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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Some interpretations of the meaning of Platonov's Soul

Platonov's novel Soul becomes a journey into the heart of darkness, or, more accurately, in the a vast expanse of emptiness. The novel begins in Moscow at a graduation ceremony then then follows the course of the protagonist, Chatagaev, as he is dispatched by the Soviet government to the remote area - in Uzbekistan it seems - where he was born, to bring Soviet "prosperity" to the impoverished people of his nation. His people are a small tribe called "Soul." On his arrival, he encounters another Soviet agent, Nur-Muhammed, whose mission is to lead this wandering tribe of people back to its native land, in western Uzbekistan on the edge of the desert, it seems. He assembles all the living members of Soul only about 50 people, most of them elderly and infirm, and sets off on a trek across the desert that becomes the central event of this novel, a trek of such horror and deprivation that it seems almost though not quite surreal (Platonov treats it as quire realistic, dreamlike - but not absurd or hallucinatory), close in style and content to, say Cormac McCarthy. The people are so starved and parched that they literally eat damp sand; they survive by occasionally killed a bird and eat the flesh raw. Nur-Muhammed turns out to be a liar and thief: he has sex with a preteen girl on the trek, and his plan is to lead the whole clan into Afghanistan where he can sell them into slavery and live a life in luxury. As N-M's betrayal becomes more evident, Chatagaev has to stop him. One one level, then, this is a novel of adventure, could make a good if harrowing movie perhaps; on another, it's a political document, Platonov's attempt to show the horrible conditions in the remote Soviet states and the absurdity of preaching to these people the greatness of Stalin and the corruption of the Soviet bureaucracy. And on another - the journey is religious and spiritual, with obvious references to the Biblical wandering of the Jews and perhaps to stories of the struggle between good and evil, leading to salvation (or damnation). I'll have to figure out the significance of this religious-spiritual strand as I finish reading then novel - but there are many passages reflecting on the unity of all life, an Eastern spiritualism at the foundation of this strange novel.

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