WHEN I was kid, the only Russia I knew existed in books or the movies. It was a 19th-century landscape woven by Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Dostoyevsky, populated by aristocrats and serfs who had no clue that communism was coming. Or it was the cold headquarters of diabolical spies like the intelligence chief in “From Russia with Love’’ who stabbed James Bond with a knife in her shoe; the home of that boxer in “Rocky IV’’ whose soulless ambition and artificial muscles embodied everything we imagined the Soviet Union to be.
Since the end of the Cold War, I have missed Russia, which seemed to recede even beyond the reaches of my imagination. News reports about oligarchs who gobbled up public companies, journalists who turned up murdered, and elections that got rigged always leave me bewildered and struck by a vague sense of guilt. We were so confident that capitalism would give Russians a bright future. How could everything have gone so wrong?