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from the February 2021 issue

There Was No Adderall in the Soviet Union

Translator’s note: This is the final chapter of a semi-autobiographical but speculative novella. The protagonist is the only subject of an extremely high-profile research project: a celebrity professor of the “experimental humanities” has apparently attempted to transform her into an Ubermensch by harnessing her traumatic experiences as an immigrant and émigré.


The ninth and final chapter, which seems poised to take place a year later and in which I break into the G20 summit to deliver an untranslatable speech—though it is uncertain whether the individual in question is me or somebody else.

I won’t take up much of your time, I promise; it’s just that in this break between your discussions of the Ukrainian question, the Syrian question, the Caucasian question, and other major global issues, I’d like to command your attention for a moment and explain something—or, if you like, warn you about something. We all know that the era of deadlocked superpowers is over, so as you search for a new collective enemy to center your geopolitics, allow me to explain that your new enemy is me, and your new weapon of mass destruction is also me.

Don’t misunderstand me. When I say “me,” I mean “us”; that is, those whom others dismiss as “fitting raw material for a globalized context,” whose eyes burn with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and for whom Adderall or Ritalin is no object. Those who will speak to you in your language because they know five or seven or maybe even ten. Those who are so accustomed to wandering the globe that they would be perfectly comfortable setting up camp in a nondescript hotel to continue destroying the world you’ve built with your usual enemies—all while you still haven’t figured out how to fight us, and we can fight you by all possible means. Since we’ve been forged in the fire of globalization, we know all means are fair and we’re in this only for ourselves. Most importantly, we do not care. Right wing or left, West or East—all feel equally close and equally alien, and when you call us traitors to the Motherland, it doesn’t upset or offend us in the least. It’s the simple truth: you took what you call your Motherland from us and gave us nothing in return. So while nation-states fight over things of no interest to us, our interest is in empires of another kind, empires where nobody will ever accuse us of being rootless cosmopolitans.

Of course, I’m speaking from my own perspective and in my own language—the language I heard around me as a child. I am an export from my now-nonexistent global superpower—the only thing I feel indebted to, and I vow to repay my debt. I am the same sort of export as a Kalashnikov rifle or our great suicidal writers. Honestly, my product description is basically a combination of the two. However, I present myself on the global market as an intellect and sell myself as a brain, an object of desire on both sides of the Atlantic, and this hides my greatest potential and driving impetus: an insatiable desire for destruction, for myself and people like me to burn down everything not dear to us—that is, everything.

We’ve been prescribed the ecstasy of a brilliant position in life. But in reality, we’re the joker in the world’s deck, the outcasts of the globe. We have sublimated our energy into developing our intellect and willpower, our ability to go without sleep for days as we complete insurmountable tasks, our ability to smile at someone when we really want to punch them in the face, our capacity to keep going no matter what, teeth clenched, because winning is the only outcome that counts. Of course, I could go on and on, but you get the point, don’t you? These are the people who pose a threat to you. We are not like the generations that came before us, who complained about everything and did nothing. We are the sharp-fanged children of globalization. What do you say to that?

Oh no, don’t go thinking we’re planning a great conspiracy or a nuclear war. We don’t need any of that. There won't be a war; you’ll let us in yourselves. Just look at me: I’m smart, I’m wicked, and I’m charming, but in such a strictly controlled way, you could never think I’m not serious enough. And if you can somehow resist all that, then you’ll have no defense against the imprint of orphanhood and neglect on my face (and on my soul, of course, but you won’t see that because you don’t think I have one, or the ability to feel pain, happiness, despair, or love — as if!). That’s because no matter how much you may try to deny it, this imprint causes me infinite, unbearable pain that’s impossible to overcome, that drives me out of my mind and only dissolves when I destroy. And you know it’s your fault. Yours, Mr. President; yours, Madam Chancellor. And yours, my dear Prime Minister. And yours, too, of course, thank you for reminding me. I’m your orphan. We’re your mistake. And if you don’t know how many times a little girl has to cry uncontrollably on an airplane to keep a feeling of loss and separation from fading, to keep it from becoming a normalized, whimpering pain haunting the young woman who’s writing all this now—well, that’s not my problem; that’s your strategic error.

I was born and raised in a country where, once, there was no light and no hot water for two winters in a row, where people set their teapots to boil over bonfires and slept in their winter coats. And once, I watched a fourteen-year-old Russian muzhik (I wanted to say “boy,” but oh, no) beat another half to death with a crowbar over a pack of cigarettes. And then it fell to my lot to emigrate, and on the third day, while examining the ceiling of barrack number six from the top bunk of a steel bed and listening to Dante and Shakespeare decompose beyond the barbed wire of this camp for ethnically German refugees from Kazakhstan and all kinds of other New European rabble, I decided that all of you can go to hell. Because I won’t be a fifth-class citizen in a second-class era just because you said I would, and I’m not about to wait and see how many years it takes you to convince me. I’ll refute each emigration with another, and then another, and then I’ll turn that endless loss into a metaphor because tropes make a deeper impression on the soul than words do, that much I know—words and tropes are my profession. I’ll keep moving forever, never pausing for long in the snobby, cushioned atmosphere of Oxford, or the doll’s house that is Bamberg, or the fresh, cruel air of Grozny because now every parting strengthens my resolve and makes me an even more dangerous soldier for my division. And now I must thank America for the fact that, in this country, nobody sees me as alien because here, native and alien are the same thing. But I must warn you sincerely that even that is temporary, and dangerous, because I won’t be staying here or anywhere else. None of us will.

I apologize for distracting you from your efforts to solve these very important global problems. I just thought it would be worthwhile to point out the one problem you haven’t even thought of yet. Maybe I want you to destroy us before we raise our head; maybe five or ten years from now, it’ll be too late. Maybe I want us to lose because then we’ll all have a home, we’ll all have peace. Maybe I’m tired of accepting that pain is normal, that there is no pain. And yes, of course, I apologize for my tone. In the twentieth century, people had to scream about drugs and sex to be heard. We have our own words and our own threats, but we still have to borrow our intonation from Oxford professors and Bret Easton Ellis and perhaps even Pavlik Morozov (sorry, too soon) to force anyone to tear themselves away from the illusion of democracy, freedom of speech, and all that nonsense.

Do you have anything to say for yourselves?

2014–15

 

From В Советском Союзе не было аддерола. Originally published in Druzhba Narodov in 2016. Subsequently published in 2017 by AST, edited by Elena Shubina. © Olga Breininger. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2021 by Hilah Kohen. All rights reserved.

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