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Interview Transcript

Victor Erofeyev

VICTOR EROFEYEV is an international acclaimed writer from Moscow. His book, Russian Beauty, has recently been published in the United States by Viking Press. Mr. Erofeyev edited The Penguin Book of New Russian Writing, and has also had published a three volume collection of his works, including his novel The Last Judgement.

Victor Erofeyev: We’ve got a very substantial dinner, so I hope my fairy tale isn’t going to turn into a lullaby. But if this is going to happen to whomever, I’m not going to be offended. To begin my tale, I will start with a person who is quite well known to both Dulce and Michael. I’ll start with my Moscow housemate. Her name is Auntie Neora. Perestroika hit Russia, and major changes began to take place. Auntie Neora kept asking me the same question over and over again, "Victor, could you please explain what’s happening in this black, black country?" And I always come up with something like this: "Auntie Neora, you have to take a closer look and you’ll see what’s happening. The communists are losing their great grip on power; we are going to have more freedom. We’re going to enjoy freedom of the press. You’ll be traveling abroad; you’ll finally come visit America." You’ll go to America, what is America. You’ll go, Communist, what is a Communist? You’ll get freedom of the—what? Freedom of the press, what does it mean? Then, a week later, she confronts me again: what is happening with this damn country?

Let’s try all over again.to get the facts in. She was attempting to get a new post as a cleaning maid of the Pravda. Working there was a zip code to privilege, the same as working as a cleaning lady in a medieval castle. So, I would figure that if that would certainly reason with one would have some notion as to what is happening in the country. And it is something was happened, not so much the round trip to previleges, but with because you know that Pravda was at the verge of collapse. You’d ask what’s for employment with Pravda? And, before that, you would never fathom that Pravda would collapse.

Then she decided to seek a different employment, and she found herself in a privately owned jewelry store. And she was to take care of the private residence of the owner. Occasionally, sweeping the floor, she would sweep from under the bed stones — they turned out to be precious stones, i.e. rocks. And then, ultimately, the owner of both places would come home; usually it was about 5 o’clock in the morning, dead drunk from whatever casino. And he felt grand about everything and about himself. And he would casually give her one-two thousand dollars just because he was feeling the way he was. And one day she would tell me in her way, I would never begin to imagine that dollars looked so much nicer than rubles.

To make a long story short, what she experienced upstairs in her mind was a major nightmare. That’s one part of the story. The other part of the story is her origins.

She was born and raised in a Tartar village, near Volga. And, since her early childhood, she remembered what her girlfriend would teach her and it was boiled down to this: you must never, ever marry a Tartar guy because they are strict, they are stern, and they are demanding. Instead, make sure you marry a Russian guy; they are fools who let you do whatever you want. So, Auntie Neora rushes to Moscow, marries herself to a Russian guy who turns out to be not only a fool but also an alcoholic. Then, she gives birth to a boy, and some years later, he turns out to be also an alcoholic. She was trying to work somehow her way out of this total mess — Lenin, Stalin, Nicholas II, Yeltsin, Gorbachev — it was a total nightmare. In other word, recollections had to do with the past — something called collectivization when commissars took away their land, took away their cows, everything. So that it was the Russian history. She neglected all this history, and the only thing she learned was how to sing and how to dance. She did both well.

This is the reason I am bringing all this up — the reason I am talking about Auntie Neora is simply because she is not an exception. She is one of so many Russians who are totally clueless as to what happened, as to what is happening with the country. And the only thing she knows is that she is blindly trying to grope her way, trying to figure out what is actually happening. There are millions of Auntie Neoras. So when I come to the States and people ask me how did you manage to survive this freedom of the press, what kind of car do you drive in Moscow, it makes me feel how ludicrous any such questions would sound to Auntie Neora.

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