By Ksenia Buksha
Translated by Anne O. Fisher
If the team that makes The Moth travelled back in time to a Soviet factory, these are the grotesquely funny stories they'd come back with.
Publication Date: December 4, 2018
Ksenia Bushka’s The Freedom Factory tells the story of a real-life military factory through monologues collected from anonymized workers, managers, and engineers. Not exactly realism, the novel combines poetry and documentary in unique proportion to transport its reader to the harsh and magnetic factory floor. If the Moth Radio Hour had a special episode to introduce listeners to the mythos, pathos, and yes, bathos of twentieth–century Russia, this would be it.
Winner of Russia’s National Bestseller Prize (2014) and essential reading to understand the persistence of the Soviet mindset, The Freedom Factory is a book of paradox, at once recognizable and idealized: a bittersweet recounting of military secrets and anecdotes, work and leisure, life stories and love stories.
“Rife with laugh-out-loud moments, heartbreak, and arresting lyricism, Buksha’s The Freedom Factory brings a bygone era to life in all of its madness, harshness, and beauty. And lucky for us, Anne O. Fisher has rendered it in an English text that is just as dazzling as the original.” —Sarah Kapp, The Moscow Times
“The Freedom Factory is a thriller, a romance, and a social drama all in one, and—this is especially important—it’s a book by a post–Soviet person about the Soviet experience. ” —Dmitriy Bykov
“My first impression was that of a … novel written by a slightly drunk Joyce. ” —Maxim Amelin
“[When I read the novel] I thought of Spanish Nobel laureate Camilo José Cela and his novel The Hive… which through the blending of many disparate voices gives an image of the time, the characters, the particular atmosphere. The Freedom Factory has echoes of this same device. ” —Gennadiy Kalashnikov
“Ksenia Buksha has successfully done what no one else, it seems has been able to do: combine utopia and anti–utopia.” —Nadezhda Sergeyeva
Poet, fiction writer, and artist Ksenia Buksha was born in Saint Petersburg. She holds a degree in economics from Saint Petersburg State University and has worked as a journalist, copywriter, and day trader. Since her breakout fiction collection Alyonka the Partisan (2002), Buksha has been winning acclaim as a brilliant stylist and satirist whose linguistic experimentation is guided by a healthy sense of the absurd. In 2004, The Freedom Factory won the National Bestseller award and was a finalist for the Big Book Award. Buksha’s work has been translated into Polish, Chinese, French, and English.
Anne O. Fisher’s recent translations include works by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, Nilufar Sharipova, Ilya Danishevsky, Aleksey Lukyanov, and Julia Lukshina. Fisher and co-translator Derek Mong collaborated to produce The Joyous Science: Selected Poems of Maxim Amelin (White Pine Press, 2018), awarded the 2018 Cliff Becker Prize. Fisher is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Translation and Interpreting Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukie.
1. The Central Tower
Well, one smart mother did instill it in her first-grade son: when you see those letters, white on red, don’t read them, it’s pure nonsense—but don’t you tell anybody what I just told you. Pure nonsense, in white letters on red, right there above the Freedom Factory. A spotlight over the entrance points its beam directly up. Multitudes of snowflakes, tiny as sparks, keep flying into the beam and swirling around like burning gunpowder. The factory workers hurry home in this freezing cold, holding their breath, to ring in the New Year. The snow doesn’t just crackle under their feet, it actually squeals. In this kind of cold, breathing is impossible: you might as well try to breathe black pepper. It feels like the snow would catch fire if you held a match to it. And no looking up, either, not a chance, although if you do go ahead and try to lift your frost-burned face you’ll see a red banner over the entrance, and white letters, and above them the spotlight’s beam, drilling through the murky, sleepy sky over the Narva Outpost all the way into outer space, although its target really isn’t outer space at all, but the clock on the Central Tower, that’s what! The time on the clock is five to ten, but the snow-covered cornices and ledges crowning both the Central Tower itself and the entire recently restored main building gleam white.
Comrades! A clapping of hands gets everyone’s attention, and he breaks into the old song: “Five minutes! Five mi-i-inuu- utes!” No, don’t worry, we’ve still got two hours. What I mean is that in five minutes we will get ready to go and wish each other a Happy New Year, and then we will exit the shop in an orderly fashion, hop on the tram, and be home in time to hear the clock strike twelve on the radio. Attention, attention!
D (a skinny red-head) contends that the module has to be assembled this year, not left until next year. His childhood friend, Q, contends that… Olya! Let’s spend the New Year together. The whole year? Oh, sorry about that, I meant to say, New Year’s Eve. Although now you mention it, I would spend the whole year with you, Olenka, if you were up for it. I’d rather spend it with D. He’s just as much of an idiot as you, but at least he shuts up sometimes. Well sure, of course we’ll take D with us! We’ll all head over to my place. My dad’s on duty, he’ll be gone all night. I’ll take care of the, you know, the stuff. Come on, D, quit your dawdling and finish it, or else the trams’ll stop running. The trams run until eleven (setting a sprocket in graphite lubricant). I’ll be right there. You go on and invite Olya over. I did, I already did! Is that so? When was that?
It’s freezing outside, enough to knock the wind out of you. I can’t remember it ever being this cold. I can’t either. They say it was during the blockade, but I don’t remember. Man, when we lived in the Urals, minus forty-five in the winter was no big deal. But at least the air was dry there. Here you’ve got this mist, this haze. My grandma’s been wheezing for three days, she can’t take this kind of freezing cold. Then she shouldn’t go outside. No, she wheezes inside, too.
Whoa, the light’s on in number four. Hey boys, let’s go check out Four, what’d they do over there? I haven’t seen it yet. But what’s the time? We got plenty of time. Let’s go.
Shop Four’s new, expansive layout. Out past the enormous windows, just touched by frost, the sharp outlines of bare branches. Booming footsteps. An echo reverberates. Get a load of that! What kind of machines are those, anyway? They’re, like, war trophies. Careful, boys. Someone’s coming. It’s okay, chief, we’re from Fifteen. Showing the girl
around. It’s all fancy-schmancy over here now, isn’t it? (Felt boots, baggy overcoat, moustache.) Happy New Year! Olya’s smile, now, for a smile like that you’d do anything! Olya’s with the quality control department. Ah, I see. Happy New Year, kids. That’s right. There’s certainly something worth looking at here, that’s right. And here I was, thinking, who are those folks? You make sure to come by again. ’Cause next time I’ll… So you’re from Fifteen, then, the hardest-working shop, always working late. Puts in the most overtime. (A whiff of alcohol.) Go on and take a seat. We’ll have us a little chat. That tram won’t get away from you. There’s a lot I can tell you about… I was here way back when there wasn’t anything here, nothing at all, but I was here… Wanna know what I did? I kept this factory from burning down. That’s something you don’t know. During the war, that’s right. Come on, now, have a seat. You Komsomol kids! Listen up, I’m gonna tell you how it happened, ’cause you don’t know a thing about it.