I just finished reading a powerful short story that became a classic in the former Soviet Union. Perhaps because it touched a nerve with the “souls” of those who were struggling in a supposedly “classless society.” It certainly irked Stalin enough to put Platonov on the black list of Soviet writers. However, Platonov’s stories continue to surface, even today.
I appreciate the cover on the front of this “Soul” book which uses the artist Kazimir Malevich opaque painting “Torso in a Yellow Shirt.” I have run across Malevich’s works before in relation to Ukraine’s Holodomor [Terror Famine] and the devastation of millions of destroyed souls in the early 1930s.
Platonov masterfully and craftily writes about famine which manifested itself in Central Asia as well without ever once using the words “starvation” or “famine.” [of course those words were verbotten in the 1930s] I think the translators skillfully brought out Platonov’s Russian nuances into English which will hopefully make this a classic MUST read among westerners. Please read the following quotes I found intriguing, I’m sure the original Russian is just as gripping.
p. 31 “Chagataev told the old man that he had come from far away for the sake of his mother and his nation. But did his nation still exist on earth, or had it come to an end long ago?
The old man said nothing.
“Did you see your father anywhere?” he asked.
“No. And you – do you know Stalin?”
“No, I don’t,” Sufyan answered. “I once heard that word from a passer-by. He said it was a good word. But I don’t think it can be. If it is something good, let it come here to Sary-Kamysh. This was the hell of the entire world, and no human being lives a worse life than I do.”
“It’s me that’s come,” said Chagataev. “Here I am.”
p. 105 “Then Chagataev gathered everyone together and asked whether they intended to live of their own accord or were they still living merely thanks to such outside forces as food, air, water and habit acquired at birth. Nobody answered him anything.
Many pale eyes were straining to look at Chagataev, trying not to close from weakness and indifference. Chagataev felt the pain of his sorrow: his nation did not need communism. His nation needed oblivion – until the wind had chilled its body and slowly squandered it in space. Chagataev turned away from everyone: all his actions, all his hopes had proved senseless…”
“…Did there remain in his nation even a small soul, something he could work with in order to bring about general happiness? Or had everything there been so worn away by suffering that even imagination, the intelligence of the poor, had entirely died? Chagataev knew from childhood memory, and from his education in Moscow, that any exploitation of a human being begins with the distortion of their soul, with getting a soul so used to death that it can be subjugated; without this subjugation, a slave is not a slave. And this forced mutilation of the soul continues, growing more and more violent, until reason in the slave turns to mad and empty mindlessness. The class struggle begins with the victory of the oppressors over the ‘holy spirit’ confined within the slave: blasphemy against the master’s beliefs – against the master’s soul, the master’s god – goes unpardoned, while the slave’s own soul is ground down in falsehood and destructive labour.”
p. 109 “Half an hour later he was close enough to see that the entire Dzhan nation was sitting around this fire of quietly burning saksaul. The nation was singing a song and did not notice Chagataev. Chagataev listened to this song, enthralled…The song said:
“We won’t cy when tears come to us,
we won’t smile from joy,
and nobody will be able to reach our deep heart,
which will make its own way towards people
and the whole life and stretch out its hands to them
when its bright time comes,
and this time is now near;
deep in our hearts we can hear our soul,
hurrying to come out and help us.”
p. 149 “Chagataev took Ksenya’s hand in his own hand and felt the far-away, rapid beating of her heart; it was as if her soul wanted to reach him and come to his rescue. Chagataev now knew for sure that help could come to him only from another human being.
So it would seem that the communist idealist who believed in Stalin because he was essentially orphaned to the communist State, went on a mission to be the “savior” to his meager “pedestrian nation” in Central Asia, extracting it from near extinction. However, in the end he needed saving from himself and those ideals that had possessed and tormented his life almost to physical death. Ultimately, he was freed in the end of this short story by love from another desperate soul.