I felt the pounding in my chest long before I heard the hammering on the door. The moment was inevitable; I’d known it would arrive, even as I’d written the last word in my manuscript, and when I’d furtively skulked down rubbish-heaped allies to meet with the printer.
I’d known when I finally held the volume in my hand, the essence of my tortured thoughts unleashed on each page, woven through the plot, and cemented into the finale.
I arose resignedly and opened the door.
“Comrade Baranov, come with us.” I offered no resistance to the two black-coated men, as there were always ways to ensure cooperation.
It was a short ride to the unremarkable brick building with dark expressionless windows staring into the streaming rain. I was pushed up the steps, roughly, and through the heavy door which banged shut behind us.
“Ah, Comrade Baranov.” The corpulent man behind the desk dismissed the men, and with hands folded together in a charade of prayer, he tried, unsuccessfully, to appear pleasant and amenable. “Please sit.” He motioned to the single wooden chair.
“I understand congratulations are in order on the publication of your...novel. A fable, is it?”
“Ah. An attempt to portray your notion of reality?”
“Then, there seems to be a misunderstanding. I have here, shall we say, a critique of your work.”
He carefully splayed tightly written sheets of paper on the desk. An ominous stamp was impressed on the final page, and icy thorns needled my flesh. I squinted to read the cramped words.
...an offensive diatribe against the military, capitalizing on insignificant failures, condemning strategies and policies as weak and ineffective.
“It appears you are dissatisfied with our military forces.” The rotund man raised an eyebrow.
“I demonstrated the unnecessary loss of life through ineptness and incompetence.”
“You believe our armed power is composed of impotent, bungling fools?”
“I did not say that, sir. I merely narrated the facts.”
The protagonist, though thinly disguised as the “common man,” seeks to transform his destiny through individualism, the exercise of free will, and resistance to so-called oppression.
“Your main character, Ivan Davidovich, he is not happy with his life. It seems he fails to comprehend his purpose, that he is but part of a whole.”
“Ivan has many trials, yes. I related the happenings of his simple, but difficult life.”
“It is manipulative. You sought to arouse emotionalism, sympathy, appealing to base human nature.”
“I tell the truth.”
The tale does not accurately represent the life of the progressive working man, in which every action is deemed admirable. It is negative and uninspiring.
“Comrade Baranov,” he smirked condescendingly, “there is no tragedy or poverty, no failure or misery. What is good for one is good for all. And, it is all good. Am I clear?”
“Of course, sir, but there are many who...”
“Nonsense.” He walked around the desk and leaned toward me, close enough for me to see fine flecks of spittle on his yellowed teeth. His breath reeked of tobacco and onions.
“You are hostile to the Motherland, the blessed land of your ancestors,” he crowed sarcastically as he slammed a copy of my book to the floor. “Do you not understand your pitiful book belongs to the entire community? Are you pleased that this...filth belongs to your revered mother?”
“My mother is dead, and I rejoice that she did not live to see this day, when an honest man may not declare what he knows and believes.”
...a meandering and trite plot...wholly subjective...historically unsubstantiated...treasonous and traitorous...subversive...
He whispered suddenly, wheedling, “This review could, shall we say, disappear, if you renounce your writing.”
“I renounce nothing. I will not apologize for writing truth nor will I recant my belief that God created us as unique and separate individuals who belong to Him and Him alone.”
...entire fabrication is dismissed as seditious falsification and the perpetrator sentenced to...hard labour...Siberia...
“Perhaps, if your slothful hands are tempered by genuinely honest work, you’ll forget about the folly of indiscretion and arrogance.” He gathered the papers.
The two men returned, and again, I submitted to their maltreatment.
The Siberian night is eternal and starless. As our hands and feet bleed into the frozen ground, a whisper arises in the bone-chilling air. Others join, surging into a resounding, unified crescendo, dispersing the intolerable silence.
The voice of one belongs to all.
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