I’ve set part of the action of “Ghost Love” in Moscow circa 1989, a time when Communism was crumbling and the Iron Curtain being torn down. This was a bit of a no-brainer. After all, I am a Russian and in 1989 I was fresh out of university, trying to make my way in the world.
Revolution is many things: disruptive, confusing but also very, very exciting. In the late 1980s Russia underwent its second revolution of the 20th century. Sure it was something of a ‘soft’ revolution – there wasn’t the fighting in the streets and the civil war that marked the revolution of 1917, but in many ways it was just as profound. The move from a centrally-planned, authoritarian Communist state to one which was free-market and democratic (well, sort of democratic) was pretty traumatic and one the old Communist apparatchiks fought tooth-and-nail.
I guess that’s the essence of my story: the struggle my lead character, Tonia, has in moving from the old Communist world to the bright new Capitalist one, from a world of repression to a world of freedom. In a way she mirrors the struggle the whole of Russia had in coming to terms with these changes.
Being young when this happened was a great help: the young are much more adaptable. Looking back I can see why my tutors at university (some of them die-hard members of the Communist Party) were so resistant to change: they were frightened. All the certainties that had underpinned their lives were suddenly removed. Since they’d been children they’d been told that Marxism-Leninism was the only true political philosophy and then, almost overnight, there was an ‘oops, no it’s all nonsense’ announcement.
I’ve put some of these characters in my story and though the names have been changed to protect the innocent pretty much everything is true. Just as Tonia is, I was lectured by my English teacher at university to use our lessons with English students as ‘an opportunity to prove to our British guests the superiority of the Soviet, socialist, way of life especially when compared to their rotting Capitalism’. And just like Tonia, I was thrown by a KGB officer into a mound of snow for trying to send a fax, and I watched the attempted coup of 1990 unfold on CNN (pre-Internet, CNN was a great force for freedom). And I do remember waking up to find tanks parked on the lawn outside some Moscow apartment blocks (scary).
Of course, for someone like Tonia (and me) it was a marvellous time. Suddenly the drab, dour Moscow was being brought into the modern world. How excited we were (yes, really) when the first McDonalds opened (with the two hundred metre queue to get in). And what a thrill of going abroad for the first time was – that first visit to the UK, wow! (I will write more about it later).
So what I hope I’ve done in “Ghost Love” is communicate the mix of emotions Tonia experienced as she made the transition from Communist schoolgirl to modern woman. It was fun, it was frightening, it was confusing but boy did you know you were alive!