© Copyright Mikhail Veller
     © Copyright Translated by Eric Gillan (keeder()gmail.com)
     Origin: "Гуру"

     "Your ignorance is boundless, and not even amusing..."
     This  was the first sentence  I heard from him - the slide-tackle to my
fate that forever changed its course.
     But, to hell with the intimate details.
     Everything I am, I owe to him. Everything.
     It is too late now to  know who he really was. He liked being mystical.
Very much.
     I would come  to his doghouse of an apartment with a bottle of port and
a hunk of salami, or a loaf of bread, or a package of dumplings, or a carton
of cigarettes. And,  before my finger  touched the  doorbell, the confident,
successful, well-dressed educated young man  turned into  something I really
was -  a young  pup. He  was  a master  who,  from  the  mountain  peaks  of
enlightenment,  had  scorned  the trades. He was a sage. I  - a  frantic and
arrogant brat.

     He hated order, clothes, reputation and public opinion. He hated money,
but  he hated  conceited poverty even more. Good  and evil didn't  exist: he
belonged  to  the  caste  of hunters of  the truth. He  shunned the farce of
everyday news and sluiced for truth's precious grains; he panned for it like
a prospector.
     Like a careless farmer, he scattered the golden sands  of his truths by
the handfuls, paying with it for everything.
     His  currency had limited circulation  and  his life could  be called a
history of struggle if it weren't a history of beatings. He was hardened and
scarred, like a saxaul tree in the desert.
     Flinging open the door, he squinted his  farsighted eyes with valor and
contempt for  me and, through me, for the  outside world.  His scorn leveled
the scales of his view of life: in the other cup rested his love rejected by
the world. I understood it much later than expected.

     He took my gifts like one would take groceries from the neighbor's  boy
who was sent  to the store while the housekeeper was  sick. Every time I was
afraid that  he would give me a tip - I wouldn't know how  to behave  if  he
     Deliberate with his old man's  squeamishness,  he  silently pointed his
finger  at the  coat  rack and  then, at the door  to his room. That was  my
     In his room, he pointed in the same way at the curio cabinet the age of
Noah's ark and a chair. I took out the wine glasses and sat down.
     He tossed down the port, lit a cigarette and in the formless mass of an
old man's face  appeared discrete features - hard and unhappy. He was one of
those  who never quit and kept going  until the  end. But,  since everything
alive is forever changing,  he, with his unstoppable  momentum, went too far
and  ended  up empty-handed.  But in  that emptiness, he possessed more than
those  who  perceptively followed every fluctuation of the living world.  He
remained with nothing - but with the  very  essence of  reality, gripped and
preserved by his caustic consciousness; and in his consciousness,  it stayed
forever undistorted.

     "My boy,"  he  always started this way. "My boy", he would say, and the
air, vibrating with  his voice,  stretched like a membrane  about to explode
under  the  unavoidable and powerful pressure of his internally concentrated
thoughts, rapidly expanding, turning into words,  like gun powder turns into
gas and, expelling the projectile  out the barrel,  with one tight shockwave
explodes the air.
     "My boy", he crowed angrily, now  animated, with his  two eyes stabbing
me like two fingers, "did you happen to read  some of  this  American scribe
named Edgar Allen Poe? Accidentally, perhaps?"
     I answered yes, not afraid of the ambush, but certain  that  I will end
up in the puddle of mud anyway, from which I will be lifted by the scruff of
my neck, only to be dipped into it again.
     "So, then, my boy," he continued, and from a barely perceptible gesture
I knew to pour more into his glass. He drank, stood up and didn't look at me
again as he spoke. I was the outside world. He consulted the world. No more,
no less.
     "All  grief comes from ignorance," he said.  "And ignorance - from lack
of respect for your mind. From happiness of being a sheep in a herd.
     Ignorance.  Dishonesty. Stupidity.  Subservience.  Cowardice. The  five
things,  each  one  able   to  destroy  creativity.  Honesty,  intelligence,
knowledge, independence and courage - these are  the things you must develop
to the greatest extent, if you want to write, my boy. Those honored by their
contemporaries are not writers. Edgar Allen Poe is a writer, my boy," and he
placed his hand on the spine of the book as if it were the shoulder  of E.A.
Poe.  He was acting, but when  I replayed these  talks  in my head later,  I
found nothing abnormal in his acting. Maybe, we act every time we stray from
the spontaneity of expression.
     "About  honesty," his  voice lowered and turned  hoarse, hissing like a
worn out  stylus  of  a turntable, dulled by the  unbearable  energy of  the
recording - the energy mixed with the aggregate  of knowledge, suffering and
anger.  "You  must be completely  aware  of  your  own  motives.  Your  true
feelings. Don't be afraid
     to see a monster in yourself.  Be  afraid  of being  a monster, and not
     it. And don't think that  others are better than you. They're just like
you! Don't be deluded and don't be offended.
     Then, you will understand that every man possesses everything. All the
     feelings and motives, the sacred and the evil."
     His  finger was  a barrel in a firing squad aiming for the bridge of my
nose. I  pressed my  back into the chair and sweated. "These are  words from
the primer. You are ignorant, but I  don't  fault  you for that. You  should
have  known this at seventeen, even if you couldn't understand  it.  But you
are twenty  four!  What  were  you doing  in  that  college  of  yours,  you
feeble-minded amateur?" Hot drops of perspiration left my armpits and rolled
down my sides.
     "Without honesty there is  no knowledge.  To  be dishonest  is to close
your eyes to half of this life.
     Our feelings, our system of knowledge  and perception of reality  are a
magician's glass through which we can see an  otherwise invisible picture of
the world.  But there is only one point from  where that picture can be seen
undistorted, in harmonic balance with all  its parts.  That point is  truth.
The  point  of  enlightenment  is  absolute  truth,  without  the  need  for
     Don't be  afraid of the morals.  Be afraid of  distorting  the picture.
Because with the slightest departure  from  the  truth you  will  see  - and
describe  -  not  the three-dimensional  picture  of  the world, but only  a
two-dimensional  one,  and  even  of that just  a  drop.  And  distorted.  A
reflection on this glass, this artificial screen of an ignorant and obliging
human brain.  With the changing times society  changes its point of view and
your  depiction  is  no  longer  what  seemed  to  be  the  truth.  But  the
three-dimensionality  and  truth,  even  though they  may not  coincide with
appropriateness  of the  times,  never change. The  oscillations  of  public
opinion can't touch them; in fact, they correct those oscillations.
     That's why you should never associate with people who ask: "Why are you
writing  about  this?" Hinting that you should write  in some intellectually
balanced proportion, pursuing some goals familiar to them. Those people  are
dull, dishonest and  ignorant.  What  do you  know about dipoles? What about
prana? About Yoga? Don't waste  your  energy  and  your  life-force by being
around idle people and idiots."
     "Art, my boy," he was getting drunker  and  more resolved, "is learning
about the  world.  That's all. Never mind  that with more  wisdom comes more
sadness. What,  you haven't read  Ecclesiastes? What a gray raincoat... Gray
rat on  the steamship of  the  modern  progress... Spiritual  experience  of
mankind - that's what  art is. Analysis and a textbook of the human race  at
the  same time. That  is  the  grindstone that  shapes  and  sharpens  man's
feelings - all of them!  Full  range  of them!  With which mankind heals its
soul. All the black dirt and sparkling fragrance - the realm of art and also
the  realm of humanity.  Enlightenment  is the realm of humanity. Happiness?
Happiness and enlightenment  are synonymous, listen  to me, my boy. All this
is banal, but remember it, ignorant youth. You are young; your soul, even if
sensitive,  is  dim  and  undeveloped;  you  won't  understand  me. You will
understand later."
     Drinking  the wine, I was getting high. Intermittently,  he was a  sage
and an  empty talker. The  logic  of my perception  was tearing  to  pieces,
unable  to keep up with the  swift  stream  of strengthening  essence of his
     "The public  always applauds  fakes professionally  made to its demand.
Masterpieces?  It can't  tell  them  from  meager replicas.  Its  vision  is
two-dimensional. But what's  left are only the masterpieces.  An artist adds
to the intellectual and  spiritual  fund of mankind. Why? Why are people  on
this planet? Only the ignorant ask stupid questions like this...
     Have you heard of experiments with rats? The first to move into the new
territory are  the "scouts". A  strict  hierarchy  is  established after the
settlement takes place  and the "scouts"  are killed. "Such is the world, my
Hamlet"... And Icarus is still falling and still flying: the happiness isn't
in the riches, not by the bread alone, we're not dead if we're alive."
     He finished the wine and, obeying again an invisible gesture, I went to
the  kitchen to brew chifir. He didn't drink  coffee -  he drank chifir.  He
said that he got used to drinking it a long time ago in a place far away and
gave long lectures extolling advantages of chifir over coffee.
     Brewing of chifir signaled the end of the "general information" and the
beginning of "literary mastery" part of the  conversation. He announced that
I  was the lousiest and  most  incompetent of  all  the  candidates  for  an
apprentice in his  entire  life.  And, even more insulting, I was likely the
last one. He was inarguably right about that - I was the last...
     "My boy,"  he  said with inexpressible  scorn,  his face  reflecting  a
contemplation of whether to vomit or to  lie  down and wait it out. "My boy,
you suppose  you wrote a  story better than this one," he shook the magazine
like it was a severed head  and the head disgracefully  flew into the corner
to join cigarette butts and dirty socks.
     "Masterpieces!" He  yelled.  "Poe is a  writer! Akutagawa  is a writer!
Chekov is  a writer! Put this garbage out of your  head unless you like  the
idea of becoming garbage!"
     Then, he sang praise to the short story.
     "A piece must be readable in one sitting, he  insisted.  Exceptions are
fiction  of  mystery,  adventure and romance.  Justification:  a masterpiece
novel, with  information  every  bit  as concentrated as  in  a short story.
There's only been a few dozen like that.
     Concentration -  thoughts,  feelings, storyline. The more information a
story  contains per  unit of volume, the greater it becomes.  More  possible
interpretations! A real three-dimensional plot -  that's  the ideal! A story
with a real plot is always a parable!
     Material?  Fool! Shakespeare wrote about Venice, Verona, Denmark, about
an island that didn't exist. And Poe? What about Akutagawa? The idea lies at
the foundation and you make it come to life with adequate material. You must
know, see, smell and taste it, but it doesn't  mean it you'll find it  under
your feet. Find it where  you can. All of the time  and space, real and not,
are at your service. This is the abc's ..."
     He was conducting to an invisible but finely responsive orchestra.
     "The  process of creation of  a  story is  composed  of  these  layers:
choosing the most fitting, most appropriate, strongest material; building of
a  story,  composition;  and  expression  by the  means  of a language. This
three-step process is made  fertile by the idea, the  underlying thread that
is the essence of the story. Disregarding any of these four steps will cease
the creation of truly great writing."
     "Even  though,"  he shook  his  worn-out  sleeves,  and  the  orchestra
stumbled.  "Even  though discovery  and perfecting of  just one of  the four
attributes  will  lead  us to consider  luck, talent and  so  forth...  only
perfection of all four gives birth to a masterpiece!
     Every letter must be the  only possible  one  in the text of the story.
Editing is for  slobs  and hacks. Don't fuss  and  try to be clever:  listen
carefully  to yourself, until the string resonates with the one true note of
the tuning fork.
     Don't pile in the  details. To you, they  seem to define the scene, but
in reality  they  distract from  the precision of the picture. Every  reader
imagines something of his own in what he reads and it is your job  to foster
his  associative  vision with  one or  two details. Scarcity  of  words is a
richness of perception, my dear."
     I  was forbidden to take notes. He was opening himself to the world and
he didn't want an alienation of his truths in someone else's handwriting.
     I cheated. On the  porch of  the neighboring building I filled pages of
my  notebook  with crooked  shorthand,  and transferred it all into a  thick
journal I  kept at  home. Sometimes I felt like a dimwit who was  memorizing
the rules, hoping to find the secret of success.
     "The  boy  can write,  "  he said  with sarcasm. "The  boy has a brain,
that's good. A creatively impotent man  can't  fertilize  the  material;  at
best, he is a scribe. A  business trip. Drove in and described what he  saw.
Savages!  Paustovsky  was like that, too, by  the way.  Not  for you to pass
judgment!   First,  learn  from  him  the  skill  of  clean  and   beautiful
description. Insufficient case, but not useless."
     Drawing on a cigarette, he took a sip of chifir and  inhaled the smoke.
And then exhaled:
     "First. Learn to write light, free and relaxed - just the way you talk.
Don't strain and work it to death. Tell what's on your mind. Ordinary spoken
tale - only on paper and without contractions.
     Second. Write about something you know, something you've seen and lived
through. More definite, more detailed, more extensive.
     Third. Learn  to write long. Think of a size of a story, and then write
three times that much. Come  up with non-existent, but possible details. The
more, the better. Fantasize. Be naughty.
     Fourth. Pull out all the stops and lie. Fabricate from the beginning to
the end;  if a little truth comes through, put  it in, as well. Believe that
it is just as  plausible  as what you experienced. You know  your  fantasies
just as good as your reality."
     With theatrical  disgust he leafed through  the pages  of my opuses and
they  fluttered into  the  corner  with  the  butts  and socks, like  feeble
deformed pigeons unable to fly.
     "OK. We finished first grade: we learned how to draw a stick man. Let's
keep going...
     Fifth.  Cut out  everything  that  can  be  cut!  Turn  a  page into  a
paragraph, then a  paragraph into a sentence! Don't  mourn the fifteen pages
turned into one. What's left is sinew and meat on the bones, no fat!
     Sixth. No  repeated words. Look for synonyms; find something to replace
a repeated  word. Can you read in French? Oh, pardon, I forgot what  gardens
you are a  fruit of. Read  "Madame Bovarie"  translated by Rommov! A hundred
times! Start anywhere  in the book!  When  you can imitate  that, we will go
     In his  voice, for the first time, I  heard  leniency of a  high priest
towards a wet puppy on the steps of the shrine.
     The pummeling began. I stopped sleeping. My  heart, and  the whole left
side, ached. I was jumping up in the middle of the night, unable to breathe.
The winter was coming to an end.
     "What," he ridiculed. "You don't like writing simply, huh?"
     I criminally read  magazines  and terrified myself. I wanted to publish
and  announce myself to  the  world.  The current carried me  and  I  didn't
resist: the foggy  bank promised  unimaginable marvels,  if I  didn't  drown
along the way.
     In April, I brought him four pages that didn't disgust him.
     "So,  the  second  grade  is finished. None  too  soon. Not  altogether
giftless, hmm... Some talent is coming through..."
     I think I was  near a nervous breakdown, because I  almost  cried  from
adoration  and love  I felt towards him. The old son of a  bitch farted with
gusto and picked his nose.
     Finishing the  port,  he told me  that everything was now  in my power:
stay with  it or quit. But, if I kept going,  it will for sure be the end of
     Feeling ordination in his words, I answered that I was done  for a long
time ago; that I could die in the gutter with dignity, and  forty-five years
of life is really quite enough.
     I May, I brought two more similar stories.
     "Aren't you tired of writing the same way?"
     "The element of discovery is gone... All right..."

     "Seventh," he  slammed his fist on  the  wall. "You must have the right
relationship, proportion between what you read and what you experienced with
your  own hide, between what  you made up and  what  you  heard from people,
between refined information  from textbooks  and  the  knowledge  you got by
tossing around  the world. Get out of  here and don't come back till autumn!
Go! The farther the better. The tropics!"
     I left everything, quit my job and went to Yakutia.
     His memory was like epoxy: anything that touched it was crystallized in
it forever.
     "Eighth,"  he said calmly in the fall. "Let's work with the syntax. The
punctuation can do  amazing  things to  the text. Experiment with  it,  keep
bending the  stick, look for it. Reverse  the meaning by using only  syntax.
Read some Stern, my dear. Lermontov, the one you don't know."
     I put out more effort. He wrinkled his face.
     "Stop showing off. Simply look for what feels right."
     What followed next caught me by surprise.
     "Ninth," he  was  quiet  but triumphant. "You already  know that  every
detail has to work, that  the "rifle hanging on the wall in act one  will go
off in act three".  But, the  technique of the aces is a gun that remains on
the wall. That's more cunning. Carefully read Akutagawa, Ryunosuke-san,  the
greatest  master of short prose of all times  and cultures. Only Mr. Poe can
hold  his ground.  Read  "Rashomon" and "In  a Grove".  Pay attention to the
sword  that disappeared no one knows  where  and why; to  the missing finger
about  which nobody asked.  Akutagawa possessed - on the level of  technical
application  -  the  greatest  secret,  my  boy:  the  ability  to  give  an
immeasurable depth of hidden meaning with one detail, to instill the feeling
of  inexhaustibility  of occurring events," he started  coughing, bent over,
and, wheezing and pressing his arms to his chest, collapsed.
     I yelled for nitroglycerin and, toppling a chair, raced to the  hallway
for  the phone.  After I called the ambulance,  I saw  him earthen-pale, but
calm and angry.
     "You panic one more time  and I will throw you out," he crowed. "I know
when my time's up. Go already!"
     With the technique of "extraneous detail" I agonized like a monkey with
a sextant. Hopeless...
     "Don't shame yourself," cawed  my mentor. "This kind of work is for the
masters. You're still young."
     Then, destroying my  conception of how  to write, he added more fuel to
the fire.
     "Tenth. Add superfluous, unnecessary to the meaning, words. But in such
a  way  that without these extra words the zest  of the sentence disappears.
Put on your desk the "Life of Monsieur de Moliere", by Bulgakov."
     And so his staff-like finger sent  my  life into  its  next  mysterious
curve; by the looks of it, way off the road. As the English say, "I  lost my
nerve". In March, a year and a half after I started this suicidal mission, I
came  over  and  told him that I wanted to  be  a  magazine writer, or, even
better, a columnist. I raised my hands.
     "Eleventh," said coldly my Lucifer.  "When you  decide  that  you can't
write  any  better,  write three  more  stories.  After  that, you  can hang
yourself or go teach high school."
     It all ended in May - a good month for either a beginning or an end for
any undertaking.
     "Young man", he addressed me formally. "Have you any money?"
     I haven't had money in a long time. I have become a lumpenproletariat.
     "I don't care. Steal it," he advised.  "Come  back in an hour. Bring  a
bottle  of good  cognac, half a pound of coffee, a  package  of "Peace Pipe"
tobacco  and  a  pipe made by  master  Fedoroff, which  should cost anywhere
between 12 and 30 rubles at the "Artist's Bench". Don't forget the lemon and
the "Karakum" candies."
     I sold eight books to the book pawn. To this day, I have yet to replace
Gogol, Camus and "Sailor in the Saddle".
     I  begged  the lemon  from a manager of the special orders desk  at the
"Elysee" market.
     "That's  it, young  man," he said. "There  is nothing more I  can teach
     He  was  unrecognizable.  He  was wearing  a  cream-colored wool  suit,
light-blue silk  shirt  and gold-with-black  necktie.  Maroon  woven-leather
shoes and red  socks  covered his feet. He was  clean-shaven and smelled  of
expensive  cologne.  In  front of me  sat an  aristocrat  who  did not  need
confirmation of his standing by everyday attributes.
     Noble cobalt flowers on  the snow-white tablecloth  were made up of the
embroidered "Property  of Berlin Municipal,  1900." Crystal  glasses clinked
together like at a wedding in a king's castle.
     "I saw Mihail Chekov as a boy," said the host. I froze because I didn't
know who Mihail Chekov was.  "All my  life I dreamt of running  a  school of
literature.  Don't  be an  idealist;  I don't  really  care about  anything,
anyway. Obviously, it is my own business."
     "Don't  delude  yourself,"  in the  almost-transparent  coffee  cup  he
stirred  the  lemon  with  a silver spoon. "I gave you  no  more than a  few
techniques and showed  you how to use  them. I  opened  your eyes (it wasn't
your fault they  were shut)  to  a couple of  things. I saved you some time,
while I still had the  strength.  Only time will  tell if  it  was worth  my
     Sentiments  in his  presence  were inappropriate. The  terrible sadness
about this farewell came later.
     How much nobleness of true and unadvertised importance was in this man!
I swear he could have been the crowning jewel of any international assembly!
A luminary who came down from his Mount Olympus for a half-hour.
     He  sipped  cognac,  rocked  his  woven-leather  shoe, and  smoked  his
captain's pipe. And magnanimously gave out farewell instructions.
     "Read less, re-read more," he said. "Four hundred books is quite enough
for a professional. When the  classics reveal to you the  human weakness and
sinfulness of the authors then you can really begin to learn from them.
     When reading, try to improve it in your mind. Read slowly, very slowly.
Taste and  savor every phrase with the author's eyes. Only  then will you be
able to understand what it contains.
     Hurry up  while you're  young.  Fame of  the old men  is built on their
accomplishments in  younger years. The best years for  a  prose  writer  are
between twenty-six  and  forty-six; exceptions are  rare. When you're fifty,
you can engage in literary nonsense, but before - it would be a pity..."
     Later,  hanging around in his kitchen, I learned a lot about  him - all
contradictory  and  less  than  credible. These two  years he  kept  me from
sticking my  nose in the  wrong places,  trained  me like a coach trains  an
athlete who can't be allowed in the competition until he is in top shape.
     "Learn how to pull yourself away from your work," he  taught. "Save the
nerves for when you need  them. Professionalism, besides other things, is an
ability  to consciously bring  yourself to  a state of  highest  excitement.
There, connecting  with  your subconscious,  you  can iterate  the different
variants and alternatives with great speed."
     "By  the  way",  he got  excited,  "how  nave  are  discussions  about
creativity of machines, don't you think? A maxim: knowledge is inexhaustible
and infinite,  especially  as related to  the  workings of  a "man". We will
never be able to understand - and, consequently, model -  the mechanism of a
creative act and  account for all the  factors: weather  and humidity of the
air, arthritis and heartburn, feeling  of a cavity in a tooth, even the time
of  year, month or day. What we know is like a "black box": we put something
in  it,  but what comes out is completely different. We try  to imitate with
the goal of  like results.  Masterpiece is a non-standard solution. Computer
is  a "super-solution" using the "super-standard": it  is  all logic. Art is
not logic."
     "An artist is a turbine through which pours a huge amount of  scattered
energy of  the  universe,"  he kept teaching. "This energy  emerges  in  all
spheres of intellect and perception. And, really, all those spheres are one:
to  think,  to feel, to create and to enjoy are all one and the same. That's
why an impotent cannot be an artist."
     He towered as he rose to shake my hand. It was all over.
     But, really, it was all  over in October, when I came back from working
up North,  having cleared my head and regained consciousness. I spent a week
blowing money with old friends and called him on  the eighth, leaving myself
to forever regret waiting until the eighth.
     Ambulance  took him  on the  sixth  with a  heart attack.  After  forty
minutes  of calls to information, I got a hold of the doctor at the hospital
where he was taken. He had died the previous night.
     He had no relatives. At  the morgue  and his building's office, I found
out how to take care of his burial and his apartment.
     I got a key from the neighbors  and, uncomfortable and ashamed,  looked
for the necessary things with the help of a super. There were none. I bought
all that was needed,  and  a wreath and a plain  ribbon. It was  unlikely he
would have wanted anything elaborate.
     But, under the  curio  cabinet, I found a packet of my writings, neatly
stacked  and tied together with twine. They were all there, to the last one.
That packet, and  four  more like  it, I  burned  in  the back  yard by  the
     In the drawer of his desk I found an envelope, addressed to me and with
instructions to open on my thirtieth birthday.
     I ripped it open that evening and read:
     "So, you couldn't wait? All the worse for you.
     You  are  not  Turgenev;  you  don't  have  land  to  support  you.   A
professional must make a living. The only thing to do for people like you is
to  write for the public, but without writing  for the public. With the same
chisel! There is a tight  connection between publishing and ability to write
to the  fullest extent of  your talent.  Writing  for  the  future leads  to
degeneration. Kafka is the one  exception that confirms the rule.  Bulgakov,
well,  that's Bulgakov. In spite  of being limited by  mythical themes, they
were great  artists. Build  your  life in such a way that all the gates  and
ruts in  the road happen when you  are not there. As if you don't  even know
about them.
     Otherwise,  you get fruitlessly bitter. Then, sorrow  and dementia. "He
is nothing! I  can write better than that!" And  who kept you from doing it?
Sorrow and dementia!"

     A few silver spoons, porcelain  cups and crystal glasses was all he had
of any value. I thought for a  while what to do with the few  hundred rubles
that I got from the consignment  store. There  wasn't enough for a tombstone
and nothing else came to mind. Somehow, the money disappeared.
     The  night  after  the  funeral I was again  leafing through  my  thick
journals where I wrote down everything he said.
     "Don't forget about "ending with a tail"
     "Cut twenty years from the body of  an uneventful story and put  what's
left together. It creates "dramatic longing".
     "Good  story is like  a coded text, it has the beauty of suggestion and
innuendo, and is understood with slow reading."
     "Don't be afraid  of contradictions in your description. They allow the
reader to view the object from different angles, and make it richer."
     "Short story has not yet known a master of counterpoint."
     And a lot of other stuff. I couldn't sleep.
     The day of the funeral was just another day,  ordinary and gray. He lay
there in  the  coffin and it wasn't  him. Yes,  I knew how  the  bodies were
prepared in the morgue...
     I didn't call anybody  and sat next to the coffin by myself in the back
of the morgue van.
     The North Cemetery, a huge industrialized necropolis  of a city of many
millions, with businesslike rhythm and lines at the entrance, didn't inspire
contemplations of eternal life.
     The hired men took the coffin out of the  van and placed it next to the
open  grave. For  some  reason, I recalled a tale of Czar Nicholas the First
getting  out of his sleigh to walk behind a coffin of a poor officer who had
no family.

     It  was strange how simple, conventional and commonplace this was. Like
going  to the dacha for a  weekend. But,  driving back from the cemetery,  I
thought that I would never write anything more.

     Saxaul  is a woody  shrub that is native to the semi-desert  and desert
zones Of Mongolia. Almost leafless, saxaul "trees" grow to between 2  and  4
meters high in moving sand, rocky valleys, and on hillsides.
     Chifir is  powerful drink, black  and thick, was invented by inmates of
the Gulag.  It  is brewed with approximately half a  pound of tealeaves to a
pint of hot water. The resulting drink contains great  quantity  of caffeine
and tannins and was used by the inmates to "get high".
     Konstantin  Georgievich Paustovsky  (1892-1968)  was  a Russian  writer
known for his colorful descriptions of nature scenes.
     Yakutia, also known as Sakha, is a region in North-Eastern Siberia.
     Lumpenproletariat - permanent underclass: in Marxist  analysis,  people
regarded  as  living on  the  margins  of society,  particularly  criminals,
homeless people, and the long-term unemployed
     Dacha is a vacation home away from the city, a country cabin.

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