The two longest stories, which bracket the collection, juxtapose American cluelessness about Russia and the Soviet Union with the latter's own contradictions and incomprehensibilities. In the title piece a US graduate student and a Soviet museum worker come together briefly through the contrivances of their colleagues, with major consequences for both of them. And the final story features an American policeman whose marriage to a Russian exchange student is followed by a dramatic honeymoon in the Caucasus, in the middle of war-torn Abkhazia. These two stories are entertaining but to my mind among the less compelling pieces in the collection: perhaps because Druzhnikov had been living in the United States for only three years when this collection was published, his American protagonists don't seem entirely convincing.
The other eight stories, ranging from 22 to 30 pages in length, centre on individuals (all men) and their jobs: a writer reads the diaries of the man who censored his work; a retired actor is called back for one last performance; an Academician visits a regional library to do some research and has a fling with one of the librarians; a man on a business trip has to juggle a potential romance, a technical flash of insight, and the chance for a good night's sleep; a taxi-driver takes his young daughter on his round, with the circulation of money illustrating the corruption involved; a school teacher retires, illustrating the hollowness of status and its adulation; and a clerk in a planning bureau is desperate to find any kind of alternative employment, whether as clown or as computer programmer. The domestic lives of the protagonists are mostly more incidental, but the overall effect is a kind of mosaic of life in the Soviet Union right at its end.
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