The 1990s are behind us. Gaidar’s shock therapy, the first hard currency exchange points, the first trade kiosks—all of this already seems a distant memory. Ten years ago, Russians were like trusting kittens, thrown into the deep waves of wild capitalism. Some kittens swam to the surface and became sharks of business. Others—most, in fact—drowned, their dead bodies a pontoon bridge paving the way for future generations. Or so we were led to believe …
The tumultuous late 1980s and early 1990s is the subject of Mikhail Butov’s novel Svoboda (“Liberty”)—see profile, page 33. Butov looks back on an era dominated by the infectious excitement of new freedoms—with a sympathetic, yet concerned, eye. It is the eye of a 30- or 40-something, Soviet-born intellectual, one who was never happy under the Soviet regime, with all of its socio-economic constraints and political austerity, but one who was also caught off-guard by the crude and savage realities of the free market. Butov’s generation was both the last Soviet generation and the first generation of the new Russia: they had stolen their first kiss under Leonid Brezhnev, bought their first samizdat book (now legal) under Mikhail Gorbachev and got married and began raising kids under Boris Yeltsin.
This excerpt from Svoboda represents the final pages of the Booker Prize-winning novel. The protagonist, a computer programmer, recounts a bender with his long-time friend “Andryukha” (colloquial for Andrei) and then segues into some serendipitous events that occurred when he was apartment sitting for an adventurer friend who has gone off to explore distant lands.
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