FOR ZHANNA, politics ended in 1991. Until that fall, everything that happened on television had also happened in the Nemtsov family kitchen—first in the strange wooden house in central Gorky, and then in the two-rooms-plus-a-kitchen they had been granted a few bus stops from the center of town. When conversation did not concern elections and reforms, it centered on food and shortages, which led right back to reform, and elections.
But when Boris was appointed governor in 1991, they moved to a dacha in a village created for the Party elite just outside the city—which, much to Zhanna’s relief, was no longer called Gorky, or “bitter,” but had recovered its pre-Soviet name, Nizhny Novgorod. The village was designed to feel like a piece of heaven that could exist anywhere, so it seemed as if the Nemtsovs had left familiar space and time altogether. Zhanna spent most of her time biking around the village, collecting berries in the lush surrounding woods, and playing with the cat, Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov. Food was no longer an issue of importance, because there was plenty of it. Politics, which had been the subject of animated conversation at the kitchen table, turned into a set of incomprehensible words, which Boris recited like a mantra: “privatization,” “investment,” “infrastructure.” These magic words seemed to transform Zhanna’s father into a celebrity. The foreign advisers who flocked to town took up residence in the Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin, a medieval fortress where Boris now had his office; World Bank economists and Peace Corps advisers were quartered there side by side.1 Journalists and foreign officials came to see what Moscow was advertising as the Nizhny Novgorod miracle.
“So what, then, is the situation in this ancient city of merchants, a place that has declared itself unabashedly open for business, a genuine enterprise zone where local officials are pushing ahead with real economic reforms faster than anywhere else in the country?” asked a Chicago Tribunecorrespondent in September 1992. His report was mixed. Nizhny had held the first public auction of grocery stores just five months earlier and had also since privatized 22 percent of the three thousand small businesses in the city. Nemtsov had devised an ingenious plan for solving the most vexing problems of privatizing enterprise: the shops and restaurants were sold free of debt and also free of the obligation to retain old employees—but some of the proceeds from each auction were deposited in a fund for those who lost their jobs as a result. At the same time, the privatization was temporary: in most cases, the new storekeepers could secure only five-year leases, because their businesses were located in large apartment buildings that would not be privatized until the following year. Worse, the storekeepers’ ability to do business was impeded by infrastructural obstacles old and new: a Soviet-era trucking monopoly that controlled deliveries, and tax rates that changed from month to month, at one point rising to some 85 percent of profits.
And then there was the American who opened a restaurant only to be denied access to the city’s water system, and the hotel whose manager “delights in gouging his foreign guests, barring them from the restaurant and, often, simply refusing to rent them rooms.” This happened to be the city’s only hotel in a state of reasonable repair, so most of the foreign visitors tried to stay there, opening themselves up to humiliation.2 Still, the reporter found one example of spectacular positive change: what had been Municipal Cheese Shop Number 11 was bought by employees at the city’s very first auction, cleaned up, restocked, and rechristened Dmitrievsky. It even stopped shuttering for lunch in the middle of the day.
Margaret Thatcher, the retired British prime minister, came to visit in 1993. As she later wrote in her memoirs, rumors of Nemtsov’s commitment to a “radical programme that some called Thatcherism” had reached her back in London:
Nizhny Novgorod’s saviour was, I found, frighteningly young (in his mid-thirties), extraordinarily good-looking and gifted with both intelligence and shrewdness (which do not always go together). . . .
The Governor and I took a walk down Bolshaya Pokrovskaya Street. All the stores were privately owned. Every few yards we stopped to talk to the shopkeepers and see what they had to sell. No greater contrast with the drab uniformity of Moscow could be imagined. One shop remains vivid in my memory. It sold dairy produce, and it had a greater selection of different cheeses than I have ever seen in one place. I ate samples of several and they were very good. I also discovered that they were all Russian, and considerably cheaper than their equivalents in Britain. I enthusiastically expressed my appreciation. Perhaps because as a grocer’s daughter I carry a conviction on such matters, a great cheer went up when my words were translated, and someone cried, “Thatcher for President!”3
From that point on, Dmitrievsky’s director kept three pictures on her desk: Jesus, Mary, and Margaret Thatcher.4
The visiting foreigners included a young American who seemed to follow Nemtsov everywhere and whom Zhanna liked because he was always cracking jokes. On the whole, though, she resented her father’s new job, because he was coming home late and no longer had time to help her with her homework. He asked a physicist friend who often stayed at the dacha to help her instead, but Zhanna found his explanations confusing and unsatisfying. She took to begging Boris to take her to work with him, but soon realized that she hated it: her father’s workday seemed to consist of driving from one town or collective farm to the next, stopping every time the car crossed an invisible border between districts and having a full banquet served on a tablecloth spread on the hood of the car. With vodka the most important element of each of these feasts, Zhanna’s father’s conversation grew duller with each passing hour and dried up completely by mid-afternoon.
In a memoir Nemtsov wrote much later, he explained the origins of his strange banquet habit. When he was first appointed, his deputy, an older and more experienced politician, told Nemtsov that if he wanted to be taken seriously, he would need to drink with every local boss in his region, including the directors of some five hundred factories and the heads of about 750 collective farms. Nemtsov whittled the list down to four hundred and set about the project of sharing a bottle of vodka with each of them. In about a year he realized that his health had deteriorated, his body had become permanently swollen, and he was generally exhibiting the symptoms of alcoholism familiar to most Russians. He also noticed that he had assimilated attitudes typical of the Soviet political establishment, which was suspicious of any man who did not drink.5
In some ways, Nemtsov proved more adaptable than his young daughter. She got used to the dacha easily, but she could not make peace with the black Volga, the perennial nomenklatura car, that now took her to school in the mornings. She asked to be dropped off about five hundred yards from the entrance, even though everyone knew she was the governor’s daughter and expected her to be chauffeured. And though she liked that her mother no longer had to spend her days struggling to procure food, the way foodstuffs now showed up at their dacha made Zhanna uneasy. At holiday time—New Year’s, Victory Day, and the anniversary of the Great October Revolution every November—something frighteningly extravagant, like an entire roasted baby pig, would show up on the doorstep, as though placed there by the invisible and indestructible hand of the Soviet privilege machine.
WHILE ZHANNA WAS STRUGGLING to accept the cars and roast piglets, Seryozha had woken up one day to their absence. His grandfather still led a political party, still served on commissions—but in 1991, along with the entire Gorbachev establishment, he was rendered irrelevant to the machinery that ran the country. Seryozha’s parents divorced that year. His father moved out. Everything was different now.
Seryozha changed schools. His old school was in the neighborhood, and his classmates there were other children from the Czars’ Village, plump and blond. Multiple black Volgas pulled up to the building in the morning to deposit them in an environment that, from the start, reminded Seryozha of the way he had seen prison shown in films. During breaks between classes, the children walked around the school vestibule in a circle, in different-sex pairs, holding hands. If a child asked to be allowed to go to the bathroom during class, he was likewise paired with a student of the opposite sex, who had to stand guard outside the lavatory. This system of opposite-sex pairing was one of peer control: that the children could not actually enter the bathroom together ensured there would be no collusion and truancy; making children walk in circles with someone of the opposite sex—someone who, at that age, could not possibly be a friend—bored them into passivity.
Seryozha’s new school was in a dilapidated building in the messy center of Moscow. Children did not wear uniforms, march in formation, or in any other way resemble Seryozha’s old classmates. School Number 57 had long been an oasis of freethinking in Moscow: it was a math-and-science high school under the old regime, a place where ideological controls were slightly relaxed to facilitate the production of minds useful to the Soviet military-industrial complex. During perestroika, the school was allowed to start offering primary-level education. Seryozha now joined the children who had been the first entering first-graders. Their parents—linguists, writers, and one psychoanalyst—tensed up at the appearance of a child of the nomenklatura who would now be studying alongside their offspring, but grew to accept him, because the times were meant to be changing.
To Seryozha, entry to School Number 57 felt a bit like the Russian bathhouse where his grandfather so liked to go: a jarring sequence of warm comfort, extreme overstimulating heat, and dips in an ice-cold pool. He liked the lessons—most of them centered on an experimental classification of all worldly phenomena as either “bags” or “chains,” meaning sets and sequences, and this made good sense. The school’s social world, however, was harsh and convoluted. The class was divided into castes, with four extremely bright and charismatic boys at the top. They made up games that were worlds unto themselves, governed by rules and plots accessible only to their authors and their handpicked playmates. Seryozha was rarely invited. When he was allowed a peek into their world, he saw ghosts, spirits, and cosmic vampires. The second social tier consisted of boys and girls whose parents belonged to the same circles as the parents of the boys at the top—the Moscow intelligentsia that was now feeling confident and free. Seryozha was generally accepted by this second caste, but he felt a bit different from them, perhaps because his language and habits came from another world, or because their parents viewed him with suspicion. In his mind, Seryozha belonged to a third caste, in which he was perhaps alone. Still, he was not one of the kids at the bottom—the misfits, whom the rest of the class called “the untouchables” when they were not calling them something far more insulting, like bomzh, a new acronym for a new phenomenon: someone who was homeless.*
So rigid and cruel were the divisions these ten-year-olds created that one day their teacher canceled a regular biology class in order to teach them the plot of Lord of the Flies. Everyone was deeply impressed, and nothing changed in the way the class dynamics operated. Seryozha had a sense that what happened in class mirrored the new ways of life for the adults. He had been born into a small world where everyone stood on equal footing and was affirmed and appreciated simply for being, not for doing anything in particular. Adults were talking about this a lot now, and their words—“snobbery” and “inequality”—described his experience too.
Perhaps it was because the other children had not spent their childhoods behind tall fences that Seryozha also felt like a bigger child—or, to be more precise, like a smaller child—than everyone else. Soon after he finally became close friends with two boys in his class, both of his friends developed crushes on the same girl and fought about it, and Seryozha went home and cried himself to sleep over the fact that his friends felt pain and caused each other pain and he could do nothing to alleviate this pain or even to understand it.
Seryozha’s mother, who taught at Moscow State University, could not have made ends meet on her salary (which, in the past, had been largely irrelevant because the nomenklatura distribution system had provided a safety net). Unlike other professors, though, she had their large Czars’ Village apartment, and she took a boarder, a Belgian man. He had a car, and he paid Seryozha a dollar to wash it. That bought a couple of cans of Coca-Cola at a new kiosk right in Red Square, a ten-minute walk from School Number 57. What had been sacred ground was now home to commerce. The honor guard still goose-stepped to their post at the entrance to the Lenin Mausoleum and stood there perfectly motionless, but there was no longer a giant line of people waiting to see the leader of the Bolshevik Revolution in his glass coffin. After the Execution of the White House, Yeltsin ordered the honor guard removed, and on October 6, 1993, the last two soldiers to have had that duty departed with a casual wave.6 In 1990 Seryozha and his classmates from his old school were inducted into the Little Octobrists at the History Museum at the entrance to Red Square. Now he treated his new classmates to Coca-Cola here. It felt like freedom.
It seemed that Seryozha’s grandfather was experiencing something similar. Alexander Nikolaevich no longer had his Central Committee dacha behind the tall solid fence but he had been granted a dacha in an Academy of Sciences village, just one rung lower on the ladder of privilege. The house was opulent by Soviet standards and most of the world’s standards, but Seryozha had never seen a smaller house. Still, it sat on a plot filled with century-old pines, and the trees, combined with the size of the yard, made it feel like the only house for miles. Alexander Nikolaevich had always wanted a yard with a pond with fish in it, and now his son and his grandson were endlessly pushing wheelbarrows of soil off his property as what would one day be the pond grew deeper. In the old days, there would have been conscripts around to do the digging and push the wheelbarrows, but now, Seryozha understood, the Yakovlevs lived like regular people, the way his grandfather had always preferred.
When Seryozha was in eighth grade, his father and a couple of friends decided to organize a home school for their children. Seryozha lost touch with children from School Number 57. He spent the next four years speaking only to members of his family and the other two teenagers at the home school. They did not become friends. He had no friends, or people, other than his grandfather, who understood him in this world.
FOR LYOSHA, economic reform began with soap. Lyosha’s mother amassed scores of what was called “household soap”—hard, sharp-edged bars that looked like greenish-brown bricks. When none of the imported better-smelling and nicer-looking alternatives were available, the highly alkaline soap could be used to wash clothes, dishes, skin, and hair, and even to make a nasal rinse that was said to cure a cold. Teenagers said it killed acne. Some claimed it could burn off a wart. It probably killed everything in its path—to keep hair from falling lifelessly after washing with “household soap,” one had to rinse it with vinegar. “Household soap” was the only thing Galina could get for her ration cards in 1991, so she stocked up. The bars formed a fifth wall in their bathroom.
The same year, Lyosha saw something he had never seen before: a chicken that consisted only of legs and thighs. Until then, “buying a chicken” meant bringing home a bluish rubbery-looking thing that Galina held over the flame of the gas stove to singe the copious remnants of feathers before cooking. Now she brought home leg quarters, each of them nearly as large as a whole chicken. She said that these were “Legs of Bush” and then explained that Bush was the name of the American president and he and Gorbachev had struck an agreement to send to Russia the dark-meat parts of chickens, which Americans happened to dislike. This was the story generally told about “Legs of Bush,” and it was only slightly inaccurate. In 1990, Bush and Gorbachev finally signed a trade agreement that had languished for years. This allowed United States producers to sell to the Soviet Union grain and the dark-meat parts of chicken that Russians, indeed, prefer and American consumers disproportionately shunned. But the Soviet Union had no money to pay for the grain and the chicken quarters, so in December 1990 President Bush arranged for loans to the Soviet Union, and this ensured that the dark meat of chickens, in Russia, bore his name for years after his presidency ended.7
“Legs of Bush” signaled the beginning of a better time. Before they appeared, there had come a point when preserved cabbage was the sole grocery item available in Solikamsk, and the lines to buy it stretched for blocks. After “Legs of Bush,” other food items began to materialize, and Lyosha’s mother could afford some of them. When Galina’s school stopped paying its employees, she found a job at a different school. By this time, she had married Sergei, her boyfriend, and his salary tided them over. Sergei worked as a miner. Many miners did not get paid because, like teachers, they were employed by the state, and the state, in accordance with Gaidar’s policies of monetary austerity, had no cash. Sergei’s mine was privatized early, and this meant that he had a salary—as long as he could stay sober long enough to go to work.
It was the drinking families in Lyosha’s building that seemed to hit the point of utter despair. Some were hunting stray dogs to eat them. The kids who used to sleep on Lyosha’s landing were trying to make their own money. The two brothers, aged about five and six, were serving local teenage boys, who paid them a ruble, then ten rubles at a time, for performing oral sex on them. There was little you could buy with that.
The secret of plenty lay in private enterprise, this much was clear. When Galina’s school ran out of cash, it simply stopped paying, but when his stepfather’s mine ran low, it found ways to pay employees in kind. Sergei brought home odd-tasting Swedish candy—it must have been licorice—and metal cans containing tiny little sausages in brine. A friend of Galina’s, a fellow history teacher, quit the school to go to work as manager at the Solikamsk Pulp and Paper Mill, which was among the first Russian companies to be privatized.8 The company was one of the country’s largest producers of newsprint during a newspaper renaissance. Its building was soon lavishly renovated for all to see. Galina’s former colleague became a rich man. Every time Lyosha’s family went to his house for dinner, they saw food and things—pens, notebooks, dishes, and other objects Lyosha generally thought of as souvenirs—unlike any they saw elsewhere.
Like all Russians, in 1992 Lyosha’s family got privatization vouchers, watermarked certificates roughly five by three inches in size, with a picture of the Moscow White House in an elliptical frame in the middle. They had a little over a year to decide what to do with the vouchers: sell, invest, or ignore. They exchanged their three vouchers for shares of Doka Pizza, a new restaurant that advertised on billboards all over town. They never saw any dividends. Some of Galina’s friends told her she should have done what they did: bought shares in one of the newly privatized oil companies. These would indeed be worth money in a few years.
In the new world of vouchers, private companies, and investments, one story caught Lyosha’s attention. A company called MMM saturated the airwaves with thirty-second TV spots devoted to the financial life of a dowdy middle-aged man named Lyonya Golubkov. At first Lyonya did not know what to do with his rubles, which were losing purchasing power so rapidly. Then he figured out that he could convert his worthless cash into MMM shares and live off dividends. This allowed him to buy a new pair of black leather cowboy boots for his wife, then a full-length fur coat for her, then a car and a house. The wife, who in the early ads seemed too young and tall for Lyonya, was now sitting in a chair in her pink housecoat, eating bonbons, looking less glamorous and perfectly domesticated, while Lyonya swelled with newfound financial confidence. Lyonya’s brother, a miner, criticized Lyonya for doing nothing, but Lyonya found the words to argue that, far from being a sloth, he was a shrewd investor who made money with hard-earned money. When Lyonya bought tickets to the United States to see a soccer match between the Russian and Brazilian national teams, his brother, seated next to him in the stands, had to concede his point, tearfully.9
Like any pyramid scheme, MMM collapsed. It happened in the summer of 1994. People who had handed over their savings to the company numbered in the millions. When the founder of MMM was arrested for tax evasion, hundreds of these investors camped out in front of the company’s headquarters in Moscow demanding his release and the return of a company in which they continued to have faith. In Solikamsk, nine-year-old Lyosha was devastated: he realized he was in love with Lyonya Golubkov, who was now gone from TV.
PYRAMID SCHEMES ABOUNDED. A company called Hoper-Invest ran a fifteen-second spot that showed a cheerful military officer walking into a modern-looking office where two nearly identical women in feminine business attire poured him a cup of tea while they handed him his shares.10 Millions of people bought Hoper shares at two dozen branches across the country.11 A Ponzi scheme that called itself Chara Bank eschewed television advertising in favor of word of mouth, and members of the urban educated classes entrusted it with their savings—in exchange for handsome monthly dividends—because they felt they were in the know. The companies issued watermarked certificates that looked no less or more official than the state’s privatization vouchers and supported them with assurances that sounded no less or more credible than the government’s. MMM promised boots, a car, and a trip to America; Hoper dangled the prospect of looking and acting like imaginary Western office workers; Chara guaranteed a worry-free future in an uncertain world; and the government said that everyone would be rich. In August 1992, introducing the voucher program, privatization chief Anatoly Chubais claimed that with time each certificate would be worth as much as two Volgas.12 All these promises sounded equally new and bizarre.
In the early 1990s, Lev Gudkov was trying to make sense of Russians’ emerging relationship to wealth. Adjusting expectations was a traumatic process, he found, one that opened up chasms between generations. In the postwar Soviet Union, each successive generation had lived moderately better than the last. Aspirations were passed on from parents to children with only minor adjustments. Most Soviet citizens had hoped that they, or their grown children, would be able to graduate from a room in a communal apartment to a one-room-plus-a-kitchen apartment of their own, and then to two rooms and a kitchen. With luck, they would eventually add a dacha and a Soviet-made Fiat. No one except the elites dreamed of palaces or Volgas—and the elites were safely hidden from view by their seven fences and seven locks. Now most of what Russians saw on television—commercials, government announcements, and even the sets of the Latin American soap operas everyone seemed to be watching—told them to aspire to more. Only the Soviet movies, which the television also still showed, allowed the weary eye and mind to rest on the reassuringly modest decorations of the bygone era.
Gudkov and his team began asking survey respondents not only how much they made but also how much they needed to survive and how much they needed to live well. An extremely large study—nearly seventy-five thousand respondents in all—showed that real income grew consistently, but so did everyone’s idea of what it would take to live well. Later, two American economists who mined Russian statistical data came to the same conclusion: in the course of the 1990s, average living space increased (from sixteen to nineteen square meters per person), the number of people traveling abroad as tourists more than tripled, the percentage of households that owned televisions, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, and washing machines increased, and the number of privately owned cars doubled.13 Compared with life in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, Russians were better off—but they felt poor.
Conventional wisdom was that some people were getting very rich while others sank into poverty, but Gudkov’s data did not bear this out: it looked like the wealth gap was remaining steady or even shrinking slightly. True, some of the screens shielding the structural inequalities of Soviet society had been lifted, allowing people to observe others being rich—if only because, with most of the old secret distribution centers closed, the rich were now much more likely to do their shopping in plain view. But this exposure could hardly explain what Gudkov was seeing. He focused on the millions of people who had now traveled abroad: by 1995 nearly 17 percent of adults had been outside Russia. The experience had not made them feel like life had gotten better. They had seen something more devastating than the fact that some of their compatriots were better off: they saw that, beyond the country’s western borders, virtually everyone was better off than virtually everyone in Russia. They had felt themselves to be not just poor individuals but people from a poor country. As this self-perception solidified, so did some of the results of Gudkov’s surveys: the gap between answers to the questions “How much do you earn?” and “How much do you need to earn to survive?” closed. This did not mean that people felt like they had enough; they felt like things could hardly get worse. Their idea of how much they needed to live well continued to be out of reach.
Even as the country seemed to be in the throes of romance with private enterprise, one of Gudkov’s stock questions—“Who is living well and happily in Russia?”—continued to elicit a stock, Soviet-era answer: crooks, con men, bureaucrats, criminals, and entrepreneurs. Happiness and wealth belonged to the Other. Asked if they thought they earned more or less than other people of comparable skill and experience, two-thirds of respondents answered “less”—a statistical impossibility that doomed Russians to jealousy.14
In late 1994, when MMM collapsed, Hoper-Invest also stopped paying out, and the ruble lost nearly a quarter of its value overnight. All three events were to some extent related to something that had happened earlier in the year: the government relaxed its monetary policy and began printing rubles—this was a boon to the pyramid schemes, and it also doomed the ruble to fall.15 Many Russians’ core beliefs were thus confirmed: the government was no more trustworthy than the self-anointed investment kings, and economic hardship and injustice were life’s only certainties.
ARUTYUNYAN WAS NOW ATTENDING training seminars abroad: Western psychoanalysts continued to give generously of their time and expertise to help their less experienced colleagues. At one of these seminars, conducted in English, she noticed that she could now tell the difference between the meanings of two words: “envy” and “jealousy.” The former was a way of desiring something that someone else had and you lacked; the latter was resenting someone’s taking possession of something that was yours. Envy was what you felt when someone had more money than you did. Jealousy was what you felt when you thought that the money was or should be yours. Either emotion could be awful to experience, but envy could also be constructive—it could spur you to action—and even benevolent, like when you envied someone his ability to be generous or productive. It stood to reason that the distinction was lacking in contemporary Russian: for three generations everything had been said to belong to everyone, and having more was said to be shameful. Jealousy was the only relevant emotion.
Human beings are perhaps born jealous—the emotion stems from a basic survival instinct. Now it was like Arutyunyan’s clients had been stripped to their bare selves and could feel only that most basic, most painful, most burning of emotions. Everyone felt like he had been robbed. The visual symbols of wealth were raspberry-colored sport coats that someone must have glimpsed at a private school abroad—and they, complete with a gold-embroidered emblem on the breast pocket, became the uniform of the emerging flaunting class. The other symbol was the Mercedes. Both signs of extreme wealth, like extreme wealth itself, were so rare as to be almost phantoms, but the mere shadow of a sighting gave rise to furious jealousy. It had never before been acceptable to show wealth. Arutyunyan’s mother remembered having studied, at Moscow State University, alongside Stalin’s daughter. The first daughter, she said, was the worst-dressed girl in their year, and the chauffeur had always dropped her off two blocks away from the school. Such was the Soviet ethos of demonstrative asceticism, which Zhanna must have absorbed as a toddler, before privilege happened to her. Newly visible wealth was doubly insulting because it violated aesthetic conventions and because the newly wealthy, unlike the old nomenklatura, had no claim to entitlement: Who were they to be rich?
The fact that the very rich were vanishingly few exacerbated things. The only thing worse than feeling like a loser was feeling like a member of an entire society of losers. The jealousy rarely manifested as jealousy: before it reached the surface it was usually transformed into a different sentiment—feeling used, feeling angry, feeling fear.
Some people had good reason to feel fear. The new entrepreneurs, it was said, were murdering one another left and right. For most people, the violence was as much an abstraction as was big money, but the fear of being caught in the cross fire was not entirely unfounded. A friend of Arutyunyan’s once stumbled onto a shootout in the street in Moscow in broad daylight. Arutyunyan’s office mate, a cognitive behavioral therapist—they rented a small apartment together and took turns seeing clients there—took months to work up the nerve to ask a client, an entrepreneur, to stow his gun in the coat closet when he arrived for his session.
Arutyunyan’s first client from the new world of entrepreneurship did not carry a gun. He was, contrary to stereotype, a cultivated young man from a professor’s family not unlike Arutyunyan’s own. He would not say what exactly he did, but Arutyunyan surmised that it had to do with oil. He sought help because he had started flying into rages. It took only a few sessions—too few, Arutyunyan later realized—to conclude that the rages stemmed from repressed anxiety. Shortly after, the man decided to stop therapy. Getting in touch with his feelings was too risky a proposition. “I am a tightrope walker,” he explained. “Imagine what can happen to me if I pause to think.” He might look weak. He might even cry. Flying into a rage and, say, beating someone to a pulp was an altogether safer option. Neither Arutyunyan nor the client broached the idea that he could change his line of work to something less evidently dangerous: in the new reality, everyone was assumed to want to be an entrepreneur.
MASHA’S MOTHER had long since stopped importing intimate essentials from Poland. She now made frequent trips to China to buy patent-leather handbags. They looked distinctive and, Masha thought, hideous, but some quirk of fashion fortune made them the “it” bag for Russian women in 1993–1994. Tatiana now had her own kiosk on Kalininsky Prospect, a wide central avenue lined with high-rises that had looked chic in the 1960s. She sold the bags at the kiosk, and also supplied them to other vendors.
There was a day when Masha entered a Metro car and noticed that every woman in it had one of those bags that her mother—and no one else—imported. Every single woman in the subway car. “We must be rich,” thought Masha. But the image of what it was to be rich in no way jived with how she and Tatiana lived. They still had their two-rooms-plus-a-kitchen rather than a palace. They washed their clothes by hand in the bathtub. Masha still got bullied at school: for being younger than all her classmates, for the clothes she wore, but most of all, for being somehow different. That would not happen if they really were rich, would it?