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Near Zero

by Natan Dubovitsky

translated by Bill Bowler

Near Zero: synopsis

Yegor Samokhodov was happy as a youth in the Russian heartland but now, in Moscow, in middle age, he is estranged from his wife and daughter, and his low-paying job as an assistant editor is going nowhere. Looking for a way out, he joins a criminal gang, the Brotherhood of the Black Book. The Brotherhood is involved in forgery, theft of intellectual property, black-marketeering, intimidation, extortion, bribery, murder, etc.

Yegor’s girlfriend, Crybaby, invites him to a private screening of her new film, although she cannot attend. Yegor goes, hoping she may show up, and is horrified to discover he is watching a snuff movie where Crybaby is slowly murdered. After the screening, Yegor finds that Crybaby has disappeared. He sets out to Kazakhstan, to find and kill her murderer, the film director Albert Mamaev.

The story is set against a panoramic backdrop of Russia during and after the collapse of the USSR. Yegor’s quest brings him into contact with a cast of characters from a broad spectrum of Russian life, culture, history, politics and government.

Near Zero header links
Translator’s Foreword Cast of Characters Table of Contents

Chapter 14: Chetirnadtsat’

Friday began for Yegor suddenly at 4:30 a.m. Having slept barely two hours, he woke up spontaneously, for no apparent cause, and not from something seen in a dream. He was wide awake from a happy weightlessness that suddenly filled his breast, winding into him, hanging over his body, not letting him lie and rest. This happened to him often.

Upon awakening, his mind was possessed with a poisonous clarity and feverish joy that blinds the brain and prevents concentration, a joy and clarity such as grips the soul in the first period of lunacy or, for example, in anticipation of fleeting love or of long, measured drinking bouts.

Two lights — electric and a pale sun — flowed across the windowpane, merging into a metallic mixture, an overdose of which, they say, can drive certain weaklings to suicide. Yegor lay in bed until seven, watching TV, channel surfing, staring at the colorful little moving pictures with the sound down to the level of an indistinct whisper; he could not stand anything loud in the morning.

Finally, morning strolled off, having accomplished its goal, so it seemed. As opposed to yesterday’s swampy, stifling, thick humidity, this morning was fresh and breezy, promising a clear day, alarming and refreshing, like insomnia.

Having gotten up too early, Yegor deliberately took his time getting himself together. Without hurrying, he brought his organism into working condition by means of his habitual morning rituals, exercises, and stimulating beverages.

Around ten, his ex-wife Sveta called. “What time are you picking up Nastya?”

“Whenever it’s convenient.”

“This is your day. Make up your mind.”

“I’ll come by after lunch, once she’s up.”

“Then come at four. No, it’s better if I drive her to the Diamond around four-thirty. Then you can take her to the doctor tomorrow. Around five. You know how she is about the doctor.”

“Lucky me. Listen, tomorrow’s Saturday. What doctor?”

“I made a special appointment with Belenky.”

“What’s wrong with Nastya?”

“You finally asked. Frequent angina. They have to take a look and figure out what’s causing it.”


“Until tomorrow,” said his ex-wfe in a rather prickly tone, as if thorns or sharp needles grew out of her voice during conversation. The two of them tried to communicate tersely, since they knew that with each phrase, however inoffensive or trivial, their mutual irritability would grow more painful. They both believed, and not without reason, that should they speak for forty minutes about anything at all, about the most uncontroversial, neutral, unimportant things, they would gradually start arguing in vain and end up fighting.

To be continued...

translation © 2019 by Bill Bowler

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