Week 13: pages 702-765

The Part About Archimboldi continues in this week’s reading (only two weeks left). Hans Reiter is still at war, and he is almost killed in three different battles. The second time he is almost certain he will die “and the nearness of the sea convinced him even more thoroughly of this idea,” which calls to mind the Part About Fate. The third time Reiter is injured seriously. He has a neck injury that prevents him from speaking, but he does receive the Iron Cross. He is sent to recover in the small town of Sweet Spring. In his house there he discovers a secret hiding place and the papers of Boris Ansky.

I wrote this paragraph of this week’s summary today and then I checked Ijustreadaboutthat and of course Paul has written a much more extensive, much more detailed an insightful summary and analysis than I can dream of doing today. Rather than try to say the same thing differently, I’m going to post an excerpt here and encourage you strongly to read the whole thing. Summaries like this take a lot of time to produce and I want to thank Paul publicly for following along with the group read for 3 months now and religiously taking notes.

Ansky was born in 1909. At 14, he enlisted in the Red Army, but the recruiting soldier said there was no one left to fight. When asked if he was Jewish, he answered yes. The recruiting soldier said he knew a Jew in the army, and that he was now dead. Ansky was less sure about joining now, but signed up anyway. He spent the next three years traveling as far as the Arctic Circle.  He also attended to several affairs, including reading and visiting museums, political lectures, and other intellectual pursuits. Around this time, Ansky met Efraim Ivanov, the science fiction writer.  Remember that name too, as he is also pretty important here.

The vast bulk of the rest of the week’s read comes from Ansky’s diary. And he begins with Ivanov.

Ivanov was a Communist party member since 1902. He had tried to write many different types of stories, mostly copying other writers. And then one day he was asked to write a story about Russia in 1940. He tossed off a science fiction short story in about three hours. And, it was a huge hit! No one was more surprised than the author (and his publisher). And thus began his life as a science fiction writer.

He wrote a series of stories along the same lines as that one: a bright future plus a hero who helps bring about the bright future and a boy or girl in that future (1940’s Russia) who enjoys the fruits of the labors of the hero.

And yet he felt empty writing this formula. When he met the young Jew Ansky, something stirred inside him which inspired him to become a real writer, a real artist, a creator.

Ivanov convinced Ansky to join the party. After all of the procedures were followed, Ansky was accepted. And on the night of his welcome, one of Ivanov’s ex-lovers, Margarita Afanasievn, grabbed Ansky by the balls and told him that to be in the party they needed to be made of steel.

Ansky tells her a true story (while she is still holding him) about a man he had met. The man had his penis and balls cut off. The man spent most of his time scouring the forest for his organs.  And yet despite that he seemed to be youthful and virile. Then one day he gave up and seemed to age 30 years. Four months later Ansky’s troops were passing through the village again, and Ansky learned that the man was happily married and looked as young as he did before he stopped looking for his organs. Afanasievna (letting go now) says it’s a pretty story but she’s been around too long to believe it.

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