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She had moved to Germany to be a writer but quickly found there wasn’t very much to write about. Germany was calm. The people were friendly and straightforward. If you managed a few words of German they would say, “Your German is very good.” When you gave them exact change they would smile.
She got a job at a news agency. Everyone she interviewed told her that the country was built on stability. “The postwar model is consensus,” they said. The election had happened and her job mainly was to explain what the different colors meant when the parties came together for coalitions. Red and black meant center. Black and yellow meant right. Red and green meant left. Black, green, and yellow was the one the politicians settled on. It meant that none of the parties got along. They called this arrangement Jamaica, because the colors were the same as the Jamaican flag. “If there’s a Jamaica government, will more Germans travel to the Caribbean?” was one of the headlines she read on her morning review of local news.
There was no Jamaica government. She spent all night in the Parliament on assignment with the news agency, waiting for the government to come together. She was there with a French cameraman. The French cameraman kept asking about her thoughts on English translations of Proust. She hadn’t read Proust and felt embarrassed. She wanted to be a writer and Proust was the man you read if you were going to write. She didn’t want to lie to the French cameraman. He was very handsome and kept giving her Haribo gummy bears he had brought in his backpack.
At four o’clock in the morning Angela Merkel [End Page 150] left the Parliament, got into her car, and drove away. The cameraman cursed. He had only gotten a shot of the top of Merkel’s head! Another politician came out of the building and announced that he was breaking off the negotiations. There had been too many disagreements. As he got into his car, she noticed that he was young and well-dressed. He looked like he was already thinking of the next step in his political career. They got a good shot of him. “We have great footage,” said the cameraman. They sat in the hallway of the Parliament by a stack of empty pizza boxes and sent the video to the office in London. At 7 a.m. they hugged and she went home. A few weeks later, there was a different government and it was the same as the one Germany had had before.
A friend from Berlin moved to Moscow and began sending her dispatches about the political scene in Russia. There was going to be an election and it was very important. No one knew what was going to happen. When you asked experts about it, they would say, “It’s too early to know.” Or else they said, “There are multiple possibilities.” Sometimes they would say, “The outcome of the Russian election will determine the future of the West.”
The friend had been following the campaign of Dmitri Narodny, a dissident who lived in the North and who was held under house arrest. The official charge was corruption, but really it was for organizing too many protests, said the friend. He had been challenging the president for many years. “They may let him run,” the friend wrote. “If he does, he could pose a real threat to the present situation. He could really change the thing.” He sent her a picture from one of the protests. An old woman was being carried by five policemen into a truck. Her forehead had been hit and blood trailed below her.
She looked at the picture. She googled “Dmitri Narodny” and there it was, the familiar face: thin lips and doughy cheeks and eyes that looked like they might turn cruel at any moment. She went to the website and scrolled down. “Andrei Ivanov—Press Secretary.” She clicked on the name and wrote:
Dear Mr. Ivanov,
I am an American writer...