Click here for the book’s first chapter, which begins:

Everything is familiar yet strange. The postal coach, dirty and rickety; the road, rutted and dusty; and the city of Ryazan we are approaching now, drab and ordinary. The buildings seem smaller and poorer. But that must be me and not the city. When I left this place ten years ago as a boy, the buildings seemed more impressive. Some things haven’t changed at all; the city is the same 100 miles southeast of Moscow, though even that distance seems shorter now. And it feels strange, too, to be back. I thought I would never see this place again. For so long I tried not to think about the estate. And I had succeeded on the whole, guarding only the vague memory I shall always carry, of a dark night and the outline of a woman’s face over my crib. That was all I took with me. Well, at least until the summons from my father came.