Novelist of the new Russia

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sat Dec 15 06:21:40 MST 2001

NY Times, December 15, 2001

Novelist Chronices the Intrigues of the New Moguls
EREDELKINO, Russia, Dec. 14 — In the quiet snow of this old writers' 
community, Yuliya Latynina is at home working on her next novel. The 
window of her small second- story room opens out onto a birch grove 
and the house of Boris Pasternak, now a museum.

The rustic Russian idyll is marred only by the red brick castles 
encircled by high walls and security cameras just down the road. 
These brash newcomers to the neighborhood are the homes of the "new 
Russians," nouveaux riches who made it big in the decade of Wild East 
"bizness" that followed the fall of Communism.

Ms. Latynina, 35, reflexively shy but extremely well-connected in 
those business circles, says her highbrow writer neighbors were 
furious with the new "bandits" in town. 

"But I know several of them," Ms. Latynina said, smiling. "They're 
not bandits at all. They're businessmen."

A journalist, she picked up her nuanced understanding of Russia's 
economic vernacular while traveling the country in the last six 
years, writing news articles about an economy in free fall.

Her candid accounts of the intrigues among business moguls have won 
her awards for best business journalism, and two television shows. 
But it is her five novels, her readers say, that reveal the most 
about the new Russia.

She prefers writing economic thrillers to news stories, saying that 
by wrapping fiction around facts and real people, she can tell the 
real story behind Russia's often misleading appearance.

That is why the business and political elite read her avidly, 
although many average Russians, far from the wealth and conspiracies 
she chronicles, do not. Her colleagues call her eccentric. Pundits 
call her astute. Her interview subjects call her extremely disloyal.

"She has a rare ability to see in real life what average people don't 
see," said Andrei Illarionov, economic advisor to President Vladimir 
V. Putin. "In time Russian business will act in absolutely civilized 
ways, and this slice of life will be lost. For certain epochs people 
read Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. For this epoch people will read 

A former student of medieval Europe, the diminutive Ms. Latynina 
draws on her knowledge of history to explain modern-day Russia: a 
lawless land with a dilapidated central government controlled by 
feudal lords and their bandit armies.

Her Russia is lurid and brutal, a place where the local police 
receive their wages from business moguls, sex with the boss is 
obligatory for secretaries, and nuclear scientists subsist as hunters 
after months without salaries.

Everything — absolutely everything — is for sale.

In "Stag Hunting," her novel about the takeover of a Siberian metal 
plant in the mid-1990's, a devoutly Communist factory director is 
heard early on in a poignant lament about "bizness" in Russia. 

"I don't know how it happens," says the character, Danil Fyodorovich 
Senchyakov, who is trying to save a defunct helicopter plant. "I 
don't steal, and my factory is paralyzed. You steal, and your factory 
is working. I want my factory to work."

That complaint, voiced to a rich young capitalist, captures the 
contradictions of post-Communist Russia. By Page 46, Mr. Senchyakov 
is on the payroll of his nemesis, the capitalist.

Like a textbook for newcomers to Russian business, "Stag Hunting" has 
footnotes with real-life examples and a useful appendix detailing how 
the fictitious factory launders its money to avoid tax inspectors 
and, when necessary, bribe politicians.

Some have even used it as an instruction manual.

Louis Proyect, lnp3 at on 12/15/2001

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