Moscow is a monster. The real Moscow — not the Chekhovian ideal or the inverse romanticism of espionage on Red Square — is a place of brutal roads, daunting architecture and icy steps on which, in winter, ‘old ladies tumble like ninepins’. Moscow sometimes seems to have been designed without reference to the needs of convenience of actual human beings; it is overseen by corrupt, capricious bureaucrats and threatening policemen, who hover at the margins of Oleg Zaionchkovsky’s novel. Often cruel, always indifferent, Moscow will ‘find a replacement…in a minute or two’ when one of its innumerable anonymous petty functionaries drops dead. Ordinary Muscovites are ‘brazen and timorous at the same time’, and ‘suspicious of everything’.
Yet few cities inspire such devotion–however caustic and ironic, as the love for Moscow that permeates Happiness is Possible often feels. But it is love all the same. Moscow, to its residents and would-be residents, is still the imperial capital, still sucking in money, ambitious people and their ideas from across the defunct empire: almost, these days, an overstimulating, infinite empire in itself.
–from the introduction, by AD Miller, to the novel by Oleg Zaionchkovsky