Lovers' Saga Finds Reality in Glendale

Times Staff Writer

She was a daughter of the Russian intelligentsia, a 23-year-old Communist with cheek bones to make Tolstoy swoon.

He was 20 years older and married, a well-heeled American engineer who traveled frequently to the Soviet Union for his Texas oil bosses.

They shared a Moscow taxi one night in 1982 in a blinding snowstorm. It was instant detente.

The plot unfolded against a backdrop of elite nightclubs, Caspian Sea resorts and KGB interrogation rooms. Throw in caviar, champagne, feverish rendezvous at midnight and tearful partings at dawn and you have the saga of Tatyana Urievna Bondarev and Anthony J. Bartholomew, lovers whom politics seemed intent on keeping apart.

"Nyet" said the Soviets, when Bondarev asked to emigrate. Patience, counseled U.S. officials, whom Bartholomew besieged with hundreds of letters. Then, shortly before last year's Reagan-Gorbachev summit, Bondarev became one of 10 Soviet citizens granted exit visas to join spouses or relatives in the United States.

In a novel, the couple might have landed glamorous jobs with a high-powered think tank and lived happily ever after in Malibu.

Romance Is Fresh

In reality, they settled in an anonymous apartment complex in Glendale, and Bartholomew lost his job when the U.S. Defense Department refused him a security clearance on account of his Soviet wife, he says.

How do two people from vastly different cultures, who have never spent more than four weeks together in four years, adjust to marriage, each other and the mundane fate that may await them?

"We take one day at a time," says Tatyana Bartholomew, who speaks fluent English. "There's a lot of tension in our relationship, but it keeps the romance fresh. We're still like a boyfriend and a girlfriend."

Tony Bartholomew nods emphatically. He is a tall, earnest man with graying hair and a neat mustache who leans over the dining room table periodically to light his wife's cigarettes. At 48, he is starting over. He has switched careers, moved to a new city and married a woman two years older than his eldest son, and he says he would do it all over again.

So does Tatyana. They feel the worst is behind them. But some experts disagree.

"In absence, one can build up a marvelous fantasy," says Florence Kaslow, a Florida psychologist who has studied military couples that have endured long separations. "Success depends on . . . their ability to be patient with one another, to get acquainted and to adjust to each other."

Adjusting to Change

But it can work. Edward Lozansky, a Russian physicist emigre and director of the nonprofit Andrei Sakharov Institute in Washington, was reunited with his wife Tatiana in 1982 after a six-year separation. He says it made their love stronger.

"We were originally afraid we had changed and it would be difficult to accommodate each other," said Lozansky, who has just published a book about their experience. "But we remained very close."

The Bartholomews say their biggest problem now is financial. Tatyana brought just three suitcases with her, and Tony left almost everything with his wife and five grown children in Houston.

The couple racked up a small fortune in overseas telephone bills, and splurged on new furniture when they got an apartment. And in March, Tony was fired by the Allied Bendix Oceanics Division in Sylmar.

Fortunately for the Bartholomews, a Century City executive recruiter read about the couple in a local newspaper and offered Tony a job with his firm. Said Bill Radin of Search West, "This guy spent all these years becoming a good engineer and, because of love, he loses his job."

Tony started work recruiting engineers early this month. Tatyana, meanwhile, is absorbed in the typical immigrant experience of learning a new culture. But she is hardly a typical Russian immigrant: She is neither a Jew nor a political dissident. She speaks English. And she does not stand with her mouth agape in American supermarkets, astonished at the choices.

On the contrary, Tatyana, who ran with a theater crowd in Moscow, who adored Kurt Vonnegut, whose parents were members of the Russian elite, lived in far greater luxury in the Soviet Union than she does now in America.

Her family had private cars and summer dachas. She attended an exclusive school, where she rubbed elbows with foreigners.

When she applied for an exit visa, however, her father was demoted from his job as director of a science institute, Tatyana says. She became a "white crow," the Russian equivalent of a black sheep.

Just getting married in Russia was an ordeal. The couple says police sabotaged what was to have been their wedding day by carting Tatyana off to KGB headquarters for questioning at 6 a.m. as she ironed her dress on the kitchen table. While Tony frantically besieged the American embassy, Tatyana was detained until late evening. Since their marriage permit was valid only for the appointed day, the couple had to re-apply, which took months. They finally married in 1983.

During their courtship and marriage, Tony was a sales and marketing executive for a Houston oil company and the couple saw each other about six times a year when his work took him to the Soviet Union. Slumping oil prices cost him his job in December, 1984, and they were apart for more than a year, until Tatyana was allowed to join him here.

In despair during his last visit, Tony had considered smuggling Tatyana out using a look-alike who would exchange passports. He even considered moving to Russia.

When Tatyana finally got out, it was with few regrets. She misses her parents, and frets because she will not see her 10-year-old sister Dina grow up. She also wants children, and hopes Tony's vasectomy is reversible.

In Moscow, Tatyana taught history. For now, she is content to stay home--she still can't drive--and collaborate with her husband on a book that she is writing on her living room floor, using a word processor lent by a friend. They have an agent and are hunting for a publisher.

She revels in Western fashion, padding around the apartment in a trendy pink and white oversize shirt, or donning pearls and a sleeveless, silver-sequined top for an afternoon lunch appointment.

After Moscow, where she lived in a grand flat built in the previous century, Tatyana finds Glendale uninspiring. She loves New York, but in Los Angeles she says she'd prefer the beach: "Just as soon as Tony makes some money, we have to move."

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