A Partial History of Lost Causes


Leningrad, USSR, 1979

When Aleksandr finally arrived in Leningrad, he was stunned by the great gray span of the Neva. The river was a churning organ in the city’s center—not its heart, surely; something more practical and less sentimental but just as necessary. The amygdala, maybe, or both kidneys. It had been six days from Okha—on a boat and then a train—and out the window he’d seen the entire country: first the teetering spires of Sakhalin’s drilling rigs, as familiar to Aleksandr as his own dreams; then the abandoned green train at the port, melting into the sand ever since the war with the Japanese; then the ten thousand salmon rotting in the sun on the eastern shore, waiting for Moscow to telegram permission for their loading; then the curling stems of smoke above the villages that were impossibly far apart (he never knew he’d been living in a country this enormous all along).

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