My Dad always loved Russian literature. Every once in a while he’d plop down one of his books on my bed for me to read, but I never would pick it up. The books’ slow, tragic plots seemed overly sentimental to me, and I couldn’t even say the main characters’ names correctly.
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“Stop trying to say my name. You’re saying it wrong,” Anastasiya said to me my Junior year. She preferred that Americans say her name “Anastasia”, because we were hopelessly incapable of pronunciation. She and her brother Anton were Ukrainians, but they had lived in Moscow for about some years before coming to the United States for high school, and they spoke in Russian to each other. While talking with them, I had developed an interest in Russian history and culture.
I was surprised when they suggested I visit them and their family in Moscow. After some long Skype conversations between Anastasiya’s mother, who spoke only Russian or Ukrainian, my parents, who spoke only English, and Anton, who spoke all three, there was a brief flurry to get a visa, and then I was on a plane to another country.
After we’d recovered from jet-lag, we went out to explore Moscow city. While we walked, Anastasiya’s father, who had a passion for architecture, would point out and explain different styles buildings. I was reminded of my father, who works as a general contractor, and often regards buildings with the same critical eye, pointing out their flaws and strengths to me. However, the buildings I saw there had a richness of history and beauty which I had never seen before. There was St. Basil’s Cathedral, with its candy-like domes, the ancient churches of the Cathedral Square within red walls of the Kremlin, and Moscow State University, which, said Anastasiya, with faint smugness, was older than my entire country.
At the end of the day we’d take the metro back home. Riding the subway in Russia was a surreal experience. Many of the stations had been richly decorated during the Soviet Union as a gift to the people. I especially liked Ploshchad Revolyutsii station, which had a series of statues depicted men and women, all dutifully working for a now nonexistent state. On the escalator up to the surface, I’d mull over what I’d seen that day. I had plenty of time to think, as the Moscow metro was built deep; Anton had explained that it was intended to function both for transportation and a bomb shelter for World War III if it were to break out. I thought of my parents, growing up during the Cold War, and wondered, idly, what it might have felt like to live in constant fear of a tomorrow that might bring total annihilation. I felt a respect for my father’s interest in Russia, his reverent curiosity.
While traveling back home alone, I had a long time to think about what I was going to do when I arrived back. After lugging my suitcase up to my room, I went over to the bookshelf where my father kept his favorites, Chekov, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, and picked out a book to read.
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