clinical sign of his alcoholism. “Three years went by, and I happened to be in Lyova’s neighborhood. I stopped in. And my visits resumed as though this episode with the damn tire had never happened.” “Did you forgive him?” “I considered it a misunderstanding. I can’t tell you precisely how things happened afterwards, that is, what followed at what points in time. “In one of my visits to Lyova, he told me about his new enthusiasm, following his dog, mobile home, yacht, and motorcycle. This one turned out to be the casino. In our state of 193


Illinois, casinos are only allowed on riverboats. I don’t remember if he sailed to the casino on his yacht or simply drove there, but he started gambling. Well, so let him gamble – it’s just another form of entertainment. But what bothered me was his assurance that he’d discovered a sure way to win, just as he’d discovered a way of ‘swaddling’ twenty-five years earlier. He told me that he’d share this secret with me if I sailed to the casino in his yacht or drove by car, and that I’d like it, and we’d go regularly, and he woulnd’t be so bored there. “‘So you only win there?’ I asked. ‘Almost always,’ Lyova answered. ‘When I don’t win, it’s not because of the method, but because I make a mistake.’ Lyova said this completely seriously, as he always did… “I went home and told Yulia about this. She shook her head and said that this was already the next phase of his alcoholism: a psychotic disorder preceding white heat. “During the two or three years when I was out of touch with Lyova, the city was stirred by a certain event. Three top businessmen, well known to everyone, had gotten together in Lyova’s yacht. There’s no point naming them or their businesses. So together with Lyova, there were four on the yacht.” “Blok’s ‘four gray’ ones.” “Yes, Blok’s four gray ships. First, one of the businessmen, let’s say Mr. X, fell in the water. This was in Lake Michigan, far from the shore… Mr. Y threw himself in the water and saved Mr. X, but drowned doing so.” “Were they drunk?” “What else was there to do there? “In half a year, Mr. X died. And in two more years, the third man who was in Lyova’s yacht then, Mr. Z, also died. All of them were Lyova’s age. He was the only one who remained alive. In my last visit to Lyova a couple of years ago, I saw that he’d undergone a striking change. No, he didn’t take vodka and shot glasses out of the medicine cabinet in his office: he stopped being a Republican! He hated the Republican administration, considering it responsible for all of America’s problems, and first and foremost, for ruining the market. He passionately loved Russia. A little TV was on his night table, and the Russian channel NTV was constantly on. What’s more, he had bought a three-room apartment in the Moscow area, in Khimki, about 1,000 square feet, on the fifteenth floor – the top floor – with a view of the

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virgin forest and the Khimki reservoir. He had already begun building a Finnish sauna on the balcony.” “What?! A sauna on the balcony?” “Everyone does that there. He told me his plans. He was going to build a new fitness center in Moscow, in the administrative and higher circles – all his old friends. He’d order the best and most cutting-edge equipment from America. He’d live for half a year there and half a year here. There was no point giving up his great life here, his office: he’d hire someone to replace him for half a year, but he’d still be the boss. He’d move to Russia for good when normal, healthy capitalism had fully triumphed, but it was already very interesting there, and a lot of fun. The girls were the most beautiful in the world, not like all these American mutts. And America was already heading for the abyss, and could not be saved! “I went home and told Yulia about this. ‘It’s a syndrome of identity destruction and mania. Wild ideas accompanied by the loss of a sense of reality and cognitive disorder.’ This was her verdict.” “Don’t you think that you’re discrediting Lyova to justify yourself?” “But that’s not even everything. About eight years ago I asked Lyova if he could recommend someone to give my patients ultrasound diagnoses. He said that there was a person working in his office whom he’d known for a long time, and this person could be relied upon. “So this person, Saeed, started working with us on Lyova’s recommendation. He would come and give our patients ultrasounds. He did efficient, careful work. We were happy with him, and I was grateful to Lyova. Saeed had three children. He drove them to a special school thirty miles away. And he had a fourth child while he was working for us. We helped by giving him and his wife medicine. I was proud that we Jews could work with a Muslim, and even told people this in a didactic tone, citing it as an example of American tolerance. “Everything was fine with Saeed for a few years, but later the landlord from whom we rented our office started to complain that Saeed wasn’t paying the rent for his office, and that he owed him for a few months. The owner of a Russian language newspaper where Saeed advertised made the same complaint. We told Saeed about this, and he said that he was having serious money problems. He’d just had his fourth child, and his wife 195


wasn’t working (she had never worked, by the way). Then Larisa, our manager, admitted to me that Saeed had asked to borrow money from her. ‘How much?’ I asked. ‘Twenty thousand dollars,’ she said. ‘Just a straightforward loan?’ ‘No, he asked me to open a line of credit for him for $20,000 in my name at the bank, and he’d pay it off for me gradually.’ I categorically forbade Larisa to do this, and wondered why Saeed was suddenly having these problems”. “Then Saeed started coming late to work, or not showing up at all. He would call Larisa and tell her all sorts of stories: that he’d had a flat tire, that he got stopped for speeding, that his brakes failed, or something else of that sort. There was a time when I wasn’t keeping my nose clean – you know about my family problems – and I pricked up my ears and told Larisa that something wasn’t right here, and that I knew this from experience”. “And suddenly the alarm sounded. Saeed went to his homeland for a month, and stayed there for certain reasons. While he was gone, I got a phone call with an urgent demand that I immediately pay $16,000, the next payment for some ultrasound machines. I said that I didn’t know anything about any machines, and asked them to send me a letter with an explanation of the fees. The letter came the next day, and it confirmed that I had leased three ultrasound machines at a total cost of $250,000 from their company, and that I owed monthly payments; the $16,000 was my late balance for missed payments the past few months”. “I called Saeed’s wife, but nobody answered the phone. The company bombarded me with threatening letters. I rushed to my lawyers. In response to their inquiry, the company sent the original documents, from which it became clear that Saeed had forged my signature in order to get a lease in my name. According to the invoices, he had paid the bills himself. Saeed never returned. His wife and children also disappeared. His lawyers reported bankruptcy. When I read the bankruptcy papers, I discovered an entry on the last page: a debt of $10,000 to a casino in Aurora. Saaed’s total debts were $2,000,000!” “He squandered money in the casino!” “Yes, he – a Muslim – gambled in the casino. I don’t know if this is allowed in that religion.” “I don’t think it is. How much did the lawyers cost?”

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“About $50,000 to prove that I wasn’t guilty. But the thing that depressed me most of all was that Lyova had attracted Saeed to the casino. I didn’t take the bait of Lyova’s method, but Saeed did.” “Could Saeed have been the one to attract Lyova to gambling?” “That doesn’t fit the timeline. Lyova had been gambling in the casino for at least the past six or seven years, and Saeed’s problems had started relatively recently. This was evident in his bankruptcy declaration. He had accumulated his debts in the last two years, and forged my signature then, too.” “How did Lyova die?” “He was sitting and drinking with his wife one evening. Suddenly, blood came out of his throat, and he choked on it. He was already dead on arrival at the hospital.” “Why was blood coming out of his throat?” “He had alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver. When you have cirrhosis, the liver shrinks and pinches the portal vein. The digestive veins are connected with the portal vein, like tributaries of a larger river. From the pinching of the portal vein, they get stretched out and eventually rupture. The explosion is almost always fatal, and blood flows out of the person.” “And how did your trip to Petersburg turn out?” “Everything was fine, except the landlady I rented from was a real shrew. I’ll tell you about her some time.” “And did you remember Lyova there?” “I remembered him, and was tormented. Lyova has left a trace in my soul.” Chapter 27

A Little Spring Ditch We always stayed at the same hotel in Petersburg. Everything suited us there: the city center, the subway across from it, the nice concierges, buffets on every floor. But the last time we went, there was a complication. Of course, we were tired after an eleven-hour flight, and we went to bed right away. Suddenly, the telephone rang. Cursing, I picked up the receiver and said, “Hello.” I heard a pleasant female voice: “We know you need to relax. Would you like to spend some time in the company of a young and beautiful woman?” I whispered, so I wouldn’t wake up Yulia 197


and the children: “I’m here with my wife and children. Please don’t call again.” In exactly an hour, the phone rang again. This time Yulia also woke up. I picked up the phone. It was the same offer, but with a different voice: that meant there were competing services. I slammed down the phone and called the lobby: “What the hell is going on? We’ve been called twice with offers! You’re giving them numbers!” “We don’t give out telephone numbers.” “Then how are they getting them?” “They have their own system.” “What kind of system is this? I’m here with my wife and children. They’ve woken everyone up. Are they going to be calling all night?!” “I don’t know.” “What do you mean, you don’t know! You’re a hotel official! Help me find a way out. Maybe I should pull the telephone cord out of the outlet?” “Yes, you can do that.” I pulled the cord hard and ripped it out together with the outlet. Now I needed to fly to Petersburg alone on business, to meet with a director. At home, we decided that it would be better if I stayed in a private apartment. We called a Leningrad artist we knew, who stopped in Petersburg regularly. “Yes, there’s an apartment!” he rapped out. “It’s on the Moika, right in the center of town, next to Palace Square and across from the Pushkin Museum!” “What floor is it on?” “The second. It’s an old Petersburg four-room apartment with high ceilings. You’ll have a separate room there. There’s a toilet, bath, shower, everything you’d want. It’s roomy, with a large hallway – everything in excellent condition.” “How many people live there?” “Two. A mother and son.” “What kind of people are they?” “I’ve known Margarita for a very long time. She’s also an artist; we studied together. And her son plays in an orchestra in a restaurant. He comes home late and gets up late. You won’t see him. Margarita will give you breakfast in the mornings. It’s included in the payment. We’ve stayed with her several times without any problems.” “Is Margarita interesting to talk to?” 198


“She’s been divorced for a long time, and she lives for her son. She’s no genius. I wouldn’t advise you to have any intellectual conversations with her. You can ask her how to get from Point A to Point B.” Kostya gave me Margarita’s phone number: “Give her a call.” I called her. She sounded normal. She answered all my questions intelligently, explaining how to get to her place from the airport. She said that she’d wait for me. I arrived in Petersburg toward evening. It was the middle of March, and snow lay on the ground. I asked to get out of the cab at the corner of Nevsky Prospect and the Moika, and went along the embankment to Margarita’s home with my small suitcase on wheels. I tried to remember if I’d ever been in Leningrad in the winter. I remembered that I had once, though I’m ashamed to say it was 35 years ago. I wasn’t alone then, but with a woman I loved at the time. We were able to fool my wife and her husband and steal away to Leningrad for a few days in January, during the school break. We stayed at her girlfriend’s dacha in Krasnoe Selo, and there was a bitter frost: brrr-brrr! We slept wearing not just our clothes, but everything we could wrap around ourselves – ours and other people’s. Then, half-frozen, we ran away to the city, to our hotel. I remember how we walked to the Malyi Opera on Arts Square, with the Pushkin statue. They played Madame Butterfly. We were seated in different places, and we agreed that I’d wait for her near the stage during the intermission. I was holding a bag of oranges, and suddenly, right there in front of everyone, the damn bag broke, and the oranges rolled all over the floor. I picked them up. When we left the theater, snow was falling, the lights were flickering, and one poem remains from this trip: Snowflakes floated on Arts Square, Tears fell, salty, in the air. A sailor left for foreign lands, You felt pity for his wife in Japan. Meanwhile, the snow increased, You couldn’t see people, lamps or trees, And Leningrad, with all its beauty Was plunged into unlit gloom.

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We left the snow/storm for our hotel And We opened a world of unheard of dreams. In twenty years (and how time flies!) My Muse will revive/resurrect/restore the snow and you. Lost in memories, I didn’t notice that I’d arrived at Margarita’s building. I climbed to the second floor. A woman of below average height, about 55 or 60, with an expressionless face, opened the door. I hung my coat, which I’d bought specially for this trip, on a hanger, took off my shoes and followed Margarita into my room, where I put my suitcase. She stayed with me step for step, and without asking if I wanted to take a bath or letting me unpack my things, she invited me to the kitchen. In the kitchen there was a table, covered with a white cloth, with nothing on it. We sat down, and I understood that I needed to pay for my five-day stay. I took some dollar bills out of my pocket, counted out the required amount, and gave it to Margarita. She looked carefully at each bill, and then put them all to the side, saying, “this doesn’t look right.” Showing me every spot, stripe, crease, tear, stain, and blurring, she explained that these kinds of bills weren’t accepted at currency exchanges. “Why didn’t you tell me this when I called you from Chicago?” I asked. “I would have gone to the bank and asked for new bills.” Margarita didn’t answer. I laid out all my money on the table, and with great difficulty, I was able to gather the sum I owed her, paying five dollars extra and not asking for change. From my perspective, this was a gesture of good will, but Margarita had no reaction to it. I thought this would be a good time to ask Margarita if she would give me suppers in exchange for additional pay. “No,” she said, “I don’t want the fuss.” She asked me when I got up in the morning, so she’d know when to prepare breakfast. I told her, and with that the conversation ended. Disheartened by this reception, I returned to my bedroom hungry as a wolf, and regretting that I hadn’t put at least some crackers in my suitcase. In the next room, there were bookshelves with rare editions from the Soviet era. Examining the shelves, I saw an additional ninth volume to the light blue eight-volume set of Blok’s works. I didn’t have this volume in Chicago, and I took it from the shelf. Then I took an empty jar, which I always bring 200


with me, from the suitcase and put it on the floor near the bed. I got undressed, lay down, and began reading Blok’s diary. Doing so calmed me down and distracted me from my unpleasant impressions of Margarita. Because of the time difference, I didn’t get to sleep until almost morning and got up late. Nobody was in the kitchen, but breakfast was on the table: a soft-boiled egg in a ceramic egg cup, which we are no longer used to. On a little plate there were two pieces of cheese, and there were two slices of bread on a bread plate. There was sugar and a cup with a teabag in it. There was a kettle, which I had to boil, on the stove. I ate and went outside after asking the janitor how to get to the corner of Fontanka and Nevsky Prospect, where I was meeting the director. “Do you want to go on Nevsky or along the courtyards?” the janitor asked. “Which is more interesting?” “Along the courtyards. There's a chance that you could get a bit off track, but it's bright and sunny out - if you get lost, just ask for directions.” I went along the courtyards, and was glad that I chose this route. Everything in the courtyards seemed miniature and understated. The faded colors and languorous air wonderfully complemented the arrangement of well-balanced, strict, unpretentious buildings. You could examine each passerby, peering into his soul for a moment. I got to Anichkov Bridge right on time. In a few minutes, I saw Boris Anatolievich Paritsky, whom I had flown to Petersburg to meet, in the crowd. It was 3:00 in the afternoon. “If you’re hungry,” Boris Anatolievich suggested, “Let's go to the Literary Cafe. They have good food there.” The cafe was at the corner of the Moika and Nevsky Prospect. The director asked me where I was staying. I told him I was on the Moika, across from the Pushkin Museum, and I told him Margarita’s building number. “Oh, this building is well known. Do you know what kind of place this is, what is around it?” “I don’t know anything about it yet. I only arrived yesterday.” “And your landlady didn’t tell you or show you anything?”

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“No. Only the janitor told me how to get from the building to Anichkov by the courtyards. I really like this route. There was something mystical about the courtyards.” “If only all the courtyards in Peter were like this! Did you notice an arch bridge on the Moika when you were walking here?” “From the right side?” “Yes, the bridge across Winter Canal. If you turn right, there are two other bridges like it. It’s a very romantic spot. Well, here we are.” Boris Anatolievich held the door for me. I went right along the hall. There was a coat-room at the end of the hall to the left. I hung up my coat, and then I noticed a man sitting behind a small table across from the coat-room. At first, I thought he was the attendant. I even reached into my pocket to give him a tip. Then, looking more closely, I noticed a top hat next to him on the table. “Who wears top hats these days?!” I thought. A moment later, I realized that Pushkin was sitting before me, only in wax form. “Did you want to tip Sasha the coatroom attendant?” laughed Boris Anatolievich. We went up to the café, and were given a table at a window. There were two other people in the café. We ordered lunch with two ounces of vodka. Our discussion of business didn’t take long: we resolved all the production problems over the solyanka. Boris Anatolievich invited me to read for the cast the next day, and to come to the show the day after. While we were eating beef stroganoff, I asked the director: “Why is Pushkin sitting here? Is it because this is called ‘Literary Café’?” “No, that's not why. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the confectionary Wolf and Beranger was here, next to Smirdin Bookstore. This was a very popular place for writers and the reading public. They say that Lermontov’s poem ‘Death of a Poet’ was first read publicly here.” “And did Pushkin come here?” “Naturally. His home was a stone’s throw away from this place. By the way, on the day of his fatal duel, he went here on foot to wait for his second, who was stopping by in his carriage to take them both to Chernaya River.” “Why didn’t Danzas pick Pushkin up at his home?” “Pushkin didn’t want his servants to suspect anything. He didn’t tell anyone about the duel.” 202


“So the confectionary Wolf and Beranger was the last place where Pushkin was seen healthy and unharmed?” “Yes, it turned out that way.” “Is all of this information reliable?” “Three years ago, I put on The Queen of Spades...” “A play or the opera?” “The opera. So, I studied a pile of books for this.” “Does every director prepare this way?” “You need to find something new, so you’re not repeating what’s already been done. Even with the classics.” “And you found out in these books what Pushkin was thinking on his way to the duel in the carriage?” “He was thinking that he’d better not miss...” “But seriously: what was he thinking?” “No, I’m serious. Pushkin was a first-rate marksman, no worse than Silvio of ‘The Shot.’ He always took not one but two pistols with him, wherever he went.” “What for? In case of an unanticipated duel?” “No. Whenever he could, he would go shooting in the morning, for practice. This was his morning shooting exercise.” “But D’Anthès outdid him anyway?” “By chance, though fatefully... he ‘pulled the wrong card,’ like Hermann in ‘The Queen of Spades’ in his last card game.” “I don't understand.” “I’ll explain. At the duel, Pushkin – like any other duelist – had two tasks: to take aim, and to shoot first. These two tasks are contradictory. If you spend too much time aiming, then your opponent shoots you first. Your fate is decided in seconds. Pushkin lingered for a moment. Something distracted him, and he ‘pulled the wrong card,’ like Hermann, in whose hand the queen of spades turned up instead of the ace.” I listened, enchanted, to the director… “You know what else is interesting about this place?” Boris Anatolievich led me to the window. “ You see the building across from us? Now here, in this building there was a restaurant, ‘Liner,’ in the nineteenth century, where the fate of another Russian genius was decided. This often happens in Petersburg: all events take place in a small area. So, in this restaurant, on the evening of October 20, 1893, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was having supper with his brother Modest and other relatives. He drank a glass of unboiled water, caught cholera, and died four days later.” “Was there an epidemic of cholera in Petersburg?” 203


“The epidemic had receded, but there were still isolated cases of cholera.” I changed the subject: “You mentioned the Winter Canal, but Pushkin wasn’t there, was he?” “Not only is the Winter Canal not in the story, but the suicides of the main characters, Hermann and Liza, are also not there. Also, Pushkin’s Hermann only pretends to be in love, in order to get into the home of the old Countess, with Lizaveta Ivanovna’s help. But in the opera, he seems to be genuinely in love. Do you remember? ‘Beauty… Goddess… Angel…’” “Yet Nabokov didn’t like Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pushkin’ operas. He firmly defended the purity of literary works.” “Well, God bless Nabokov… But let’s go for a walk along the Winter Canal this evening. We’ll walk under the arch of the Hermitage to the embankment of the Neva River. From there we’ll get a good view of Peter and Paul Fortress. What great scenery! Also, the tsar lived in the Winter Palace, so Alexander III saw the Winter Canal every day from his window; it flowed right under his feet!” “Do you mean to say that the choice of locations was made for the tsar, for his pleasure?” “Ivan Alexandrovich Vsevolozhsky, director of the Imperial Theaters, was a big fan of Tchaikovsky’s music, and commissioned The Queen of Spades. He was not only an educated person, but also an intelligent courtier, whose service and duties required flattering and pleasing people. Through the librettist, Tchaikovsky’s brother Modest, Vsevolozhsky was able to continue this strategy effectively. The tsar provided money from the treasury, and the opera was written for the tsar. Yes, that’s who it was written for, just as Raphael’s frescos were painted for the Pope.” “But our Pushkin didn’t fare well in the process.” Boris Anatolievich got ready to leave. “We’re looking forward to seeing you at the theater tomorrow,” he said. We said goodbye. I didn’t want to back to the apartment, to Margarita. I stayed at the café and ordered another pear dipped in chocolate. In half an hour, I also left. Magarita was at home, watching TV in the kitchen. I asked her if she’d be willing to sell me the volume of Blok that I was reading the night before. “I don’t sell my books,” she said sharply. 204


I kept silent, though I was certain she’d never open the book. I headed for my room, but Margarita stopped me. “I’ll have to ask you to throw out your jar,” she said. “How is it disturbing you?” I asked. “I throw everything in the toilet.” “But you then wash it in the sink, and I wash there. I’m very squeamish.” “All right. I’ll throw it out.” “Do it today! There’s a garbage bin outside.” I closed the door to my room. “Wait,” said Margarita. “I have one more request. Wear shorts under your robe when you’re outside of your room.” “But we always go around like that!” “Maybe you do. But put on shorts here.” I closed the door. “Damn it!” I thought. “How am I going to get through another four days here?!” I went to the bookcase. My hands were trembling from rage, but I succeeded in taking out the volume of Pushkin with “The Queen of Spades.” “Why did Vsevolozhsky choose this work of Pushkin for the opera? Who is Hermann? Could he have loved Lizaveta Ivanovna? Was he intimate with women in general? And this phrase applies so well to Margarita: “… her dim eyes were completely empty of thought…” The room started to be filled with smells coming from the kitchen. Margarita was preparing dinner for herself and her son. I felt hungry and slightly dizzy. I couldn’t stand it anymore and started to get dressed. I took my jar with me and headed for the janitor. “Is there a grocery store here?” I asked. “There are three,” he said. “Are they far away?” “No, they’re all nearby. They’re on the Moika, about 500 yards from here.” Vasily Ivanovich described all three of them. I went out the entrance and threw my jar in the garbage bin. Turning onto the embankment, I took a look at the Pushkin Museum and turned left. It was dark. I saw a light ahead of me and walked toward it. This was the first store. It was dark inside. I bought a seven-ounce “guard’s sausage,” a roll, yogurt, and two pickles. The young saleswoman, who had a sweet face, allowed me to eat right at the windowsill. I ate everything. Leaving the store, I walked along the other side of the embankment. Passing Margarita’s building, I saw the stone arch bridge and turned right. It was 10:00 in the 205


evening. I walked along the snow-covered Winter Canal to the Neva River. I passed the second arch bridge and saw an identical arch, of the Hermitage Bridge. There was not a soul around. What an empty, desolate place! The streetlights flickered dimly. I started to feel frightened. I ran under the Hermitage Arch and jumped onto the Neva bank. Across from me, at a slight angle, I could see Peter and Paul Fortress. Steps led to the water. Once, here during the time of spring when the roads are impassible, Liza threw herself into the water. I turned to go back. Faster, faster. I felt as though Hermann in his madness were chasing me. I ran into the entrance and opened the door to the apartment. The whole hallway was filled with an acrid smell. From the kitchen I could hear the gutteral sounds of a TV serial, mixed with crackling and sizzling. “Margarita must be frying fish,” I thought. I continued to my room and plunged into rereading “The Queen of Spades.” Could Pushkin have encoded something into the story, and could Vsevolozhsky have cracked the code? Three, Seven, Ace… This added up to twenty-one! But so what? Any idiot could figure this out. I turned off the light. Everything was jumbled in my head. I lay there, trying to put my thoughts in order. That winter night I had a dream. I’m standing at the entrance to Margarita’s building. Suddenly, I see an open carriage, harnessed to a single horse, galloping on the Moika. On the coachman’s seat, in front of the coachman, is the janitor, Vasily Ivanovich, and behind them, sitting in the carriage, are the Tchaikovsky brothers, Hermann, Liza, and Vsevolozhsky, with a monocle on his right eye. “It’s winter, but they’re in an open carriage… Aren’t they cold?” I think. The carriage passes me, and I get on a motorcycle and follow it. Suddenly I see Liza thrown out of the carriage onto the snowy road, and I barely avoid crashing into her. “Poor Liza,” I think, “what did they throw her out for?” The carriage turns onto the Winter Canal embankment, and I follow on my motorcycle. Suddenly I hear all five of them screaming, “Faster! Faster! Faster!” The carriage drives onto the second arch bridge, and Pushkin, with a top hat and an overcoat with decorative trim, like a doorman, and the old Countess with Margarita’s face are standing in the middle of it. “That’s strange,” I think. “Margarita is much younger than that.” The carriage heads directly for Pushkin and the Countess. “That’s terrible!” I think. “It will crush them!” I yell, “Alexander Sergeevich! Get out of the way! Get out of the 206


way!” Then Pushkin pushes the Countess to the side, grabs a pistol from his pocket, and shoots without aiming. The horse stumbles, like Vronsky’s at the race, and falls onto its front legs. The carriage with its passengers turns and flies from the bridge into the frozen Winter Canal. I drive onto the bridge, stop, and get off my motorcycle. I look around. Pushkin is gone – he has disappeared somewhere – and the old Countess lies motionless, facedown on the bridge. I walk up to the stone parapet and see a crack in the ice with water bubbling up: bul-bul, bul-bul, bul-bul… And Hermann and Vasily Ivanovich slowly crawl out of the ice. But what about the others?! Did they really all drown?! And if they drowned, then who wrote the opera?! Chapter 28

The Beginning I’ve known Dina for twenty-five years. I remember everything. For instance, how she met her husband: “Snow was falling in Sevastopol! Can you image? Snow in Sevastopol! I left home in the morning, wearing high heels, and when I went back home, so much snow had piled up, so many snowdrifts, and the biggest of them was right by the building where I lived with my girlfriend. I got off the trolley and couldn’t take a single step further. I stopped, and thought to myself, “what should I do?” Then someone behind me said, “Miss, let me help you.” I turned around and saw him. “And how can you help me? By clearing away all the snow? Stamping down the snowdrifts?” And he took me in his arms and carried me past all the snowdrifts, right up to the entrance to my building!” She was eighteen then. She studied at the Moscow Conservatory, and Dima studied in Mendeleevka. After graduating the consevatory, Dina played cello in Dudarov’s orchestra. Then they left. Together with Sonya. In Chicago, Dina tried to find a position in an orchestra, playing blind auditions, earning money from chance gigs. While she waited for five years to get into the Chicago Philharmonic, one violinist and two wind players died, but no vacancies opened up for cellists. Dina got tired of waiting, and she went to work in a medical office as a receptionist.

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I started working at this office about a year after Dina. A psychiatrist, a chiropractor, and a stomatologist, who helped me a lot, were already working there. Looking into the mouths of his patients, the stomatologist shook his head and said, “Ai, yai yai, you have bad gums, periodontosis. That’s because of your liver. We have a very knowledgeable therapist, Musya Belochkin, who just started working at this office. Make an appointment with him – he’ll treat your liver.” And the psychiatrist taught me a simple method for testing memory. After examining several elderly patients I asked, “Could I test your memory?” “Go ahead, Doctor.” “Here are three words: apple, tree, book. I’ll repeat them three times: apple, tree, book; apple, tree, book; apple, treee, book. Try to remember these three words.” After a few minutes, I’d write a prescription for the patient and ask him or her to say the three words. I advised those who didn’t pass the test to make an appointment with Dr. Simkin, the psychiatrist, who could prescribe medicine “for the memory.” His office was next to mine, so it was very convenient. You didn’t have to go to an American pharmacy to fill the prescriptions. There was a small drugstore in the office, and Borya Gaisinsky, a charming, accommodating young man with an open, kind face provided the medicine. Besides Dina, who was assigned to me, a young blonde woman Nelya, the stomatologist’s assistant, worked in the office. Unlike with the men, a rivalry could be seen between the women. Sometime around two months after I arrived, Nelya, who came to work earlier than everyone else, discovered a pair of men’s pants under a box of rubber gloves in the closet. For some reason she decided to conduct an independent inquest, stopping by all the men’s offices (there were five of us in all) and asking, “Are these your pants?” Each of us denied that they were his pants. I don’t know what Nelya said to the other men, but she made some hints about Dina to me. And Dina gave as good as she got, insisting that the blonde had never had an orgasm in her life. But despite all these squabbles, work in the office went well, and my first patients started to come, directed to me by my colleagues and Dina in the waiting room. Dina didn’t like paperwork, preferring to spend her time “in conversations.” Elderly people who had come to a foreign land with a foreign tongue were looking for moral support. Dina gently and unobtrusively, with sincere interest and genuine emotional 208


warmth, went into all the cares and sufferings of our immigrants, calming and sympathizing with them or cheering them up with a joke. People entrusted Dina with their most private circumstances. She told me about them with humor and irony, but without malice or schadenfreude. She actually had a tendency to make fun of herself. “I am no match for her!,” I thought. If I got enraged at patients who were annoying me, Dina quickly sat me down and showed me that I was getting worked up for nothing. There was something completely childlike about Dina. If I mentioned that she forgot or skipped something, she responded by raising her eyes in surprise, and her whole expression reminded me of a child who had done something wrong. In general, her eyes were remarkable. She didn’t have to speak: you could read everything in her face. All her emotions, feelings, and changes of mood were expressed in her eyes. Her beauty was somehow Old Testament, originating in Rachel’s foremothers: dark blonde hair framing an oval face and enormous brown eyes, a straight nose, and sensual lips. Dina knew her own worth. After we had been acquainted for just a few weeks, she turned to me as a doctor, announcing that she’d found a lump in her breast. I examined her breast, found nothing potentially dangerous, and ordered a mammogram, which turned out normal. But I got introduced to her legs whenever she wore a skirt or dress with a long slit up the side. What can I say? She had the figure of Venus de Milo! Dina talked about her husband as if they were joined at the hip. Dima, a trained chemist, could not find work in his specialty, like Dina. He sold cement and reinforced concrete. He had a successful business, and they never stinted on anything. Dima traveled half the world, but did not take Dina on his business trips. Perhaps Dina herself didn’t want to go with him and leave Sonya on her own. We talked a lot about music. Dina claimed that the most wonderful sound in the world was that of the cello, which surpassed the sounds of all other orchestral instruments in its richness, fullness, emotional expression, range, color, and tone. “Nothing can express our feelings better than the cello,” Dina explained. “But what about the violin?” I asked. “There are so many marvelous violin concertos, so many great violinists!” “That’s true,” she said, defending her position, “but one of our 209


professors at the conservatory confirmed that the cello is a grown-up violin.” I asked her if she played at home. “Yes, I love to play alone, when no one is around,” she said. I soon learned that Lena, the wife of our pharmacist, played the piano and had many students. “Why not play together with Dina?” I asked. “We often do,” Lena answered. Borya, Lena, and their son came to Chicago earlier than the rest of us. He was the only one here who had a real American relative. Arthur owned a chain of drugstores in the city. He insisted that Borya earn a pharmacy degree, and paid for his education. After Borya received his pharmacist’s license, his redhaired relative sent him to work in two of his pharmacies in our area, and one on the South Side of Chicago. He also gave Borya a house, a large American house in a wealthy northern suburb on Lake Michigan. When I started to work at our office, I immediately noticed something special about the relations between Dina and our pharmacist. You could sense this even in how Borya pronounced her name, which sounded in his mouth like the name Allah from a believing Muslim. Borya knew all of Dina’s family affairs, because the families were friends with each other. He said the name of her husband, Dima, with the greatest reverence. Dima was always extremely busy, spending half the year on business trips, so Borya, a practical and resourceful man, literally took care of the Sinelnikov family in his absence. He helped them with everything large and small, from showing them where to make copies of lost keys to helping them find workers to do repairs in their house. Borya lived with two families, in two houses “in the full sense of the word.” For example, he even suggested something that had never been done: to celebrate Dina and Dima’s wedding anniversary at his home. Dina would play the cello, Lena would accompany her, he’d invite many guests – the whole office, all the doctors an their wives, and Nelya and her husband. There was a big hall and a piano, an unheard-of luxury in those days, and there was a cutting-edge stereo system with meter-long columns. They could dance until morning, dance till they dropped! Only a friend, a real friend, “the most devoted of friends,” could come up with this idea. And the evening really did turn out wonderfully. Everyone was dressed to the nines, putting on and hanging on themselves everything they owned, and some things they didn’t. Your head would spin from the flashing of the women’s glossy bare backs. 210


The red-headed Arthur made an essential contribution to Borya’s evening. He ordered all the food from the finest Italian restaurant, which the mayor of Chicago and his close circle patronized. Waiters in tuxedos rushed about the house with enormous trays, distributing various delicacies that we immigrants, still getting our bearings, had never seen or tried. But the unforgettable highlight of the evening was Dina and Lena’s performance. They played the minuet from Boccherini’s String Quintet, arranged for cello and piano. Eyes closed, Dina gently guided her bow across the cello’s strings, and Lena ran her fingers over the piano keys in the same gentle, hushed manner. The enchanting sounds poured out so freely that it seemed as if one person were playing both instruments. As I enjoyed the divine melody, I thought that only women who slept with the same man could play so sweetly. A few months after this party, an unbelievable event took place. One evening I was sitting at home having dinner with my family. We were all watching the 6:00 news on Channel 2. They usually showed Chicago news at this time. I was sipping a spoonful of soup when I suddenly saw the face of Dr. Izya Sonkin on the screen. We had studied for our exams together and visited each other’s homes many times, so we all knew him. “Look! Look! Izya’s on TV!” I howled. It was late autumn. Izya was wearing the familiar coat with a velvet collar from the NEP period. We started to listen to the announcer’s voice off-screen. Why indeed were they showing Izya on the screen?! I can recall his expression to this day, so many years later. He had a surprised, even dumbfounded expression, looking from one side to the other, as though he didn’t know what to do. While he was being shown on the screen, the announcer reported an operation carried out by Chicago detectives: “Today at 2:00 in the afternoon, a woman pretending to be a patient came to Dr. Sonkin’s office complaining of a cough. Dr. Sonkin, without listening to her or examining her, right away prescribed cough medicine consisting of codeine, which she had demanded. He did this in front of two witnesses, according to the ‘patient’s’ testimony. Similar operations were simultaneously being carried out in other doctors’ offices.” An article came out the next day in the Chicago Tribune with all the details of the investigation, which had lasted for three years. 211


Patients at doctors’ offices in the South Side really liked medicine with codeine and other soothing ingredients. A person who drank a tablespoon from this bottle in the morning would feel relaxed the whole day, would not be stressed or nervous at all, and would be in the most wonderful mood. The medicine was officially intended to treat a cough. Patients who had special medical care cards got this bottle for free. The most enterprising homes divided it and sold it to their friends, neighbors, and acquaintances who didn’t have these cards. These people, in turn, divided what had been poured out again, and sold this salvific medicine to other people. Millions of dollars circulated in this pyramid scheme. Drugstore owners were the chief organizers of this criminal activity. They enticed doctors to the offices on the South Side, which provided them with 30-40 patients complaining of coughs per day. The drugstore owners received payment for the medicine from the same source as doctors, that is, the state budget. The article, among other things, cited the name of the redhaired Arthur several times, and the names Borya Gaisinsky and Izya Sonkin once each. According to the jury’s verdict six months later, Borya’s relative got five years in prison, and Izya and our pharmacist lost their medical and pharmacist’s licenses, respectively, and were each given three years of probation. Dina was overjoyed that Borya was not imprisoned, but she lost interest in working in the office without him. At this time, I finished my residency and fellowship, and could work a full day six days a week. I felt capable of running an independent practice, and also, working conditions at the office began to seem burdensome. Dina and I worked out the details of our “escape” for a long time, keeping our plans secret until the very end. Finally, one evening when everyone had left the office, we transferred the records of all our patients to the new office. Each of us had our own room in the newplace, and Dina usually had many people in hers. I bought her a big leather sofa, so all her admirers could gather comfortably. Our practice began to grow quickly, and by the end of the year we had 20-25 patients, and later 30, in the new office every day. In the meantime, Borya found a position as a programmer in a big company, and our office happened to be right on his way 212


home from work. I didn’t ask Dina if she met with Borya, and where, and in general I didn’t ask about their relations. She mentioned his name in the context of “family.” Borya sometimes called her in the afternoon, so I knew that he was around. His voice always sounded optimistic. Some evenings, when all the patients had left and the office became quiet, Dina would stop by my office for some trivial reason. She’d talk about something, but her eyes conveyed nervous, tense expectation, not even expectation but deep anguish, which was hidden but threatened to burst out any second. I sensed by her behavior that she was not here like the rest of us, but in some other dimension, on another level of feelings and thoughts that excluded me, the office, the patients, Devon Avenue, Chicago, and the whole world. In Maupassant’s novella, the husband returns home and senses that someone is hidden there. He wanders around the house, but can’t find the lover. Finally, he decides to look under the bed, but at the last moment he notices a hatchet on the chair near the bed. His wife is standing near the chair looking at her husband. The husband looks at his wife and understands from her eyes, from her gaze that if he bends down to look under the bed, that she’ll cut off his head with the hatchet. He leaves without asking anything. I experienced something similar when I looked at Dina as she entered my office. As soon as she left, I would gather my things and leave very quickly, trying not to call the office, and eventually not come back. We continued like this for about two more years until there was an investigation. Inspectors visited us many times and demanded documentation. As a result of the investigaton, which lasted about a year, it became clear that Dina was sending all the accounts for payment for patient services under the same code, determining the time the patient spent with the doctor. The code was the same for everyone, and corresponded to a 45-minute visit. I asked Dina why she used this code, and she said it was the same code she had used at the other office. “But I had 5-6 patients a day there, and here I have 25-30! It looks like I’ve been working 17-20 hours a day, sometimes all 24 hours!” Dina gave me a devastating look in response. “It’s your fault, idiot!” the look said. And I really was at fault for not getting around to looking at Dina’s papers this whole time. 213


The litigation dragged on for a couple more years. I took all the blame on myself, of course, protecting Dina from an unnecessarily nerve-wracking experience. I never once took her along to the investigations. Eventually, I was deprived of the right to treat this group of patients, and our practice was threatened with complete destruction. Our patients scattered to other doctors’ offices. I retained my medical license and began to work on call at different places in the far suburbs of Chicago. I drove 150-200 miles a day, returning home after midnight. I had to start over. Digging myself out of the hole took several years. Dina decided not to find another job, devoting her time to raising her daughter instead. We called each other, but very rarely. Once I saw Borya in a shoe store, but he didn’t notice me. He was bent on his knee, busy helping a blonde woman try on shoes. I was able to make out who she was. At about this time, we stopped mentioning Borya during our phone conversations. As always, I didn’t ask her about anything. Now, when all wounds have healed, everything that happened seems so remote, as if it were from another life that wasn’t even our own. Dina and her husband Dima became my patients. Dina is just as beautiful, and is just as sharp-tongued, mocking, and ironic. She is not jealous of my assistant Larisa, a young, beautiful woman. Some of our old patients have returned. One of them once said to me, “Dr. Belochkin, your new assistant is also beautiful, but she’s no Dina.” Chapter 29

The Struggle for Existence Greta kept all her plans secret until the very last moment. She called me on Thursday. “We bought tickets for Saturday the 29th,” she said. “Are you going there to check out the place?” “No, for good.” “What do you mean? I thought…” “I didn’t want anyone in my office to know.” “What about your things? Your furniture?”

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“The truck will deliver them in a week. We loaded everything yesterday. “So it’s really for good.” “Yes. Lately I’ve worked only for insurance and office expenses. After all the deductions, there was almost nothing left. And things haven’t been going so well for Vova, either. I’m sick of the Chicago weather – snow, wind, ice. Sick of everything. I had to think of myself. Vova will play tennis and go swimming in the ocean every day there, and I’ll find something to do. Will you visit us? We have enough room.” Greta and Vova had a new townhouse on the West Coast of Florida, in the Miami area. I promised to visit, and in three months, I did so. Getting off the highway, I saw an open space with hundreds of recently constructed, adjacent little houses extended in a serpentine ribbon along some small bodies of water. Following Vova’s cell phone instructions, I found the right entrance, I zigzagged along the little streets of the complex until I finally saw Greta and Vova standing in the doorway of their house. We embraced. They looked great: sun-tanned, youthful, slim, and relaxed. They looked better than they ever had in Chicago. “You’ve seen us, and now let us show you the apartment,” said Greta. The apartment was cute, clean and well arranged. Everything was basic and tasteful, as if they had designed it themselves. From the large room, you could fall right into the balcony, covered with a screen, with a view of a small body of water on the opposite “shore,” which had exactly the same type of houses. I toured the apartment with my friends, examining the bedrooms with Louis the Fourteenth style furniture: a little cabinet, vanities, bathrooms, toilets. Everything seemed small compared to their large, spacious house in the Chicago suburbs, which had an enormous backyard with fruit trees. We’d often had cheerful, friendly get-togethers there, winters indoors and summers on the deck under a giant canopy, where everyone drank, snacked, made noise, sang, gossiped, and praised our generous hosts. Had all of this really come to an end? The highlight of the tour was the new entertainment system that Greta and Vova had been able to buy. Inside the small bars, multicolored lights blazed up and dimmed, and through the glass, you could see the compact discs automatically being raised and lowered to change them. 215


“Put on the aria from Rigoletto,” said Greta. Volodya pressed a button, a disc was raised and then lowered. The lights flickered, and I heard my favorite Italian aria: ta-ra-ra, ta-ra-ra, ta-ra-ra-ri-ra-ra, ta-ra-ra-ri-ta-ta, ri-ra-ra-ra, ri-ra-ra-ra… We sat at a small round table with dishes that were familiar to me for many years. The conversation revolved around how much fresher, better, and tastier the groceries, fruits, and vegetables were in Florida than in Chicago. “How do you spend your days?” I asked. “You can’t imagine how busy we are,” said Vova. “The days flash by in the blink of an eye. In the morning we got to a health club. We’ll show you it – it’s a two-minute walk away. It has two swimming pools, a jacuzzi, wet and dry saunas, an enormous fitness room with all kinds of equipment, a playroom, a bar where you can relax and order cold beer and other things. Then we go grocery shopping in the city, and if the weather is good, we drive to the beach. I go swimming in all kinds of weather, and Greta does when she’s in the mood. Then we walk around the city. There are tons of antique stores, diverse people – you’ll see them. They are very polite and friendly. Then we go back home and cook for one meal, so that everything will be fresher. Greta usually spends time alone, and I play tennis.” “How long do you play for?” “Two hours, just like in Chicago. Only here I play every day, 365 days a year. They have open tennis courts and courts covered with a tent. Then, around evening, we drive to the pier to watch the sunset if it’s a clear day. Hundreds of people gather there. After the sunset we walk around the city again. The evenings are nice, not too hot. We’ll take you to the pier today. You’ll see how wonderful it is. The sun lies directly on the water. It sets very quickly, so quickly that if you turn away, you miss it, and you only see the wonderful glow on the water” “And does it rise on the other side?” “Yes. They watch the sunrise on the side with the Atlantic Ocean, but they have to get up very early to do it. We’ve already visited friends in Miami and seen everything, but the sunset is more interesting.” “I like the sunrise better. I’ll never forget the sunrise at Mount Sinai, how the last little star dims in the rays of the rising sun. Do you ever miss Chicago?” “You know what?” said Greta, “I’ve had a kind of metamorphosis here. I don’t even remember Chicago. It’s as if I 216


didn’t live there for twenty-five years! Instead, I remember Leningrad. Can you imagine?” “Yes, I’ve experienced something similar. When I went to Europe from Chicago, I felt like I should return home to Kharkov. I mean that Chicago somehow got replaced by Kharkov. But in recent years that feeling has passed. With time, Chicago has become my home. My children live there, and my grandchildren were born there. I’ll die and be buried there. And that’s how it is. Nevertheless, I really envy you guys. In Chicago we have to work our fingers to the bone, winter and summer, while here, you just worry about not missing the sunset!” “But you could also retire and live on your pension,” said Greta. “I could, but I don’t want to. I need to work.” We got up from the table and went onto the balcony. There Greta showed me another novelty. She sat me in a wicker chair, and did something behind my back, and I felt the back of the chair vibrating. “Do you like it?” “Yes, it’s very nice.” “It’s a light back massage. You can also change the temperature to whatever you like.” We sat across from the water and watched a whole flock of geese swimming in it. “Are there swans, too?” “Maybe somewhere, but we just have geese.” The opposite “shore” was about 70-80 feet away – no more than that. The geese were swimming slowly to that “shore.” Suddenly two of them separated from the rest of the group and stepped out onto dry land. “Now it begins,” said Vova, and got out some binoculars, which I hadn’t noticed before. “Look!” As soon as the geese went to the shore, one goose threw himself onto another, trying to knock him down. Vova looked through his binoculars and commented: “The young goose is beating up the old one. He wants to kill him. And he should.” One of the wings on the old goose, I noticed, was flapping oddly. And the young goose kept on attacking, banging his beak into one side of the old goose, then the other, causing feathers to fly off him. I could see all of this without the binoculars. From a little house like ours, a gray-haired guy with a cane rushed out and 217


started shooing away the young goose, but the goose had worked himself into such a rage that he didn’t pay any attention to the guy with the cane. He went around him and attacked the old goose from behind. “This happens every day,” Vova continued. “The young goose wants to be the leader. It’s the law of nature. The struggle for existence, as Darwin put it. Sooner or later, he’ll finish off the old goose.” I started to feel uneasy. “Can’t something be done about this?” “We discussed it in a meeting of our subdivision. There was a motion to catch the young goose and break his neck, but it didn’t pass.” “Why not?” “Because he’d only be replaced by another young goose, who would do exactly the same thing.” During this time, the old goose got completely exhausted and fell onto the grass. The old guy was able to drive away the young goose, or maybe the goose himself decided that that was enough for today. He returned to the rest of the flock, and they all swam to our side without the old goose. “Did he kill him?” Vova looked through his binoculars. “No, he’s still stirring. He’ll lie there for a while and then recover. Yesterday he lay there and recovered. And he’ll get up today, too. Come on, guys, let’s get ready to go. There’s only 35 minutes until the sunset. We don’t want to be late, or we’ll miss it, and also the good spots on the pier will be gone.” Chapter 30

Farewell, Beethoven! Last night, I woke up five times. I have an enlarged prostate and stones in both kidneys. The last time I had renal colic, when the kidney stone came from the left side, was ten years ago. Because of this condition, I have to drink a lot all day, from morning to night. But to avoid waking up at night, I shouldn’t drink so much. It’s a catch-22. But I chose to drink a lot, and God willing, I’ll live ten more years without an attack. Yesterday evening I ate watermelon, which is also very helpful. You may ask how I managed to wake up five times in a night, and I’d answer 218


that it’s possible, because I’m used to it. Of course, I’m unable to go back to sleep right away, and I think about something for ten or fifteen minutes. Today, for instance, I thought about prime numbers, that is, numbers like 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, etc. that can only be divided by themselves and by 1. Or perhaps 1937 is also a prime number? I sense that it is, but is there a formula that could help me easily and quickly determine if it is? I think there is, and I need to find out. Another time, about two months ago, a totally absurd thought came to me in the middle of the night. It was about circumcision, and how this custom came about. Men probably started to do it at womens’ demand, since they liked it better that way. But getting back to my original subject, my prostate was not merely enlarged – it was four times larger than normal. Generally this is nothing to be proud of, and I’m not. To the contrary, I’ve organized all the symptoms so as to present my condition on a strictly scientific basis. Hypertrophy (enlargement) of the prostate hinders normal urination. Subjecting myself to a deep, thorough self-analysis, I noticed that the whole process consists of several phases or parts, following each other and forming an indissoluble link. I found eight of these phases (parts). Coincidentally, Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina also consists of eight parts. But since nothing in the world is coincidental, I decided to keep this parallel in mind, turning to the great novel as to a coded matrix of my physiological and psychosomatic sensations. Before I describe my diagram, I’d like to warn the reader that my presentation is not a joke, parody, irony, or farce. It’s a cry from the heart, a distillation of the suffering that has befallen me, suffering to which millions of males are doomed. So this all starts from a desire, insistent and implacable, like fate, accompanied by spasms in the lower part of my belly and a burning sensation in my member. You’re lucky if you’re alone and can get to the toilet immediately. But if you’re with a patient who is telling you about his problems, you can’t stop him in midsentence. I manage to hold out for a few seconds, and then I say: “Excuse me – I need to wash my hands.” Patients love it when doctors wash their hands. Taking the key from the wall and unbuttoning my fly ahead of time, I open the door to the men’s room with trembling hands and run to the nearest urinal.

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The next phase could tenatively be called preparation and waiting. The problem is that when the need is so powerful and uncontrollable, the urine doesn’t come out immediately. But there’s no need to worry. To overcome the reflexive spasm, you need to relax and calmly await the moment when the urine flows. A certain position of my body helps me. I put my right fist against the wall of the urinal and lean my forehead on it. And I move my legs so that there’s a certain angle between the axis of my body and the vertical wall. In this manner, I adopt the pose of a skier soaring in the air during a jump from a trampoline. I stand there with my eyes closed, as if I’m in a trance, trying to forget about everything on earth, and at the moment of complete relaxation, the first drops of urine appear, and this marks the beginning of the third phase, which is characterized by instability and uncertainty. After some drops of urine, there is a series of interrupted, thin, narrow streams. The little streams, gradually increasing in force, spurt on one side, then the other, often past the urinal, falling on the floor or my pants, or those of my neighbor, if someone is unlucky enough to be standing next to me. I’d call this the fountain phase. In the end, the alternating tension and relaxation of the abdominal muscles successfully leads to an uninterrupted stream in a stable direction, the urine flows without effort, and this distinguishes this fourth part from the preceding one. Then the urination stops and the fifth phase, the pause, begins. I know from experience that this is a pause in urination, not the end. I stand there and wait until the remaining urine comes out in a strong, full stream. This is the sixth phase. When I’m done, I spend another couple of minutes at the toilet, shaking and intensively squeezing out the last drops from my member, trying to push out everything to the last drop (the seventh phase). But after all these efforts, after leaving the toilet I feel a warm little stream flowing down my thighs. Damn it! Thus concludes the eighth and final part of my epic. But you’ll ask what this has to do with Beethoven, whose name was given in the title of this chapter. I mentioned Beethoven out of solidarity. Solidarity with those who stood – and those who are still standing next to me, shoulder to shoulder, in the men’s room of Chicago Symphony Hall. There are many restrooms there, but I’m speaking of the main one, the biggest one, located in the basement across from the musician’s coatroom, where people come out of the orchestra section. This 220


restroom has more than ten urinals, but during the twentyminute intermission, a long line of gray heads forms nevertheless. There are many tall, pedigreed men, next to whom I look like a dwarf. Everyone waits patiently. Some faces seem familiar to me – we go to the same concerts and sit in reserved seats in the orchestra. Just as the earth revolves around the sun, we grow old. Just as leaves fall to the earth every autumn, we lie in that same earth at the end of our journey. Here in a concert hall that can seat 2,600 people, the gray heads decrease, and the empty spaces increase… A world-famous conductor enters the stage to applause, and casts his eyes over the auditorium with a quick glance. Bowing to all sides, he forces a smile, just as I force urine out of my member. After all, the hall is only two-thirds or even less full. And there was a time when Beethoven and the Chicago Symphony drew full halls… What can you do? Everything flows, everything changes… The conductor turns his back to the audience and waves his baton: “Farewell, Beethoven.” Chapter 31

The Magic Swan Geese “I am struck by Babel’s words, cited by Semyon Lipkin in his reminiscences. Babel traveled to Paris in the 1930s, and when he returned to Moscow, Lipkin asked him what he thought of the writers there, meaning the Russian émigré writers. Babel said that he’d single out one, Sirin, adding: ‘He writes well, but he has nothing to say.’” “Sirin is Nabokov, right?” “Yes. Lipkin, speaking retrospectively, since he had not read Nabokov then, said that he did not agree with Babel.” “You mean with the second part of what Babel said?” “Yes, that Nabokov ‘had nothing to say.’ That’s how I understood it. But I wasn’t thinking of Nabokov. It’s clear that he’s a genius!” “So what were you thinking?” “I was thinking about myself, though not comparing myself with Nabokov, of course. A female acquaintance, who was in the Leningrad literary circles before emigrating to Chicago, sent my book to a famous critic. She warned me not to let it get to 221


my head and get my hopes too high. She knew these critics inside and out. They’d skin a writer alive, even if he were another Gogol…” “So they’d gobble Gogol…” “Exactly! They’d chew him up and spit him out, beat him up and crush him, like Schwarzenegger! But she assured me that the critic she had in mind was not like the others, not of the same flock, so to speak. Maybe if he liked something, he’d write a review about it. A positive one.” “Well, so did he write a review?” “Here’s what happened. In about two months he sent her an email, in which he took the book apart and trashed it, point by point.” “And how many points did he make?” “Nine, I think. She read me an excerpt of his email by phone. The gist of it was that my stories contain only conversation. That’s what he wrote: my characters talk, and talk, but there’s no action. Many of the stories, in his opinion, are spun out of thin air, and therefore don’t touch the reader’s heart. They are too intellectual, and lack conflict. In general, for him I’m only whitewashing our immigrant activity. He concluded that my book wouldn’t amount to anything in Russia: it wouldn’t survive, but would wither away like an old maid on the first bookshelf it reached. At the same time, he didn’t deny that I was a writer, and perhaps, out of old friendship with her, he could arrange a meeting with readers in Petersburg.” “And what do you think about this?” “How can I put this? In general, he’s right. The problem isn’t even that my stories don’t contain gore, crime, murders and rapes. They don’t have human tragedy. That very evening, I counted only two heroes and one secondary character dying in the 40 stories I published. That’s unacceptable, as you know very well. But seriously, what can I do if life here is good? Our immigrants simply live well here.” “And without worries.” “Yes, without worries, even after September 11.” “Then what can you do? What can you write about? It’s just as if you had nothing to say.” “Everyone here is satisfied, self-sufficient, and happy, from grandsons and great-grandsons to grandmothers, grandfathers, great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers, and everyone in between.” 222


“In that case, it’s impossible for anyone to be a writer there.”

“Exactly – it’s impossible. You can be whatever you want, except a writer. Today, for example, I got up in the morning and went to the window. I saw a little, spotted deer standing there. Deer usually come in families, with a mama and papa, sometimes in a group of four or five. But this one was alone, so skinny, on thin little legs. It stood there nibbling Yulia’s flowers. I yelled, ‘Yulia! A little deer is eating your flowers’ I said ‘your’ because she planted them, not I. ‘Come here! Look!’ She came up, looked out the window, opened the door and headed for the deer. It immediately ran through the yard to the neighbor’s. I suddenly felt bad. Why had I called Yulia? These are my trials and tribulations… But seriously, life here is sort of mindless. Everyone is occupied with all sorts of nonsense and talks about one and the same thing. Sometimes it seems that we’re all entangled in some invisible web, and we thrash around in this web but can’t get out of it.” “So would you like to return? I’d be happy to have you. We’d live on your pension – it would be enough here.” “That’s impossible. We’re all used to this life. And it’s not just that it’s hard to sacrifice the comfort. It’s something else, too. You’re already part of another layer. You’re already chained, floating downstream like cooled lava. You’re a piece of coal of this life. In coal there’s no visible trace of the trees from which it developed millions of years ago. And a person doesn’t need much time to turn into a piece of coal, a stone. We achieved a great deal here, but we lost a lot, too. And also, it’s very different here now. But why are we only talking about me, me, me? Tell me about your class reunion.” “Everything generally went as planned.” “You told me you’d be meeting near the school. How many people came?” “Nine.” “Counting you?” “Yes, but Gena Tsybulsky’s wife came with him. I’ll tell you later why there were ten of us – nine men and one woman. Do you remember the building across from our school? A threestory building, with grass and a flowerbed in front of it, separated from the sidewalk by a concrete barrier?” “Yes, I remember something like that.”

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“And in the middle of the barrier iron pegs were sticking out, about four inches long, like a little fence. Remember?” “So you couldn’t sit anywhere on the barrier?” “Yes, it would have been very uncomfortable, of course. But we somehow perched there anyway.” “But why were there so few of you?” “27 people graduated. Nine of them have died, and nine are missing in action – that is, we’ve lost track of them and don’t know where they are. So nine came.” “Quite a few died…” “What do you expect? We graduated 50 years ago.” “That’s still quite a few. Many. Do I know any of them?” “Only Slavik Nosatenko. He visited us. But none of the others.” “That can’t be. I was only a class below you. I would have seen them at school, at competitions, at our literary evenings. Now Slavik Nosatenko was the one who stayed in Kharkov during the war and tore up our parquet for firewood during the German occupation, right?” “That’s right – that was him. But let’s not talk about the dead anymore. You understand: it’s painful and unpleasant for me.” “I’m sorry. Continue, please.” “So we were sitting on this barrier for an hour and a half… We looked at the school and reminisced about everyong – students and teachers. Now this would be interesting to you. Lyova Grinberg, who wasn’t particularly talented at anything, gave us all a surprise. He wrote a 16-page poem, in which he mentioned every student in our class – can you imagine? – and all the teachers, too. Their first names, last names, and patronymics! Can you believe it? He wrote the poem for half a year, completely secretly, not telling anyone about it or asking us anything. I’ll send it to you – it’s a marvelous poem! Then we went to Gorky Park, and a pizzeria.” “Why not to a restaurant?” “You have to understand – I know Gena Tsybulsky drinks a lot. He’s basically an alcoholic. So I was afraid he might get drunk and ruin the whole evening if we went to a restaurant. But they don’t serve anything alcoholic besides beer at a pizzeria. Also, it’s expensive to go to a restaurant. That’s why his wife, a teacher, came along, by the way – as back-up. We ordered pizza and beer, and spent another couple of hours there.” 224


“Had you often seen the classmates who came in recent years?”

“Only Pasha and Senya. You know, I’ve been friends with them the whole 50 years since school.” “What about the others?” “I only saw the others rarely – maybe once every ten years. But here’s what’s interesting: despite this, we’ve all begun to resemble each other!” “What do you mean, resemble each other?!” “Not physically, of course, though we look more like each other now than we did in school. But it was mainly a psychological resemblance. We all look at literally everything the same way, as if we were one person, you know? It’s just amazing! We’ve lived different lives, we have different professions, families, wives, children and grandchildren. But today we’re identical, as if we had lived in the same apartment our entire lives.” “Vasily Grossman said it well: there’s life, and then there’s fate. You lived different lives, but you shared the same fate. And then the world around you changed, but you didn’t. You stayed the same as you always were.” “Now that’s not true. We also changed. And you know what I told them about our resemblance, about where it came from? I said: take an elephant and a goat. They look very different, right? But, I said, what if you took their meat, the meat of an elephant and a goat, and made cutlets out of it? The difference would vanish, and it would be very hard to distinguish the goat cutlets from the elephant cutlets.” “Did you think this up, or read it somewhere? Or hear it?” “I made it up.” “When?” “When? Right there, at the pizzeria! It was all completely spontaneous.” “That’s great! A brilliant thought! What else did you talk about?” “We also talked about how the nine of us should have a telephone ‘hot line,’ like the one between the White House and the Kremlin. If something bad happened, they’d call me first, and if I’m no longer alive, then by whatever order we decided on. The main thing is for the person who calls to be able to unburden himself, to say what’s on his mind.” “Do you think anyone will call?” 225


“I don’t know. Maybe they will, or maybe they won’t.” “Would you call someone? Would you call the person after you?” “Me? Probably not.” “Why not?” “Because even though you’ve been carried far, far away by magic swan geese, you’re still you, and I’m me, and while we’re still alive, you’re the one I’ll call. Agreed?”

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Epilogue This story began with me winding up in the hospital for renal colic. They pulled the kidney stone out of my left ureter and sent me from the operation to the ward. In a few more hours they removed the catheter, and I was prepared for discharge without even having time to think properly about human mortality. Yulia had to return from work to take me home from the hospital. While I was lying alone in the ward waiting to be discharged, a man walked in. There was something unusual about his clothes and the special way he carried himself. When he came closer, I noticed that he had a yarmulke on his head. “I am Rabbi Sutin,” – he introduced himself in English. “How are you?” I answered that everything was OK, that I was happy with everything and just waiting for my wife to take me home. Rabbi Sutin gently, unobtrusively took an interest in my life, where I was from, naturally noticing my heavy accent. I briefly told him about myself, where I was from, where my parents were from, when we came to America, and what we were now doing. I responded in kind, asking the rabbi about his family and children, guessing that unlike me, he had stayed married to the same wife, and had many children. That’s just how it turned out to be. Rabbi Sutin also informed me that the first Orthodox synagogue was being built in our small suburb, on his initiative. He told me that its construction was in full swing, and that he hoped it would be finished by the end of the year. And he would be the sole rabbi in this synagogue. “And where is it being constructed?” “Didn’t you notice the new red-brick building in the center of town? How could you miss it? It’s on Central Street!” “Which side?” “The south side.” I started to feel ashamed, and tried to wiggle my way out, that is lie, though it wasn’t a good thing to do, you could say, from the start of my acquaintance with a spiritual leader. “You know, we live in the southern part of the suburb, near Ravinia, but we work in Chicago. We go straight to the 227


highway and take it to work, and we almost never go to our downtown, that is, we go there but very rarely.” The rabbi, sensing that I was uncomfortable, decided to come to my aid. “Yes, it’s very possible that you didn’t notice the synagogue. After all, we only started the construction last summer, and much of that time we were digging the pit and building the foundation.” In response to his “help,” I promised to come to the opening of the synagogue with my whole family. “Let me know when it opens,” I said. We talked for a few more minutes, and like in the good old days, “parted friends.” And three or four months later, I received an invitation from Rabbi Sutin. We got dressed up for the occasion, and went to the event with our children and Yulia’s parents. The rabbi and his wife met everyone individually and talked with each person for a little while, but they paid special attention to Yulia’s mom Tunya, who spent more time with the rabbi than anyone else. I decided that she must be telling the rabbi about the shtetl in Ukraine where she and Ilya had grown up together. When it came time for a donation, I wrote a substantial check (it’s relative, of course), taking all our circumstances into account. On the way home, I asked Tunya what she was talking about for so long with the rabbi. Was it her shtetl? “Not just that,” said Tunya. “I was discussing the possibility of arranging a Jewish wedding for you and Yulia.” “But I never gave you permission to do that, and I don’t think Yulia did either.” “Yes, it was my own initiative. Maybe you find it advantageous, for various reasons, not to have an official marriage – that is, not to get registered. But your little boys will grow up, and they’ll definitely ask you about this. And what will you tell your two boys? It’s shameful! If you don’t want to register officially, at least have a ceremony with a chupah in the synagogue.” “You want us to have a chupah?” “Yes. Not for you – for the children!” “But how can we have a chupah, in our circumstances?” “The rabbi promised to build it. Not in his synagogue, but in your friend’s on Devon Avenue.”

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“But nobody knows that we’ve been unregistered this whole time. I’ll agree to the chupah, but only on the condition that we do it completely secretly. Only you and Ilya should come, and I’ll also invite my former boss, Brett. He’s an American and doesn’t know any of our friends. We need to keep this a secret even from the children for now. After the chupah, we can go to a restaurant in Lake Forest.” Soon I met with the white-haired head rabbi of the Orthodox synagogue on Devon. We agreed on the details, and scheduled the chupah for 2:00 in the afternoon. Ilya took a camera. We had to find ten witnesses on Devon Avenue. We waited for them in a small room. Suddenly, the head rabbi took me to the side and announced something that we hadn’t agreed on earlier: that before the ceremony, Yulia had to have a bat mitzvah, that is, purify herself with a special bath. Although this concerned Yulia, not me, I decided to obey, fearing that the head rabbi would also force me to take off my pants in front of him. I went back to Yulia and told her the head rabbi’s demand. She resisted at first, but then gave in, and was taken to a room in the basement where, as the rabbi explained, they had a special bathtub in which Yulia had to wash. While she was away, they gathered the ten witnesses, and together with the synagogue servants, set up the chupah. Then the telephone rang for me. Yulia was calling from the basement. “She’s forcing me to put dunk my head in the water!” “Explain – who is she? Why your head?” “There’s a woman who observes everything to make sure it’s done by the rules. She wants me to dip my whole head in the water; otherwise, the bat mitzvah won’t count.” “Well, go ahead then, dip your head if you have to.” “And what about my hairdo – did you think of this? Why did I spend three days arranging my hair? I’m not going to dunk my head! I won’t do it!” “Calm down. There’s no other way out. We can’t violate the procedure because of your hair. So do it!” I hung up. When Yulia returned, her hair was smoothed down and shining in a strange way. I don’t remember the chupah itself very well. I didn’t know any of the people there, but they did everything with the proper dignity. The place was small, and we all went under the chupah wherever we could. It felt like some kind of flea market, with all 229


of us standing very close to each other. The light from the candle fell on the faces of the people clustered under the chupah the way it does in Caravaggio paintings. I looked at these faces, the faces of strangers whispering under the chupah, and their concentrated, animated expressions inspired me. In the darkness, thanks to these people, something deep and significant, even unexpected, conveyed itself to me – an inveterate Marxist and agnostic – as I merged and drew together with them in this unusual way. It concerned not only all of us who had gathered in this particular time and place, but also that which we don’t feel or sense in our everyday lives, that which some people call God and others eternity. Then the five of us went to an Italian restaurant in Lake Forest, the one where we always celebrate our children’s birthdays. In a few days, we found out that Yulia’s father’s pictures didn’t come out. But by some miracle, surely, a single negative was preserved, and we were able to print a photo from it. It’s not a picture of the chupah, but of the five of us, taken by a waiter before our dinner at the restaurant. We are all sitting at our table. From left to right are Brett in a light-colored jacket and dark pants, I in a black tuxedo and black bowtie, Yulia, in a tight black dress, Tunya in a colored blouse and black skirt, and Ilya in a gray suit. Our expressions are quite serene. A small black curl of Yulia’s hair is stuck to her forehead. I’m looking at the photograph now: Yulia has never been more beautiful.

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POEMS OF MUSYA BELOCHKIN What use is worldly glory? Who knew Kafka in his day? *** We don’t belong to ourselves, We owe everything to fate. *** A famous poet In his twilight years Wrote a sonnet. Twisted, turned it, this way and that, Here and there; Today they liked it, But tomorrow they won’t. (That’s how it always was With him.) Tormented, in the sonnet, He sought an answer, Would God send him A ticket to immortality, And if he did, Would it be soon, And when? *** The twentieth century has shown, The fated deeds of man alone.

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*** You can overcome the world with kindness. *** If you multiply unhappiness by happiness, You still only have unhappiness. *** A person’s decency, in the end, Is defined by his relations with children. *** In the evenings and nights The summer smelled like cucumbers. Of all the victories fate has given me, I’ve only failed to overcome myself. *** What remains of us is not, What we leave behind, But what we lived on, Which will rot along with us. *** Poetry is not a theorum, It’s not a formula, It’s not an equation. It’s an eternal Theme of overcoming. 232


It’s not The painstaking deletion Of pieces of life from memory Not the replacement of one With another. It’s the freeing Of the unconscious In a duality: Father and Son. It’s in the fall The admiration, Of one tree by another, One branch by another, One leaf by another. It’s the aspens in the last Bloom: Enchanted Enchantment. *** I love the leaf that hasn’t fallen, I love the snow that hasn’t fallen, The helter-skelter clouds in the sky, And the rolling silk of the lake. I love the touch of winter, The secrecy of strangers’ homes, A night vigil at a fireplace, And tales of winter evenings.

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*** The ancient kingdom collapsed, Like a house of cards. And nothing was left, Except insult and pain. The kingdom of dreams was destroyed Together with hopes for a miracle: A Christ appears rarely, But you can always find a Judas. *** I emigrated to the West Not for profit, not for benefits: My soul has the smell of manure And the gentle aroma of apples. *** I got on the tramway of immortality. The conductor asked for my ticket, And I said to him modestly, That I didn’t have a ticket. *** POEM ABOUT THE LAST JEW A Narrative Poem Dedicated to the father 1. Trouble always comes from Trouble. And the Jews are always luckless. The Jewish Christ went on the cross, And Trouble from these places leapt 234


Across the sea to worldly Rome – And its result was matchless horror. The Jews, of baseless rumor victims, Like Christians, torn apart by lions, And the vicious leader Nero Didn’t know he wasn’t last. Nero in the end was killed, And his son Vespasians Titus Destroyed and robbed the Holy Temple And he burned the holy book. 2. The Pale of Settlement. Two synagogues, Two Catholic churches And an Orthodox church Just one. And two stores selling groceries Sunflower oil – The business of my grandpa Of the family. You didn’t need to be Einstein To split the chicken into parts On Saturday. In morning dad got on the horse And rode around to Customers. The can with oil clattered so That everyone in the village knew: That this was Srul, Wolf Berman’s son, A handsome man was bringing Fragrant goods. 235


One day the horse Stopped sharply at A wattle-fence (The horse was not too smart), And father with his can flew through The fence. And then the horse Ran off somewhere at lightning speed. And then my dad thought long and hard, Where, and what. But everything, Went smoothly nonetheless Until their distant kinsman Izya, A member of the Komomol Squealed about the stores and oil In ’29, the fateful year – And no longer did they split A chicken into parts On Saturday and other days. The family fell apart. The children flew away They scattered just like, Birds fly from a nest. Grandpa worked as an accountant In a state farm near Odessa. In 1932 he traveled through The tattered country While also visiting His children one by one. My parents huddled in A very small apartment In Kharkov on the Moskalevka. Senya and Roza vegetated Near Leningrad and Kursk. And grandpa tried as hard to help, His children as he could. And on that fateful night He went back to Odessa. 236


While grandma slept unknowing. Grandpa walked right down the hall To a far off little corner And he hanged himself right there. This story was carefully Hidden from his grandsons They told us grandpa suddenly died From “heart failure,” not yet 52. Several days before I left I asked Aunt Rosa for the truth: I said, “Aunt Rosa: we may never See each other any more. Tell me, please, the truth of what took place.” And so she told me. And it all Stayed in my memory. Life continued, and as it happened Grandpa wasn’t the last Jew. 3. The final day on Earth will come, The cosmic ships will stand At their main mooring And they’ll await the final signal. The year will be five billion and two-fifty, Calculating many years ahead, When Earth will orbit in The area of neutron capture Meanwhile the final hours loom. And at that time a voice will sound: “Just minutes until takeoff. We’ve lived here for 5 billion years, Not noticing the Earth’s distinctive wonders. It’s hard to find a planet like it. We’ll have to search the Universe For many eons. It’s possible that we’ll become 237


Eternal outcasts. Farewell, dear Earth! For generations through the ages We’ll keep our love for you alive And doing so, we’ll conquer time.” *** I really yearn for something to remain Of each and every one of us: Let it be a word, a phrase, or something – just some trifle, Anyway, for something to survive us. AUTUMN I’ll write about this grayness Dumbfounded twilight In just two or three dabs, In just two or three words. I’ll write about this grayness on the fly With my best poetry, As Derzhavin on his deathbed Wrote “On Mortality” three days before he passed. I’ll write about how low the clouds Now swim across the sky, The aged elm, no longer bearing leaves Which stands there nonetheless, with calm and strength. I’ll say just how a normal day Comes near its final hours, And how efficient, practiced night Without a fuss will set about its business.

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*** In this mysterious, peculiar Universe Love and godly light are everlasting. It only seems to us that time exists, But it’s a time that’s only an illusion. *** A stamp of sadness on its face. September’s neither fall or summer, And in the coming change of colors We always sense the end approaching. But so the flawless world Ends not for me in vain, Eternity will take inside itself The autumn lushness of September. *** Oh, what a spicy summer scent! It’s June. And I could go mad with delight. The moon has risen, trees and houses Shine so bright in moonlight. And from the lake a cool breeze wafts, And in the wind leaves rustle… And as the poet liked to say, No other joy is needed. MY HOMELAND Good-bye, don’t ask forgiveness, However, I’ll request it from you. And treat you to a royal feast With wonderful refreshments. 239


But I won’t offer any bread, Or fancy fish or rarest wine. Instead you’ll see the dark blue sky And everything that’s in my house. You’ll be transfixed, as in a tale, From smells of autumn roses, And from the leaves in Catherine’s Park, And shores of Peredelkino. Intoxicated by the dawns And by my murdered plains, The minarets of Samarkand, The lushness of the peaks. You’ll vanish in the northern marshes, And smolder in the Termez sands, Refresh yourself in gilding of Rastrelli’s posts and alcoves. And in the dark blue Suzdal church My missive will be found: “All that’s here, from sea to sea, “All that’s here is yours!” *** MAHLER’S FIFTH The closer autumn comes, the shadows lengthen, You count to three, and summer’s disappeared. But in the music of these vanished moments We find a hidden meaning to our lives.

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He moved the everlasting arrow Completed everything he could. The Jewish soul that he abandoned United us in all-embracing spirit. *** PETROPOL In transparent Petropol We will die. Osip Mandelstam Your brother, Petropol, Is dying. Osip Mandelstam Again Petropol’s close to dying. A chilly wind from the river’s flying. And on the Senate Square Cannons no longer flare. The horsebound tsar, like Marcus Aurelius, (Nobody asks if you are Jewish.) Sits there with a powerful arm Clears a path and brings alarm, Nostalgic for the old décor His back is to the church’s door, He makes his horse of iron rear, Without a glance at me he steers. And I, a Jew, am standing there, Alive in shadows everywhere. Nothing in the city’s changed. All that’s happened’s prearranged, The bridges and Neva are still With unmatched beauty overfilled. The outward triumph of the space, 241


With all its furniture encased In palaces of tsars so cruel And miserly all through their rule. The bright Neva, near Nevsky Prospect. Which still recalls the Soviet project With seething, bustling evening crowds. I look, and Christ is all around. He bore the cross’s tragedy, A painted face of purity, Naïvest immaturity, And childlike simplicity, And open, forthright honesty, Of hope and sorrow, dream and calm, Kind patience like a soothing balm… The crowd moves on. Its people gone. They’re marching on. Petropol is their sine qua non. The city always lives to dawn! *** I’ll go to Petersburg for glory: Unusual, extraordinary.

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A STRAWBERRY FIELD A Poem

A strawberry field, Not Bergman’s, but mine And someone else too, Has been transformed A heart-rending Nothing. The sky – like sour milk, Poured from A glass Of God. After fifty-five There’s little is left: You live by inertia, With mostly forward motion, But the steady series of exclusions From life, is equal to Death. Light Came from there, Like a miracle: Mother – in a simple cambric skirt, And Father – in a short-sleeved shirt, The four of us sit in the field: There’s cherry jam In sour cream, And apples, pears, In compote (A communist still-life!) And it’s so good, It can’t be better. Two elderly Bald Men,

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A brunette (Resembling his mother) A blonde (Resembling his father) Are standing in the field. All around A mixed forest Without boundary Or end, They’ve passed more than Forty-five years. Father Long gone. Mother Near death. The last day Of September, Trees, touched by Yellow, and something Incomprehensible Is happening: My head is spinning, I’m nauseous, My knees are trembling, I start to vomit, From sole to crown No cries or moans, But a howl: “My God! Turn back time! Bring back my mother and father!” The sun beats against the window Of the plane, A telegram flies In its wake, Announcing, That my father’s grave Is packed down, And that my mother Is gone.

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An airplane flies in the darkness Over the ocean, Somewhere in the Universe A star sinks, Farewell and forgive me, Strawberry field, Farewell and forgive me, My native land! *** I bid the trees farewell, I bid the earth farewell, I bid the sky farewell, I bid you too farewell. I bid the stars farewell, I bid the moon farewell, I bid the sun farewell, I bid you too farewell. *** Winter evening fast approaches, Candles in the house are burning, In the house are burning candles, Fast approaches winter evening. *** Mother and father lay in bed, But I can’t sleep, threw off the covers, And heard in blackest darkness Mother whispering to father. And to this sound of whispering, breathing I fell asleep, was soothed by love‌ I dreamed I saw them yesterday, Bending toward an empty pillow.

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*** If you believe, believe; or don’t: I’m not afraid of age or death – We die, but love is never ending.

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Contents FOREWORD ...................................................................................................... 3 THE MAGIC SWAN GEESE ............................................................................... 6 The Heart Attack ............................................................................................ 7 I Made It ........................................................................................................... 11 Copenhagen.................................................................................................... 30 My Lolita .......................................................................................................... 34 Behind Gates .................................................................................................. 43 For a Few Minutes… ................................................................................... 49 “On the Hills of Georgia Lies the Night Darkness” ........................ 56 Can You Lend It To Me? ............................................................................ 62 An Invitation to Tea .................................................................................... 66 A Real Woman ............................................................................................... 73 The Jubilee ...................................................................................................... 78 One Day in Nice ............................................................................................ 85 Joseph the Beautiful ................................................................................... 91 Theater Druggies ......................................................................................... 98 Speak Louder! ............................................................................................ 103 The Foundations of Karvelism............................................................ 114 An Ordinary Detective Story................................................................ 121 She Left .......................................................................................................... 130 The Smile of Augurs ................................................................................ 143 A Routine ...................................................................................................... 152 Work ............................................................................................................... 162 The Defense................................................................................................. 170 Jogging ........................................................................................................... 175 A Trace in the Soul ................................................................................... 183 A Little Spring Ditch ................................................................................ 197

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The Beginning ............................................................................................ 207 The Struggle for Existence .................................................................... 214 Farewell, Beethoven! .............................................................................. 218 The Magic Swan Geese ........................................................................... 221 Epilogue ........................................................................................................ 227 POEMS OF MUSYA BELOCHKIN ......................................................... 231

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