I was born in the afternoon of March 14, when a fault opened deep below Bucharest. The inky tips of seismographic recording needles trembled as the tectonic blow rolled through the Carpathians toward Kiev and Moscow, gradually receding. The face of the world was distorted, as if in a fun-house mirror: avalanches fell from mountains, asphalt roads buckled, railroad tracks turned into snakes. Flags shook on flagpoles, automatic guns rang out in arsenals, barbed wire across state borders broke under the strain; chandeliers in apartments and frozen carcasses in meat processing plants swung like metronomes; furniture on upper floors swayed and scraped. The thousand-kilometer convulsion of the earth’s uterus gave a gentle push to the concrete capsules of missile silos, shook coal onto the heads of miners, and lifted trawlers and destroyers on a wave’s swell.
My mother was in the maternity ward, but her contractions had not started. The tectonic wave reached Moscow, shook the limestone bedrock of the capital, ran along the floating aquifers of rivers, gently grasped the foundations and pilings; an enormous invisible hand shook the skyscrapers, the Ostankino and Shukhov towers, water splashed against the gates of river locks; dishes rattled in hutches, window glass trembled. People called the police—“ our house is shaking”—some ran outside, others headed straight for the bomb shelters. Of course, there was no general panic, but this was the first time since the German bombing that Moscow reeled …
Mother worked at the Ministry of Geology and was part of a special commission that studied the causes and consequences of natural disasters…When the maternity ward was shaken by a gentle wave from the center of the earth, my mother was the only person to understand what was happening, and the unexpectedness of it, the fear that the earth’s tremor had pursued her and found her in the safety of Moscow and induced her into labor. The earthquake was my first impression of being: the world was revealed to me as instability, shakiness, the wobbliness of foundations. My father was a scholar, a specialist in catastrophe theory, and his child was born at the moment of the manifestation of forces that he studied, as he lived, without knowing it, in unison with the cycles of earth, water, wind, comets, eclipses, and solar flares, and I, his flesh and blood, appeared as the child of these cycles.