From the Cares Committee bookshelf: The Industry of Souls
The Industry of Souls by Martin Booth, published by Picador Macmillan, 1998. Available through Amazon (both print and Kindle) and in a Nook book at Barnes and Noble. There also is one copy at the University library.
The book has a beautiful structure with the story taking place in one day. Alexander Baylis is celebrating his 80th birthday by taking a leisurely walk through the Russian village he’s lived in for the past 30 years. All seems quiet and ordinary at first. Then we learn that Alex is a British citizen who was arrested by the Soviets for spying and placed in a Siberian labor camp for 20 years.
As he wends his way through the town, he talks to different people and is revealed as a wise, kind man, beloved by the villagers in his adopted home. Gradually, through flashbacks, we learn about his life in the gulag and the indomitable spirit that carried him through those dark years.
For instance, we learn of the moral dilemma that confronts him when his friend asks Alexander to kill him to end his suffering. On a lighter note, we are treated to a memorable scene where he and his fellow prisoners dig up the perfectly preserved ancient body of a mammoth and then eat it after cooking it over an open fire.
At the end of his birthday walk, Alexander returns home to find a surprise visitor from England. He has received an inheritance, but he must return to England to claim it.
Skillfully written, it is a perfect story of a simple life well lived. A wonderful reading experience, it was short-listed for the prestigious Man Booker prize in 1998.
— Review by Pat Tollefson, UMRA Cares Committee