Zhenia Luvers’s first memories are of Perm, a gloomy northern city not far removed from a state of nature: Bearskin rugs are made from local animals; during the spring, weeds sprout and trees bud overnight; ice floes pass by on the river. Mr. Luvers manages a mine and spends little time with his children. Occasionally he is seen playing cards or discussing his dealings with factory owners. A series of governesses tend to Zhenia. She is educated first by an Englishwoman she scarcely remembers and then by a French tutor who burdens her with the conjugation of difficult verbs. When Zhenia is thirteen, she feels strangely ill and inadvertently leaves bloodstains on a bearskin rug and on her clothes. She takes the maid’s powder and attempts to efface the red marks, and a family confrontation takes place. Mrs. Luvers upbraids Zhenia at first and in the end dismisses the Frenchwoman. Subsequently, and quite more insistently than for previous visits, her mother arranges for a doctor to examine Zhenia. Some time later, and quite to her surprise, Zhenia learns that the family will move southeast to a city beyond the Urals.
At first, Zhenia is enchanted with her new surroundings, which she persistently regards as “Asian.” Ekaterinburg is clear, clean, and spacious. The exotic and the commonplace mingle easily. Zhenia is entranced by Tatar children from the region; she makes friends with a local girl, Liza Defendova. When she is transferred from the city’s lycee and is given private lessons at home, Zhenia is more upset than her friend that they will no longer meet in school. Zhenia’s lessons do not always come easily—good-naturedly, she spells some...
(The entire section is 682 words.)