Norton Thorp was born in Moscow in the spring of 1963, the only child of a middle-aged American diplomat who was serving his country in the Soviet Union during the cold war and a much younger Russian ballerina. Norton’s parents never married, and when Donald Thorp left Moscow to return to the United States, taking his fouryear-old son with him, Marina Golikova, the child’s mother, stayed behind, ostensibly for professional reasons. And so Donald’s younger sister Therese, a divorcee with no children of her own, became for all practical purposes Norton’s second mother—and part-time father as well, for Thorp’s assignments abroad kept him separated from his son most of the time.
Therese was comfortably well off thanks to the generous divorce settlement that her attorney and for a while also lover, Morris Pringley, had managed to extract from her former husband. She was a pleasant, cultivated woman in her thirties with no particular talents or ambition but with a cheerful disposition that the breakdown of her marriage had not dampened. In her providential new role as Norton’s surrogate mother she appeared to have found her purpose in life, and henceforth devoted herself to her nephew’s upbringing with the zeal and abnegation of a missionary.
Norton was no ordinary child. From the moment he was reunited with his mother—his premature birth had confined him to an incubator for three weeks—he began to show unmistakable signs of precocity. He was an extremely alert baby, who slept little and cried even