Nadav Spiegelman

The Tsar of Love and Techno

Anthony Marra
My last highlight
Number of highlights

My Highlights

“Do you speak?” I asked. He nodded. “With understatement, I see. Tell me your name.”
“That’s President Kadyrov. Very popular. He received a hundred and two percent of the vote last election.” “I’ve never been good at math.” “You might have a future as an election overseer.”
As a deputy minister, Ruslan’s daily responsibilities largely consisted of accepting bribes.
Soon I was approached by the security organs and given a position. Those who can’t succeed, teach. Those who can’t teach, censor the successes of others. Still I could have turned out worse; I’m told the German chancellor is also a failed artist.
Most censoring, of course, is done by publishers. A little cropping, editing, adjusting of margins can rule out many undesirable elements. This has obvious limitations. Stalin’s pitted cheeks, for instance. To fix them you’d have to crop his entire head, a crime for which your own head would soon follow. For such sensitive work, I am brought in. During one bleak four-month stretch, I did nothing but airbrush his cheeks.
By the time we were old enough to mistake ourselves for men, I’d already turned toward Bolshevism.
Can someone like him actually love another human being? We’re pained to admit that yes, he might delude himself into believing so. We have some experience with this kind of man, not bureaucratic mass murderers, of course, but with alcoholic boyfriends, violent husbands, strangers harboring the misconception that their unwanted advances are compliments.
We fell in and out of love with fevered frequency. We constantly became people we would later regret having been.
Despite inheriting her grandmother’s beautiful figure, Galina danced with the subtlety of a spooked ostrich. Basic barre exercises upended her. During performances, she was, thank goodness, relegated to the most minor ensemble role. But we really shouldn’t be so harsh: If she were anyone else’s granddaughter, we wouldn’t think twice about her dancing like the victim of an inner ear disorder. Besides, we’re free from the burden of expectation—no one has ever predicted that we would distinguish ourselves in any way—therefore we can’t understand what it’s like to fail where one might seem destined to succeed.
The minister frowned. He scanned the desk for a napkin before reaching over to wipe his oily fingers on my necktie.
Office space was a valuable commodity given how few buildings were still standing, so I worked from my flat. I spent the first morning writing Tourist Bureau on a piece of cardboard. My penmanship had been honed by years of attempting to appear productive at the office. I taped the sign to the front door, but within five minutes it had disappeared. I made a new sign, then another, but the street children who lived on the landing kept stealing them. After the fifth sign, I went to the kitchen and drank the vodka bottle the minister had sent over in celebration until I passed out in tears on the floor. So ended my first day as Tourist Bureau chief.
Over the following weeks, I designed a brochure. The central question was how to trick tourists into coming to Grozny voluntarily. For inspiration, I studied pamphlets from the tourist bureaus of other urban hellscapes: Baghdad, Pyongyang, Houston. From them I learned to be lavishly adjectival, to treat prospective tourists as semiliterate gluttons, and to impute reports of kidnapping, slavery, and terrorism to the slander of foreign provocateurs.
“It’s been the most brutal morning, Alexei,” she said. People who have it easy are always telling you how hard it is.
Behind the ticket counter stood a man as skinny as a soaked poodle. He sported a shirt of swatch-size plaid and a blond ponytail that, unless destined for a chemotherapy patient, should’ve been immediately chopped off, buried in an unmarked grave, and never spoken of again.
Elderly women who hadn’t smiled since Gorbachev was general secretary queued outside the post office. They wore overcoats in midsummer, distrustful of every source of authority, even the calendar.
The bouncer had the flattened, scarred face of a well-loved anvil.