notes on dutch literature

Engineers of the Soul

In Non-Fiction on November 18, 2012 at 8:00 AM

engineers of the soul

Frank Westerman draws the reader into the euphoria of the Russian Revolution, as art and reality were bent to radically new purposes.

Writers of renown, described by Stalin as “engineers of the soul,” were encouraged to sing the praises of canal and dam construction under titles such as Energy and The Hydraulic Power Station. However, their enthusiasm—spontaneous and idealistic at first— soon became an obligatory song of praise as the massive waterworks led to slavery and destruction in the service of a deluded totalitarian society. On the dilemma of the Soviet writers, which he faced alongside contemporaries such as Maxim Gorky, Isaak Babel, and Boris Pasternake, novelist Konstantin Paustovsky wrote: “It is easy to die a hero’s death, but it is difficult to live a hero’s life.

Combining investigative journalism with literary history, Westerman examines the books and lives of writers caught in the wheels of the system. Engineers of the Soul is the riveting story of how authors were forced to write in service of an ideology, in this case communism as it was practiced in the Soviet Union. Westerman’s sharp pen combines a fine example of investigative journalism with a dash of literary history. In the book’s ingenious construction he continually contrasts the Soviet past with present-day Russia, leading the reader into a maze of mirrors through “Absurdistan.”

Engineers of the Soul was shortlisted for both the Dutch AKO Prize and the Golden Owl and was awarded the Dr. Wijnaendts Francken and the J. Greshoff Prize. Engineers of the Soul, English translation by  the gifted Sam Garret is published by Harvill Secker (UK) and The Overlook Press (US). It was also translated in Spanish, German, Polish, Croatian, Swedish, French, Estonian and Italian.

You can read a sneak peak here >>

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