Out of Russia: Kissing and telling - Slav-style

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The Independent Online
MOSCOW - An aspiring and far from modest author herself, she suggested a rendezvous at the statue to Russia's greatest writer, Pushkin, across the road from McDonald's. That is about as far as her interest in the classics goes, aside from a fascination with the raunchier side of Balzac.

Twenty-four-years old and a very long way from her home town of Khabarovsk on the Amur River next to China, Dariya Aslamova is Russia's pioneer of a literary genre usually referred to as 'kiss-and-tell'. She caused a stir nearly two years ago when, in the midst of a raucous meeting of the since abolished - or rather blown up - Congress of People's Deputies, she published her account of a brief fling with Ruslan Khasbulatov, the parliamentary leader. (He supposedly asked her up to his Moscow flat to admire his pipe collection.) The claim seemed, at the time, to help, not hurt his reputation.

Aslamova promised back in 1992 to write a book-length version of her assorted adventures. The literary venture got held up by other projects, including a marriage to a Moscow fruit-importer, trips to war zones such as South Ossetia and Nagorny Karabakh and an appearance in the Russian Penthouse. But finally the book is out, entitled Notes of a Naughty Girl, printed last month in Estonia and ready to go into a second print-run of 80,000 copies. The reviews have been terrible. 'Burnt out by her own consumptive vanity,' was how Fyodor Romer, a literary critic, described it.

'They call me all kinds of bad things,' said a heavily-made up Aslamova, sipping diet lemon soda in an outdoor cafe in Pushkin Square. 'As far as I'm concerned, the worse the better. Who is ever interested in good people?' This, in a nutshell, is her life, which she declares a dazzling success - a tale of a Russian Cinderella transported from a provincial backwater to what must now rank as one of the world's most wild, squalid and exhilarating cities. Her book relates it all in sordid detail, from dormitory life at Moscow State University, where she studied journalism, lost her virginity and washed scarce Soviet condoms, to escapades on the front line for Kommsomolskaya Pravda.

This, she claims, is the life millions of other Russians dream about as they devour each episode of Simply Maria or whatever other Latin American soap opera is showing on Russian television. 'My life is like a fairy tale.'

Her publisher thinks so too. 'No other Russian woman has ever written so openly,' explained Alexander Ulybin. 'For me personally her description of life in a dormitory was so close.' He resents critics who call the work vulgar: 'It is a lot better than all those women's novels. They are all snot and sugar.'

It is tempting in all this to see the much-maligned or pitied figure of the New Russian. Aslamova comes from the same world in which young women tell opinion pollsters that their greatest ambition in life is to become a hard- currency prostitute. 'How can one act in an acceptable way when we do not have an acceptable society?' she asks. 'Perhaps when there are some standards again lost morals will come back.' But there is an element of cold, hard- as-nails cunning to suggest that while society may be adrift Aslamova herself is far from lost, at least not quite yet.

Her worship of money is absolute and unabashed: 'I could never love a poor man,' she tells me. Her other motif is sex. 'Look at history. Which women get remembered? They are the ones who know how to attract men. Very few women get remembered for their intelligence. From Cleopatra on it has always been this way.' (Magaret Thatcher, she says, is a rare exception.) Sex is a woman's 'trump card'. Feminism is a women's curse: 'Look at America. Where are all their men running to? To Russia to find good Slavic women.'

As for Mr Khasbulatov - his career in Moscow demolished by Boris Yeltsin's tanks but attempting a come-back in the smaller arena of his native Chechnya - Aslamova has nothing but admiration: 'He is a true adventurer with a big A. A gigantic person, a little Napoleon. I don't like his politics but I love his character.' She has reason to gush. Her alleged acquaintance with him, fleeting even by her own account, has made her a minor celebrity. Her book, though, is dedicated to none of her past conquests. That honour goes to her new husband. I wish him luck.