‘Hungarian! Who invented it? My brain couldn’t retain a single word—not “thank you”, not “hello”, not “one”, “two” or “three”. I’ve never felt so much like a foreigner.’

I am complaining. I have just come to Moscow after reporting a story in the Balkans. It is 1993. I am an American journalist, but for the previous couple of years I have been spending more and more time in Moscow, the city of my birth. I am getting to know my two grandmothers, who were left behind when my family left for the United States in 1981, when I was fourteen.

‘Ah, Hungarian,’ says my grandmother as we step off the bus into the sleeting greyness of a Moscow spring. ‘Never could wrap my mind around it either. Italian, Czech, Romanian, Polish—none of those were a problem. German, French and English, of course, I knew. But Hungarian—no matter how much I struggled, I could not get past the dictionary.’

I stare down at my grandmother in surprise. I know she translates books from English and German, and that she also knows French. But Czech, Romanian, Polish? ‘What’s with all the languages?’ I ask. ‘I never knew you translated from those.’

Or did I? Let me recall what I knew before we stepped off the bus.

I knew that my grandmother Rozalia, Baba Ruzya to me, was a member of the Communist Party. When I was about ten and torn between the nauseating (but appealing) aesthetic fed to me at school and the compelling dissident sympathies of my parents, my mother told me that Baba Ruzya belonged to the Party. Reared in a closed circle of Jewish intellectual types I was not aware of anyone else I knew being a member.

‘Baba,’ I asked one day, ‘why did you join the Party?’

‘Because I believed in the goals and ideals of the Party,’ my grandmother said slowly and carefully.

I didn’t pay much attention to the past tense or the care in her reply and walked away feeling frustrated with an answer that sounded as if it came out of a school book. What I really wanted to know had nothing to do with this story. I wanted to know why the day I got my red Young Pioneer kerchief was the happiest day of my life. Why, if I had already been reading Solzhenitsyn? But that was a question about belonging, and my grandmothers’ stories are about anything but that.

I also knew something else. Sometime in the late 1970s my mother got her hands on a copy of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four. She quoted it endlessly; she told stories from it as though they were real-life anecdotes. At the kitchen table one day, she talked, with a high-pitched laugh, about the Ministry of Truth—imagine that! Imagine a place where news is routinely rewritten to fit the ideological line!

‘And what do you think I did at Glavlit?’ Baba Ruzya asked, slowly and carefully again.

Glavlit. Glav, as in glavny, or head, the chief. Lit, as in literature. Meaning the Head Directorate of Literature. Baba Ruzya tells me what she did there as we walk from the bus. At first, for three years, she worked in a department known as the Department of Control over Foreign Media. The control was exercised as soon as the foreign media—books, magazines, anything in print—crossed the border. The post office forwarded all such parcels to Glavlit, where an army of readers, known then as ‘political editors’, but, later, in their retirement documents, simply called ‘censors’, examined printed matter for signs of anti-Soviet prejudice.

‘Sometimes we stamped them “permitted”, and then they were allowed into libraries or shops,’ my grandmother says. ‘But this hardly ever happened. For the most part, we stamped things “for internal use”. I mean, sometimes you could rip a few pages out and clear it, but mostly you just had to ban it. Because there was hardly a magazine or a book where the Soviet Union was not somehow maligned. It’s not like people were sending Shakespeare and Dickens across the border. They were sending contemporary literature. All it had to contain was a phrase like, “even such an undemocratic society as the Soviet Union… “—and it would be condemned to a classified library.’

There was one man in Paris who kept sending large quantities of books and magazines to another man in some tiny village in the far north of Russia. Soon after she came to work there, one of the more experienced staff explained that the man in the far north was a member of the pre-revolutionary nobility, a scholar, perhaps a biologist, who had long ago decided not to emigrate. His brother, an artist, had moved to Paris. The scholar was arrested and exiled to the far north. On learning of his brother’s fate, the artist decided to try to improve the quality of his life by sending him reading materials. Most of these ended up in classified libraries in Moscow. ‘This biologist got tiny crumbs out of those parcels.’ Neither, of course, would ever know that more was sent or that less was received: no one was meant to know about the existence of the Department of Control over Foreign Media.

Why was my Baba Ruzya working at Glavlit? She had wanted to be a history teacher. She attended a remarkable school in the centre of Moscow, the enclave of the educated if not always the privileged. They adored their teachers there. But one was especially inspirational. She punctuated her history course with a particular expression: ‘And this is no mere coincidence.’ Ruzya saw a career in which she could also tell her pupils: ‘And this is no mere coincidence.’

‘The first, the biggest, mistake I ever made was attending the history department at the university. I knew I could never teach school. I couldn’t lie to the children.’ And there was another thing. Teachers got paid very little, and Ruzya needed money.

By 1943 she was a twenty-three-year-old war widow with a one-year-old daughter. She had a bed in one of the two rooms that belonged to her parents-in-law in a communal flat in Moscow. She had no milk; it vanished on the day she got the news that her husband had been killed. But she had a friend who said she could get her a job.

The problem with that job was Ruzya’s father. ‘He was a man who was honest beyond reproach. He never tried to convince me to quit; he just expressed his surprise tenderly.’ When he first found out about Glavlit, he said, ‘But you are doing a policeman’s work.’ Otherwise, it was better than school: ‘Here I was lying only to myself. As a teacher, I would have had to lie to forty children. Here I lied with a clear conscience, so to speak, because if I hadn’t been doing that job, someone else would have. But to lie while looking children in the eye—that would have been terrible.’

In 1946 she had been working at Glavlit for three years. She had passed the annual exams, and she was known to have an aptitude for languages. So when the Soviet government, in a fit of post-war politesse, divorced censorship from diplomacy—transferring the responsibility for censoring foreign correspondents from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Glavlit—my grandmother was chosen to work in the new department. It comprised three people who came from Foreign Affairs, three people from the Ministry of State Security (which would later become part of the KGB), and my grandmother.

There were advantages. Unlike the department that controlled foreign media—words coming into the Soviet Union—the department that controlled foreign journalists—words going out—did not lead a secret existence. Its staff had a separate entrance at the Central Telegraph office, where they worked, but that was to prevent the censors from meeting the people they were censoring. The foreign journalists knew they were there: the conditions of accreditation for foreign correspondents were that all dispatches be filed from the Central Telegraph building, where they would be cleared by the censor.

I have loved the Central Telegraph building since I was a child—for its rotating multicoloured globe, its digital clock, and its catholic architectural aspirations. My grandmother’s office had a door through which the clerk brought the dispatches, an electric bell she rang when she was done with a piece, and two telephones. She used one for routine calls, and the other when in doubt, to telephone her translation of a text directly to Stalin’s secretariat.

Every time a correspondent from a new country was accredited, she was crash-taught his language. German, French and English she knew already. Italian, Czech, Romanian, Polish—none of these were a problem. But Hungarian—no matter how much she struggled, she could not get past the dictionary.

There are two things I ought to make clear. First, almost as soon as she starts telling me about her career (as we wade through the sleet from the bus stop to the market), my grandmother declares that the head of the department, Alexei Lukich Zorin, was a good, decent man.

Second, as I listen to the story, as we wade through the sleet from the bus stop to the market place, I am surprised but not horrified, even though my Baba Ruzya has told me that for eleven key post-war years she censored what the rest of the world could learn about the Soviet Union.

There are certain things she remembers very well. Certain journalists. Walter Cronkite from UPI—he filed a lot of stories, but it was your regular wire copy stuff, dry and dull, ‘amazingly boring’. But Max Frankel from the New York Times. There was a writer to be savoured. ‘He had his own point of view, you see, and he just expressed it how he wanted, so bravely.’ She translated his articles in their entirety and sent them by messenger to Stalin’s secretary. Hours later, Frankel’s ‘corrected’ copy would go over the wire to New York. Every day at the end of her shift—generally it ended in the morning, since most dispatches went out overnight—she prepared a summary of the day’s news for Stalin’s office, mainly a circular exercise of translating back into Russian what foreign correspondents had culled from Soviet newspapers—a re-spinning of Soviet stories was pretty much all that was allowed out. ‘Altogether I worked at Glavlit for fifteen years, and never in that time did I make a mistake in translation.’ I believe her. And anyway, she would have known if she had. Mistakes were lethal.

Certain episodes she remembers very well. The Doctors’ Plot episode. The Stalin death episode. The Fellini episode.

The Doctors’ Plot began in 1952. She heard of it originally from a typist in the office. But first you have to know how frightened Ruzya was by then of losing her job. The Anti-Cosmopolitan Campaign was entering its fifth year, the fifth year of rabid official anti-Semitism, the fifth year that Jews could not find work or hold on to university places. Without her job, Ruzya and her child would have faced a desperate life. And you have to know that she was the only Jew in the department that controlled foreign correspondents, and that she was the only staff member who did not belong to the Party. By this time she was so afraid of losing her job that she would have joined—but she no longer could, because she was Jewish. And the typist said: ‘You know, they are going to exile the Jews to Siberia.’

And then the correspondents began to write stories saying the same thing. It was obvious, really; Stalin had exiled other ethnic groups in their entirety: he had moved the Chechens and the Ingush from the Caucasus to Siberian Kazakhstan; he had moved the Tartars from the Crimea, and the Germans from the Volga; and now that the Jews were the scapegoats of the nation, he would surely move them too. The Anti-Cosmopolitan drama was clearly drawing to a climax, with every Soviet newspaper hot on the heels of the Doctors’ Plot, the chilling story of a conspiracy by Jewish doctors to kill innocent Soviet citizens. They were called the ‘killers in white coats’. As the story went, there would be show trials, executions in Red Square, and pogroms throughout the country. Then, in a show of saving the Jews, the magnanimous Soviet government would exile them to northern Siberia.

The correspondents kept writing about this likely sequence of events, and she kept crossing it out. It was obvious to her that the stories were true, and it was obvious that she could not let them through, because every day that she did her job well enough to keep it was another day when she might not be deported. In effect, these correspondents were writing for her, reminding her of her future several times every night.

In the day, when she slept, she had a recurring nightmare. She is in a cattle car, cradling her ten-year-old daughter, who is asking for a drink of water. But she has no water.

When important events happened on one of Ruzya’s nights off, a messenger would appear at the door. In 1953, she was living with her parents again. In the early hours of 4 March that year, the messenger said, ‘Comrade Stalin has died, and Comrade Solodovnik is summoned to work.’ Her mother started wailing. Ruzya thought: ‘I have a moron for a mother.’

That is how my grandmother remembers it. My own mother had a different memory. She woke up to see her mother dressing for work at four in the morning. ‘Mama, what happened?’ she said.

‘Nothing important, dear. Stalin died. Go back to sleep.’

Here is an episode they both remembered. There would be no classes, the teacher announced on 4 March, because Comrade Stalin had died. The other children wailed. My mother drew a thick black frame, signifying death, around Stalin’s portrait in her textbook, and wrote HOLIDAY, signifying no school. Happening to glance at the page, the teacher ripped the textbook out of the girl’s hands and summoned her mother to the school.

‘Buy your child a new textbook and explain some things to her,’ the teacher said. We were lucky to have happened upon a teacher like that, family legend concludes: a teacher who concealed instead of informing.

After Stalin died, there were the days of carnage and fear. Gorky Street, the avenue that led past the Central Telegraph to Red Square, was closed to all vehicles and people. Parallel streets teemed with human traffic, hundreds of thousands who had walked for days to view the body of the Father of the Nation. Those who worked or lived on Gorky Street were issued special passes that enabled them to pass through the barricades of military trucks. My grandmother was one of those let through. ‘On my way to work I stopped by the stores, and it was delightful. I was able to buy things I could never have had. I bought calf tongue—imagine, calf tongue!—it cost pennies back then, it’s just that you could never get it, but there I was practically the only customer.’ But it was frightening. It was still cold, and the truck drivers kept gunning their engines, and the roar of the crowds on the other streets mixed with the roar of the engines and filled the empty street with dread.

She and her child shared a room in a giant communal flat in a basement off Trubnaya Ploshad, a square at the bottom of two hills, just below the streets that led to the Body. People fell over and got trampled in the crush. Bodies rolled down the streets on to Trubnaya Ploshad. They were carried past their basement windows—endlessly, it seemed.

‘People said, “He lived in blood and died in blood.” But you know, others, the idiots, they cried and cried. It was frightening. And then the happy day came when the newspapers announced that the doctors had been released and the investigation was stopped.’ That was on 4 April 1953, a month after Stalin died.

The censors were not allowed to have any contact with the foreign correspondents, though they had all seen my grandmother many times. As the only young woman in the department—pretty at that—she was the one designated to attend all the press conferences, posing as a Soviet correspondent.

A couple of years after Stalin’s death, the clerk came in with a dispatch and a small envelope: ‘The Italian correspondents sent this for you.’ The envelope contained a ticket to the morning show of the Italian film festival. ‘It was the first foreign film festival, you understand? It wasn’t international, it was Italian, but it was the first Western film festival here in the USSR. I was dying to go, but there was no way to get tickets. The cinemas were swamped. You see, we had no televisions in the Soviet Union then, no refrigerators even—these came much later—we had never seen… And there was a ticket, just a ticket with a seat number, for the morning show right after I finished work, and there was no note. It was my signal to act.’

She risked her job for a film. Of course, after Stalin’s death, she was risking only her job and nothing else, and after twelve years she was willing to give it up for a movie. She took precautions. She arrived at the theatre at the last minute, walked into the hall when the lights had already dimmed, and slipped out in the dark just before the end credits came up. ‘I never looked to either side of me, I was so frightened. But of course they saw me.’

She can still recount Fellini’s La Strada in detail. She has seen it twice since and cried every time. She says it’s a great film.

The correspondents were endlessly fascinated with the censor’s identity (for some reason they all seemed to assume that a single person read all their dispatches). They even had bets. At one point they decided the censor was a large man: he made heavy pencil marks.

Researching a piece in 1997 on the fortieth anniversary of the International Youth and Students Conference in Moscow, I discover that Daniel Schorr, the patriarch of American radio commentary, served as CBS correspondent in Moscow in 1956-1957.

‘You are probably too young to know this,’ Schorr tells me on the telephone, ‘but back then in the Soviet Union they had censorship for foreign correspondents.’

I know, I say. I’m not too young and I’m the censor’s granddaughter. I tell him that she is a woman, a nice old Jewish lady. I even suggest they could meet should he come to Moscow. He asks me to meet him for lunch.

One of the advantages of personal journalism is that it allows one to say what one would have said when one was really at a loss for words. When we meet in a Washington, DC, restaurant about a week later, Daniel Schorr shows me the script of his commentary for National Public Radio. It compares the conversation with me to ‘meeting your masked executioner’. In it I suggest that he meets my grandmother but he replies that he could not face a nice little old lady after hating the big guy for forty years. ‘Tell her hello,’ he says, ‘and tell her the rest of the message is deleted.’

I am a little nervous passing the message to my grandmother, but she laughs. You should hear Baba Ruzya laugh, the way it rings and rolls like the Russian ‘r’.

‘I’ve already called some of the guys and told them,’ Daniel Schorr tells me at lunch. ‘I hope you don’t mind.’ He is eighty-seven.

Almost a year later, one of the ‘guys’ calls. Martin Calb, head of the media centre at Harvard, is going to Moscow, where he served in 1959, and he wants to meet my grandmother. I’m sorry, I say, she didn’t censor you, she was already gone. He wants to meet her anyway.

She is nervous about meeting him. Will he want to know secrets? That’s not right: she did promise not to tell. Will he want to know about her? Why would he?

She just talks and tells her stories until Calb and his wife have to interrupt her because a bus is taking them to a Kremlin reception. She tells me to finish telling him the story sometime, to tell him about how she left Glavlit. ‘He is so handsome,’ she smiles.

Weeks later, I get a letter from Calb thanking me for the meeting and suggesting I apply for a fellowship at his centre. The idea that my grandmother’s job as a censor could get me a fellowship at Harvard strikes me as funny, but I don’t write back because I’m disorganized and basically lazy.

The story of how she left Glavlit was not much of a story. After the end of the Doctors’ Plot, she was finally able to join the Party. Then, after Khrushchev launched the battle against the cult of Stalin in 1956, the leadership of Glavlit changed, its ranks were purged, and she was sacked for knitting at a trade-union meeting. She had never knitted a thing in her life: someone had just been trying to teach her. In time, she began to translate books: travel and exploration, Roald Amundsen and Jacques Cousteau. Now, at seventy-eight, she makes a living translating romantic novels. She consults me about the names of car parts and sometimes on some of the raunchier terminology.

What can I tell you about my other grandmother—Ester, Baba Tusya to me? First, that she was brave enough to refuse to cooperate with the secret police. Second, that she accepted a job with the secret police. Baba Tusya spent the early war years in Siberia with her mother who was exiled for ‘religious propaganda’ (though her mother was an atheist). For months Tusya dodged the regular attempts by a certain captain in the NKVD (the People’s Committee for Internal Affairs) to draft her as an informer. The captain was, it seems, attracted to her. Perhaps this is why he did not beat her when he had her detained every few weeks. Nor did he carry out his threats to shoot her right then and there with the gun in his hand. At those times when she came close to signing, she thought of her mother—how would she look her in the eye?—and she refused. No, she did not think of what would happen to her mother if she died. She was nineteen.

Then a young man, a decorated disabled war veteran, swept in, put the NKVD captain in his place, and swept Tusya away to Moscow, where she returned to university and gave birth to a son.

She graduated in 1948, just as the Anti-Cosmopolitan Campaign was nearing full swing. ‘This was before the killer doctors, but it was already at a point that makes me sick remembering. In any case, there was no place that would hire Jews.’ She made the rounds for five months. Old teachers phoned her with leads, and she followed them up with ever decreasing hope. The same scenario unfolded again and again. ‘You see, I don’t have the typical looks, that is, not everyone can tell right off that I’m Jewish—so the way it usually worked was that my future immediate superior would happily tell me I was hired, and then the personnel department would not let me through after I filled out the application form.’ The application form included a line marked ‘ethnicity’ (often it still does). The jobs she did not get: a Latin teacher in a teacher’s college; a cataloguer of war-trophy books at the Lenin Library; a librarian at the Library of Foreign Literature; a librarian anywhere; anything at all.

Then, finally, a stroke of luck: someone called to say that the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAFC) was looking to hire an administrative assistant who knew Hebrew. Now the JAFC had to be the one place left in town that would still hire a Jew. And, since Hebrew had not been taught in Russia since 1917, there could not be very many potential administrative assistants. Baba Tusya had grown up in Poland, in a Zionist family, with Hebrew as her first language. ‘I ran, I literally ran to this Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, which was on Kropotkin Street. They tested me. I translated right off the page. I filled out an application form. They had no personnel department. They offered it to me on the spot, with a very good salary, something like 150 roubles a month. That was on a Wednesday or a Thursday, and I was to report for work on Monday.’

It was October 1948. She reported for work on Monday and came face to face with a young man in an NKVD uniform guarding the sealed door to what had been the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. It was no longer. Its leadership had been arrested. They would be tried on espionage charges, and some of them would be killed. It was a stroke of luck, really, that she had not yet started work.

Not that she was thinking about that. Or about the fact that she might still be arrested: there was, after all, a record of her hiring that had been seized along with all the other JAFC papers. She was hysterical, she says. She was job-hunting again, with less hope than ever. She had an elderly mother, a son who was not yet four, and a husband who did not make much money. Her mother had once complained to a paediatrician that the boy’s eyes showed ‘two thousand years of the Jewish people’s sorrow’. At his age, the doctor responded, ‘Jewish sorrow can only be caused by malnutrition.’

And then my grandmother got a summons. A phone call, actually, but at that time people could be arrested in many different ways: any time of the day or night, by a single person or a squad, taken away by foot, by car, by bread truck. They telephoned to tell her to report to Lubyanka, the headquarters of the secret police, at ten on the following day.

Everyone cried, no one slept, and her husband promised to raise the boy and care for her mother. They packed the usual basket: dried bread, sugar, soap, a sweater and a change of underwear. She had forgotten all about the JAFC; she thought she was being arrested for the congratulatory telegram she had sent to a Zionist organization in Warsaw on the occasion of the founding of the state of Israel. Decades later, she would learn that hers was the only telegram sent by a private individual from the USSR. She had been unable to restrain herself.

‘So I take my basket and go to Lubyanka—oh, pardon me, at that time it was called Dzerzhinsky Square. I go to the entrance door they told me to go to. The guard looks in my bag, laughs like it’s very funny, and says, “Young lady, people with these bags go through the other door. But that’s all right. Leave it here so you can pick it up when you leave.” He calls on the telephone and says, “Someone will take you to Major Ivanova’s office.”‘

The summons—the phone call—was a stroke of luck.

‘So they take me to this woman. I was just a girl then—how old was I?—twenty-five. And here is a woman of about forty who greets me ever so nicely. She offers me a seat, and, shivering, I sit down. And she tells me they want to offer me a job, the position of a translator from Hebrew. I am in shock.’

It was a simple proposition. The state of Israel had just been formed, and the Soviet Union had been the first country to recognize it. There was suddenly official and unofficial international communication in Hebrew, and the Soviet secret police did not have a single staff member who knew Hebrew. The Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee’s records had been seized when its leadership was arrested, and among these records was an application form filled out by a certain Ester Gessen, twenty-five, who knew Hebrew.

Major Ivanova, meanwhile, kept talking. ‘She was painting a rosy picture of my future. I would have flexible hours. I would not have enough work to last an entire work day and I wouldn’t have to sit there in the office. The pay would be even better than at the Anti-Fascist Committee, and I would have the rank of lieutenant right off. And before long I would be a major.

‘I told her I’d have to consult my family. And that I would give her an answer tomorrow, and that I would come at the same time the following day but that now I had to run home. And she said, “Yes, of course, I understand,” and she even made a joke, “Everyone must have got scared when we summoned you here.” And I said, “Yes, and they are still terrified, and I want to go tell them I’m fine.” And I went home, where I was received as though I’d just come back from the dead.’

She accepted the job.

I ought to be able to pause to explore the agony of the decision. How did a girl who had risked everything to resist cooperating with the secret police decide, in a matter of hours, to become its lieutenant? I’m afraid it’s all very simple. It is better to have a lieutenant for a mother, a daughter, a wife, than not to have the mother, the daughter, the wife. It is better to work and to eat than to despair and count kopeks and be embarrassed by paediatricians.

‘My God, we won’t be able to say a word in the house any more!’ Tusya’s mother-in-law exclaimed.

‘We knew we’d lose most of our friends,’ Baba Tusya explains. ‘No, not because they’d deplore the decision but because they’d be frightened. But then I consoled myself with the idea that I would just be translating.’

Major Ivanova’s patience lasted until the evening, when she phoned, and Tusya accepted the job.

The next day she spent an hour filling out a book-length application form. Major Ivanova clickety-clicked into another room and returned a few minutes later with the words, ‘Congratulations! You have been hired. Now only the medical examination is left.’ Off she marched to the NKVD clinic.

‘There have been few times in my life when I experienced such spiteful satisfaction. It had clearly been years since a Jew had come in for a medical examination at the NKVD clinic. And here I was, Ester Gessen, and you can imagine: the entire clinic was chasing around after me, dying to know what my position would be. And I assumed a proud pose and said, “It is a state secret, which I cannot disclose.”‘

Baba Tusya tends to forget that she is blind in one eye. Indeed, Major Ivanova had asked whether she had any health problems: Major Ivanova wanted Ester Gessen so badly she would have been willing to fix any problems raised by the clinic in advance. But my grandmother always forgets that she is blind in one eye, and she forgot to tell Major Ivanova. The major was beside herself when the last doctor on the medical committee, an optometrist, ruled my grandmother unsuitable for service. Ivanova extracted a promise from Tusya that she would return six months later, when the records of the medical examination had been destroyed, and try again.

‘And I went home. I can’t say that I was devastated. I was sad because I’d already got my expectations up. But then I thought, maybe it was a stroke of luck. And maybe I shouldn’t go to work for the NKVD. Maybe we’d just manage somehow.’

Before the six months were up, Tusya got a job with a new Polish-language journal where she worked until she retired more than forty years later. Major Ivanova was devastated.

What else can I tell you about Baba Ruzya and Baba Tusya? First, that they have been best friends since 1950. Second, that they are colleagues as translators. Third, that they seem to hold conflicting opinions on everything, with the possible exception of a single traditional toast, pronounced at the end of an evening. It goes like this: ‘May they all croak.’ Meaning them—Comrade Stalin and all the other comrade monsters.

The obvious questions remain: where do crimes begin and end, and who, decades later, can be held responsible?

As I write this, my world, the world for which I returned from the United States, the world in which I reinvented myself as a Russian journalist just as the rest of the country was reinventing itself—this world is tumbling down. The others are coming back, may they all croak, and I know why this is. It is because we did not expose them, we did not try them, we did not judge them. We did not enumerate their crimes, and we did not say where they started and ended.

I know why this is. We all have our grandmothers. Merely by asking such questions each one of us risks betraying someone we love.

 

 

Photograph © Christopher Paquette

The River Potudan
The Last Eighteen Drops