Prigozhin & Me
Trying to Bring to Life the Worst of the Worst
Okay, that’s not a photo of a youthful me and a youthful (and now dead) Prigozhin.
In the late 1990s and early aughts I was researching a novel called Absurdistan. I went to St. Leninsburg for weeks and months at a time trying to come up with the character of Misha Vainberg, son of the 1238th richest man in Russia, and his dad the gangster Boris Vainberg. To do so I had to go to the lower depths in the company of some friends. Pictured to my left is a drunk policeman who cried his eyes out after we both had a dozen shots of vodka and begged me to take him back to New York with me. There was inspiration everywhere I looked. And all along I was being inspired if not by Prigozhin himself, then certainly by the Prigozhin archetype. And now that Prigo is dead I am shocked by some of the similarities between him and my Petersburg gangsta Boris Vainberg, whose presence (and absence) haunts Misha throughout the book.
Absurdistan begins with the death of Boris Vainberg. He is decapitated when a mine is planted on his car as it crosses Petersburg’s Palace Bridge. Prigozhin was murdered as his plane was flying to St. Petersburg. Close enough?
Both Prigozhin and Boris were educated in Russia’s prison system. Both considered themselves minor intellectuals, but they made their best biznes contacts in “the zone” and grew friendly to local politicians (e.g. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin).
Boris was very proudly Jewish, while Prigozhin was only half Jewish and proudly employed Nazis in his Nazi-adjacent organization. This is perhaps their biggest difference.