A beguiling memoir by an American who arrived in the Soviet Union two weeks before Gorbachev was ousted from office.
The daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, Cidylo grew up in New York but was fluent in Russian. In 1991, working as a reporter for a small New York state newspaper, she decided that there had to be more to journalism than front page stories centered around the cow-tipping escapades of local teenagers. So she set off for Russia with a backpack and a vague plan to operate as a freelance journalist. Luckily, she landed a job with the Soviet press agency, TASS, which provided her with a one-year work permit and a catbird seat from which to observe Russia’s “most dramatic transformation since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.” Cidylo remained for six years through attempted coups and a crumbling economy, living as a Russian amid economic and political chaos that she encapsulates in evocative vignettes of ordinary life. Like other Russians, she scrambled on the black market for “luxuries”: a washing machine, for example, required an anxious foray to the seller’s warehouse in the middle of a thick forest on the outskirts of Moscow. She learned to outfox the system, hiring the driver of a municipal bus to move her belongings from one apartment to another rather than face the frustration of dealing with the official Moscow moving service. Cidylo serves up amusing slices of Soviet life in her accounts of hanging a shower curtain, befriending a seamstress who would reupholster her couch, hoping for a date who had taken a bath recently (the title chapter). But there is also more emotionally charged material discussing the sad death of her friend Andrei, a doctor who fought for the well-being of Russian women, and the attempted coup against Yeltsin that brought tanks back into the Moscow streets.
More adventurous than cow-tipping.