6.12.1913  -  12.12.2002

Books of N.M.Amosov

Recollections. Love

When I began this book, I had the feeling I didn't remember anything. Later, I got a clear picture of my life: the sequence of events, my feelings and emotions at different times — everything. What I couldn't catch were the proper words: I recalled facts and the content of important conversations, but I was unable to find the exact words. I had to invent them, and that was what I didn't want to.


The first period of my life with four roommates lasted the entire winter. That was a period of adaptation when we mastered our trade and learned about human relations. My spirits weren't low, although I missed solitude and wasn't accustomed to be in the company of people all the time. On rare occasions, I was left alone, thinking about something important to me.

I was interested in equipment and technology at that time.

During that first winter at the power plant, I was assigned to a very interesting job in addition to my direct duties — to teach workers, preparing them for entrance exams at a polytechnical school. First, I taught stokers, then, turbine operators. I had to teach them the basics of physics, telling about the principles on which the operation of machines was based and elementary draughting. They enjoyed those classes: it was as if they were learning to write all over again.

My students were a motley crowd, but most of them had at least three of four grades of elementary school. (Seven grades were considered a high-school education then.) So, they enjoyed their classes and never missed them. It was difficult to get textbooks and manuals. Therefore, I had to dictate a lot, and they were slow at writing everything down. Final exams were taken before a special board; all of them were nervous, of course, and I was no exception. I learned many things myself from those classes, discovering new facets and dimensions in other people.

The course for turbine operators consisted of two parts. The higher level was particularly interesting to teach. I wasn't paid for that job; it was voluntary social work.

That was the winter of 1932—1933.

Spring begins late in Arkhangelsk; even in the middle of May trees are completely bare. The days, however, get longer, and it's easier to work. By the spring 1933, only two of us, Seva and myself, were left in the room. Konstantin had left for Moscow, and Pavel Prokopiev had found a better place to live at the liquor factory where he was working.

So, spring came, breaking the ice on the Dvina River. In its efforts, it was assisted by a small ice-breaker that even acted as a ferry-boat, taking people from Solombala to the other bank for several days. A tiny boat it was; I thought ice-breakers were different, judging from pictures and what I had seen in the movies.

The old male company had broken up by summer and a new one was formed: two more graduates came from Cherepovets — Leonid Tetyuev and Anatoly Smirnov. Leonid and I had gone to second grade together.

Both of them worked as shift foremen at the saw mill, as we did at the power plant. But their job was much more difficult than ours: they had to take care of twelve mechanical saws which operated round the clock. They often worked three or four hours of overtime, supervising the repairs. They came home wearing dirty clothes and dropped from tiredness. Both lived in the same house where the canteen was...

Not far from our house was another barrack where girls from the construction department lived (the streets didn't have names at that time, and the houses were distinguished only by numbers). Among those girls, there were two: one was Eugenia and the other, Alya (let's call her that, since I don't want to mention my first wife's real name: maybe she wouldn't like it). Soon, another Eugenia joined them. She had become Leonid's wife when he came home, badly wounded during the war.

The room they lived in was a small one with tiny beds — we had larger ones in ours — covered with white coverlets.

I spotted Eugenia and Alya in the engineers' cafeteria soon after our arrival: they had come to the plant somewhat earlier. I recall Alya standing at the cashier's table. Dressed in a leather jacket, with a fur-collar, she looked very lovely: all the men cast side-long glances at her and spoke in exaggeratedly loud voices. I also remember that she was wearing woolen socks, and her pose was really artistic, with one foot delicately turned to the side.

I kept watching them for some nine months, hesitating to come up and start a conversation. Maybe I had an inferiority complex. I think it was Vladimir Skroznikov who introduced us to each other, but I don't remember how it happened.

It is difficult to write about Love: no other human feeling has been so trotten upon by words. And it is not by chance: no other feeling equals Love in importance and significance...

Love stems from biology: the genes carry a coded programme of reproduction. To realize this programme, one needs communication with the opposite sex, selective choice of partner, and appropriate actions. Actions are based on stimuli. And the stimuli depend on requirements. The requirements are expressed in feelings and emotions. Education contributes either to their training or detraining. This is a simple arithmetics of human behaviour: Admiration, Ideal, Beauty. One feels an urge to look, and look... Soon, this desire tends to weaken because of adaptation. Hence, the need to get closer and communicate. What is needed is feedback. If rejected, so what? The period of sighs and depression will end sooner or later. The acknowledgement of your feelings and attitudes, encouragement and recognition, on the other hand, brings happiness. At first, there is an impression that nothing else is needed. But this is only in the beginning, because adaptation develops in this case also. Therefore, one has to touch his partner, to get into closer contact. This phase is followed by searching caresses. Then... comes the rest. Interruptions are possible at every stage. They may be short or extended, depending on character (communicative or calm), level of education, and feedback. If everything goes well, happiness tends to augment and increase; the charms of every stage remain always with you, staying alive, as it were. The beloved is always within you — the effect of presence, as some people call it. All your actions and thoughts are measured against her: what will her reactions and attitudes be? Everything belongs her, the "object," even the subjectivity of judgement. My God, what a partiality! One simply forgets that he has eyes and ears, to say nothing about reason! Is she beautiful? Definitely. Maybe not as perfect as a Roman or Greek Goddess, but attractive nonetheless. Undoubtedly, she has common sense (even if she cannot put two words together). Never mind: she'll learn with time! Is she kind? You bet! In short, if your beloved does not possess all the qualities you expected of her, you tend to explain this by the hardships of her past.

Now, when you are together, everything will change for the better... Et cetera, et cetera...

So, the sequence of phases: to look, to communicate, to touch, to caress, to make love... Or: no looking, no talking, no touches, no caresses, just love-making. Everything depends on the type and education of both partners and circumstances.

"What an ugly picture he has depicted! A false one, by the way. The author is just a dirty old man who has either forgotten everything or has never been in love," the reader may think.

Yes, love is beautiful. Even its rude and animal phases against which our idealism and the deification of man revolt. But love is particularly beautiful when both partners harmoniously combine everything: beauty, emotions, passions, reason... and character. Only then will love survive the adaptation that mercilessly deprives us of exaggerations and romanticism.

If one proceeds from the tenets of cybernetics, the following picture of love can be modelled: it develops and evolves according to the law of positive feedback. First, the effect enhances the initial external impact, but once the limit is achieved, even the slightest diminishing of the effect will ruin love like a house of cards that is easily toppled. The stream of emotions gets weaker and weaker, bringing us down to earth. Here comes recovery. No, even a worse thing: reevaluation of the entire situation, with a negative sign.

Yes, indeed, love is a tricky and perfiding thing. To love, one needs reason. "If only the young had wisdom; if only the old had strength..." old men who have not been too lucky in life usually say.

Our love was a textbook case: the "presence," "possession," "integration"... Every minute I asked myself what she was doing at the moment, what her reaction would be. I'm writing now about Alya. In fact, a classical version of platonic, pure love had developed. We met in the canteen, exchanged books, went skiing, to the movies or theatre — it was far away from our place: five kilometres there and five back.

There were no kisses; occasionally, we walked arm in arm, talking and talking. Both of us looked forward to going to the university. At least, I was dreaming of it. Probably she was thinking of it, too: women have a remarkable ability to emit reflected light.

Who knows, this platonic affair might have dragged on indefinitely, but jealousy gave the course of events a new and powerful impetus. I was jealous of Vladimir Skroznikov's attachment to Alya, although he had been married for two years to Maria, a very beautiful woman who, frankly speaking, was not a girl to talk to. Therefore, he was also attracted by Alya and her girlfriend: boys will be boys. I don't know how serious his intentions were or how far he had gone with them. Nor do I know how strong was the feedback, but I got the impression that they were seeing each other.

It was the 7th of February, and I was working on the night shift. Anatoly and Leonid phoned me around one in the morning to say that there had been a tea party in the girls' room. Alya and Vladimir had gone for a walk afterwards, and they were not back yet.

That was the most jealous night in my life. I had read a lot of novels and kept looking at myself from the outside as it were. "What a-fool you are! You don't dare to kiss her, while another one..." — I kept saying to myself. The thing is that Vladimir did not think too highly of women, including his wife. "You have to put an end to this affair! Immediately!"

At two in the morning, they informed me that Alya was back.

I finished the shift and went home, but I couldn't sleep at all. At eleven, I went to the canteen to have my breakfast. Alya and her girlfriend joined me as if nothing had happened. Eugenia might have told Alya about the phone calls...

There was a long and serious talk after breakfast. I don't remember what we were trying to explain each other, but in the evening, my friends brought Alya's bed and other things to my room. That's how we got married.

Everything went well in the beginning, although there were certain difficulties in some areas. As I realized later, it had been my imagination. My suspicions about Vladimir proved unfounded, but our friendship ended after that dreadful night.

So, that was the situation on the "love front," as Mikhail Zoschenko, a famous Russian humorist once said. In principle, that "front" ranked third on my priority list, excluding some acute and unforeseen moments, of course. The highest priority was attached to work, and my passion for innovations and design was second. The latter took ten years of my life and a lot of energy.

I do recall my first year at the polytechnical college and the emergency situation at the Kemsk lumber yard on the bank of the Kovzha River. I had just turned sixteen at that time. It was winter, and our entire group — thirty students — were staying in two rooms. We were sleeping on plank-beds, crowded as sardines in a tin, and the work was very hard: we were transporting boards and putting them in piles. The lice didn't spare us. In spite of all the difficulties and bad conditions, I spent all my free time working on a design for a new steam engine.

Back at college, I began to design a special device that would place boards in piles, liberating people from that dull and monotonous manual job. It took me a year to make the numerous drawings, and I hoped that my design would be accepted. No, I was not waiting for awards or money; I was just interested in the work. Once the task was completed, I lost any interest in it. Another year had passed before I took the design to the Bureau of Innovations and Discoveries of the North Lumber & Timber Corporation in Arkhangelsk. Naturally, no action was taken on the basis of my proposal. But I was not offended; moreover, I didn't even inquire about their opinion. While working at the power plant, I invented a straight-through boiler. Later, as a university student, I invented an aircraft with steam engine. (I'll tell you about that later, if there is time.) That design won me a diploma in engineering. I graduated cum laude and that was all. The only design that materialized and worked well was our first AIK machine that was developed in 1957. The drawing of this AIK machine is preserved in the clinic's museum.

I was a lousy inventor, to tell the truth.

I was eager to continue my education, but I had to work three years before I could go to the university. I was too impatient to wait that long, and in spring 1934, I passed the entrance exams and was admitted to the correspondence course of the National Industrial Institute in Moscow. Thus I became a student in the power engineering department. (There was such department at that time.)

But the ultimate goal — another catch phrase — was not engineering, but the natural sciences with an emphasis on biology. Technological innovations were just a hobby and nothing more. The university — that's what I was striving for!

Alya was also captivated by the idea of furthering her education and was zealously reading up for exams. In summer, I managed to bypass the rules and regulations and got the necessary papers that made me eligible to go to the university. (Culpa mea, mea ultima culpa!) In short, we applied to the Leningrad University, Department of Biology. However, there were some complications: Mama was seriously ill, and I had to support her. Where could I get the money? For a start, I decided to sell my books and then find a job. I had accumulated quite a library during the last two years, spending all my spare money on them. The books were on different subjects, mainly on science and technology. I tried to sell them in Arkhangelsk, but in vain: no one wanted the stuff. Finally, I had no choice but to send them to Leningrad by train. The box of books was a heavy one: we barely managed to carry it, Leonid and I. As I recall, the books were worth some five hundred roubles.

Mama was not informed about my marriage: Alya and I had agreed that on the way to Leningrad we would see her. The visit was a depressing one, but that's another story, and I'm not going to dwell on it here.

We were waiting for a notice that we should come to the university, to take our exams, but nothing arrived from Leningrad. We left on the seventh of August without any. As it turnd out later, there had been some mix-up, and the exams were in full swing. We were allowed to join the applicants, and we had to catch up with them: the competition was really tough... What troubled me most was that no second-hand book store wanted my books. Wherever I went, I got a straightforward answer: "We have more than enough." The situation was desperate, to put it mildly.

Finally, we decided against taking the exams. Alya left for Arkhangelsk and successfully passed the exams at the local medical institute which had opened two years before. I went to Olkhovo once more and spent two weeks there in distress. My vacation was over, so I went back to the power plant. Life continued; my wife was a student now and had to cover long distances every day to attend class. I got used to waiting for her to come back every evening...

So, I continued my studies via correspondence. That was an intensive period: it took me one semester to complete the course in higher mathematics, and I passed the. exam in it at the local institute of forestry. I can't claim that the grades I got were the highest, but the main thing is that I passed it. Moreover, it was the longest exam I ever had in my life. I took it with the day students. The professor nearly exhausted me with problems which covered all the areas of higher mathematics. The exam lasted eight hours, and when I left the room, I felt intoxicated with happiness though I was dead tired. It was no peanuts to cover the entire mathematics course in one day, but it was important for self-assertion (and in my wife's eyes, as well).

The physics exam was in the spring, along with thermodynamics and some social disciplines. Alya also did well. She had brains. And beauty, too.

However, I was not satisfied with the correspondence course. I knew enough about power plants and had no wish nor desire to become a chief engineer. I was looking forward to becoming a full-time student. Besides, there was another factor that compelled me — I was approaching draft age.

Once again, I opted for the university, this time in Moscow. I got my exam notice and set off for the capital. There was an unpleasant surprise awaiting me in Moscow: the people on the examination board informed me that I had to get the highest marks to become a student, because I was a civil servant, and preferential terms were accorded to workers and farmers. I had a strong premonition that the university was not for me. Moreover, I had a week point — bad grammar. Even today, though I am a professor and a writer, I still make grammatical errors: the basics taught at high school were not good enough. I said frankly that I was afraid of my poor grammar. The charming lady who was talking with me said with a laugh: "That's bad luck. This is Moscow University!"

So I could do nothing else but take my papers and leave for Arkhangelsk were I enrolled in the medical institute. Even my gram­matical mistakes did not spoil my success: they were short of applicants!

Thus, my working career at the power plant ended. To be precise, it was not the end yet: in spring and summer, I continued to work in my previous capacity on night shifts and even managed to draw a heat supply diagram of the plant (an extra job I was paid for). As a student, I continued to give classes in the ABCs of technical knowledge for workers at different plants and factories. But not mine — I was ashamed to take money for the work. That sort of existence continued until my fourth year of medical school.


In the beginning, I thought I would write only about the most important moments of my life, highlighting milestones, as it were. I had no intention of writing an autobiography — there has been nothing extraordinary about my life. What I had in mind was to get a better understanding of people, life and myself. The original idea has resulted in a bulky manuscript, and much remains outside its scope.

The epoch and milieu are the most important elements of any study. More than fifty years have passed since the time I'm writing about. The plant I was working at had just been built as part of the national industrialization plan; it stood on a marsh and housed equipment that had been bought abroad for hard currency.

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then, and it's only natural that I want to sum up my life and compare the past with the present. I have always been interested in social problems, and often sceptical about many aspects of them. As a young man, I toiled amidst the working class, at the lowest level of the bureaucratic ladder. Therefore, my impressions are those of an eye-witness, balanced and time-tested.

The people of that time were honest in their attitude towards work. I simply can't recall an elementary loafer — nobody pandered to them. There were lazy bones, of course, — no society is free of them — but even they were ashamed to show off their innate laziness before their comrades. Absenteeism from job was a rare phenomenon, and very few people came late. True, the law about late-comers was still in effect: anyone who was twenty minutes late for work could be sentenced to six months of forced labour. At the same time, I don't know of a single case when anyone was indicted at our lumber yard. I'm not inclined to think that the discipline was based exclusively on that law. There was simply a common rule: Work is work. I'd better stop here, without going into further detail or making any comparisons.

Stealing was unknown among the workers. True, metal workers and repairmen used to lock their tool boxes, but the situation in general was very quiet, compared with our hospital, for instance.

The relations between men and women were more puritanical. I don't remember any cases when scandalous affairs were publicly discussed. Divorces were very few, but husbands used to beat their wives on occasion, or so I heard.

As far as drinking is concerned, it was moderate, to my mind, although vodka was sold freely. There were no crowds or lines in front of liquor shops; few people drank on workdays, and no one appeared on the job drunk, to say nothing of drinking during working hours. At the same time, May Day was marked with a wholesale drinking bout on the part of the entire adult population of the township.

Militiamen were hardly seen in the streets — presumably, they didn't have much to do.

The people were absolutely convinced of the correctness of socialism. There was neither television nor radio in the houses, only a loudspeaker in the factory township. The main source of information was newspapers, mainly Northern Pravda. Meetings were held on public holidays. Our generation was the first one that had not known the monarchy: we had been brought up entirely under Soviet rule.

The living standards were low. The meals in the workers' canteen were simple: barley or millet porridge, fish, potatoes and weak soups. The presence of meat in the menu was purely symbolic. Fats were limited to sunflower oil which just added some aroma to the food. Milk and eggs were non-existent, but Russian salads were served frequently. There was also a pig farm, but I can't imagine what they fed pigs: there was no food waste from the canteen — the plates were so clean after meals they could literally do without any washing.

Strictly speaking, there was no hunger or starvation. Sick leaves were much rarer than today. There were no fat people among our generation, and young women did not use make-up: they had enough natural colour.

Likewise, clothing was of a poor quality, although the idea of fashion had already come into existence. All the young men dreamed about the broad trousers which sailors brought back from their trips abroad and sold on the market. The price was enormous, and I could not afford them. Some clothes and footwear were distributed through special shops on the basis of ration cards. In short, there were no naked or barefoot people among us. On public holidays, everybody looked smartly dressed to me.

Alya's wardrobe was also rather meager, but she had good taste. No one went wanting for furniture: wooden, unpainted beds, tables and stools were manufactured by the carpenters at the lumber yard, and they were provided to residents along with a place or a room in the hostel.

The most common outfit consisted of quilted trousers and a similar jacket: the old pair was worn at work, and new clothing was reserved for going out. It was very comfortable — I recall this gear with pleasure. Later, during World War II, these clothes became "fashionable" again.

One may ask whether this meagerness of life made us less happy. Definitely not. My entire life at that time — the work at the power plant — I recall now as a single summer day in Arkhangelsk — daytime almost twenty-four hours long and the weather was warm without being hot.