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closed world of the kommunalka , where space and family size were often mismatched and
families with large rooms were often deeply resented by families with small ones.” She told
the story—not uncommon—of a Moscow apartment where one family essentially spied on
another, “writing denunciations to various local authorities. The result was [that] the fam-
ily was successively disenfranchised, refused passports and finally, after the father's arrest,
evicted.” But “against the horror stories,” she added, “must be put the recollections of a
minority whose neighbors in communal apartments were mutually supportive and came to
constitute a kind of extended family.” Many of those positive memories came from Rus-
sians who, like Boris, lived in these environments as children. They had “less developed
private-property instincts than their parents, often liked having other children to play with
and found it interesting to observe so many varieties of adult behavior.”
S ERGEI AND BORIS had different Soviet upbringings. Sergei, in that ramshackle house out-
side Donetsk, Ukraine, is the son of a coal miner. And Boris was the urban kid in Moscow's
over-packed communal apartments. Neither experience was easy. Both experiences shaped
who these men are.
Boris lost touch with Gia and thought he'd never see him again. But then a decade later,
as a teenager, Boris was in a hotel lobby in Moscow, and felt a tap on his shoulder.
“I didn't recognize him until he started speaking. But it was Gia. I can't explain how
exciting this was.”
Gia and his mother had come to Moscow from Georgia for a soccer game. They ended
up skipping the game and drinking all night with Boris.
“When I got home, my dad was furious at me for being drunk. Until I told him I was
with Gia and his mom. He was so very happy.”
Boris calls Gia his “pervy droog”—first friend. After the unexpected reunion, they
stayed in touch. But once the Soviet Union fell, things got complicated. Boris and Gia lived
in different countries—Boris in Russia, Gia in Georgia. Boris did take a few trips to Geor-
gia. The first time he visited Gia, though, Boris never saw any of Georgia, even though it
was his first time in the country.
“We just spent three days straight in Gia's house, eating Georgian food, drinking wine,
and talking about everything.” Boris had to promise his wife that on their next trip, they
would be tourists and see more of Georgia than a dining room table and the bottoms of wine
glasses. “Gia died of cancer several years ago,” Boris said. He paused in thought, perhaps
chronicling the relationship through the years in his mind. Whatever memory he settled on
brought his big lips into a smile.
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