Debut memoir ruefully recalls a love affair that imploded in Russia during in the late 1990s.
In 1998, six years after their intense but platonic friendship in college, TV producer Cohen learned that Kevin Dillard was working as a journalist in Russia. She e-mailed him for help on a story she was doing about Russian prostitutes in the US, and they were soon corresponding regularly. When Dillard promised to show her a juicy piece of evidence seemingly implicating President Clinton and a prostitute on a recent state visit, Cohen (for whom “journalistic prowess is a potent aphrodisiac”) persuaded her boss that she needed to visit Russia to wrap up her story. She flew to St. Petersburg, and within weeks Dillard proposed; they planned a fall wedding, and her parents started preparations. At first, Cohen wasn’t concerned that Kevin was divorced, a recovering alcoholic, and past drug user; she herself had been bulimic and was still on antidepressants. The couple moved from St. Petersburg to Moscow, where Cohen was to be a network producer for a foreign bureau. Despite their landlord’s promises of renovations, their apartment had no bathroom door, and the wires and pipes were exposed. Over the summer, she covered attacks by neo-Nazi skinheads, the city’s pervasive corruption, and the Mafia’s exploitation of young women. Dillard, unfulfilled by his job, started drinking, saw old girlfriends, and attempted suicide. Like the Russian economy that summer, their love affair entered freefall; Cohen suggests they had both been deceived by a culture that romanticizes tragedy and deifies romance. Mostly an account of an impulsive decision with unforeseen consequences, this is more interesting for its secondary descriptions of life in post-communist Russia, as the self-absorption typical of the memoir genre soon cloys.
Vivid background partially redeems a dispiritingly familiar tale of a bright woman doing dumb things.