Leonid joined the university faculty, after graduating with great distinction, and made his father proud. Then, to the chagrin of his father and his mathematician colleagues, he left the university and joined government service. The petroleum ministry offered greater prestige and better pay. His salary doubled and the apartment he was allotted on the elite Smolensky Prospekt in Arbat was quadruple the size of his father’s modest flat in rundown Ulitsa Kosygina.
He was embarrassed to invite his parents to his comparatively luxurious home, but his girlfriend, Nadia, who also taught in the university and had moved in with him, persuaded him to overcome his qualms. The parents were duly impressed by his new lodging and Victor was reassured to find that his son was using his expertise to develop complex algorithms in the country’s interest. Surely he hadn’t lost touch with mathematics.
That is how we met in Tokyo, where we both came to work on the same project eight years later. Slim, rugged, almost athletic, he was a fast walker but slow talker, given to stating his view concisely and directly, then softening the impact with a short, lucid explanation. When I knew him better, I facetiously told him that the first part came from his immersion in the Russian bureaucracy, and the latter from his admiration for his gifted father. He was no doubt a star analyst, but he supplemented that with a conceptual flair that placed him in a class by himself. His reports were characteristic: they were short on elegance, but long, brilliantly so, on analysis and depth. English forever remained an alien idiom to him, but his prose was defiantly luminous in precision.
We became friends when I realized that he was as earnest in his relationships as in his work. He meant what little he said. His warmth was genuine, his sincerity consistent. Gradually I learned his painful secrets. Though he lived in Geneva comfortably with his wife Nadia, he was not permitted by his government to have both his daughters with him. If Gelya was with him, attending school, Galya had to be in Moscow with his parents, as a guarantee of his return. He was well paid by the UN agency, but he was privately required remit a quarter of his dollar salary to his government, then lacking in foreign exchange. He still remained amazingly dedicated both to his work and to his country.
But he was also truly a son of Russia. After a long day in Tokyo, he would sit in a terraced izakaya, sip warmed saké and tell me of his family, his parents, of Moscow and of vodka. He was content to drink wine with me, but his heart always craved for good Russian vodka. He taught me the right way to drink vodka, possibly a family legacy: freeze the silver liquid for at least two hours and then drink it – straight, of course. Vermouth, verboten; ice, an abomination. That lesson, though not of mathematics, I will remember.