“The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible.
God and the devil are fighting there
and the battlefield is the heart of man.”
The Brothers Karamazov
Winter came early in the year after the Fall. All the people’s hopes and dreams and expansive aspirations had not yet faded, nor had the illusions yet dissipated like fog in the mid-morning sun, burned away by the glaring heat of economic, political, and social reality. Boris Yeltsin had stood on the tank, defending the Russian “White House.” In his tall figure were embodied all things that any Russian could imagine him to be: patriot, reformer, democrat, man of the people—and traitor, too. But that image, real and imagined, projected or internalized, was already becoming tarnished in the debris of a collapsed superpower.
I was aimlessly, curiously, foolishly slogging through the snow in distant Khabarovsk, made more remote from European Russia by the collapse of the transportation system. But I had somehow made my way there from the Pacific coast, where the winds blew strongly off the bay in a place that seemed to be situated on the edge of the world, teetering on an abyss covered by rolling waves of cold ocean waters. The rusting...