Novelist of the new Russia
lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Dec 15 06:21:40 MST 2001
NY Times, December 15, 2001
Novelist Chronices the Intrigues of the New Moguls
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
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 panix.com on 12/15/2001
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