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16 6 They were not yet convicted, so they were quartered in conditions slightly different from those of the other detainees. Books and newspapers were delivered to them intermittently, even if under very strict censorship especially of content and title. The Wretched of the Earth for one was turned back as too revolutionary. To the guard who pronounced the sanction, the title was just a little too malicious and to prove his point, he’d opened the book angrily, crying: see!…see!…see! into every page, his anger rising ever more violently until he flipped into page ninety where he spotted the vintage evidence he was after and then cried further: here! …here!, thumping the page angrily as he did so, before delivering the obnoxious finding: Listen to what you want allowed into this establishment: …obviously there are to be found at the core of the political parties and among their leaders certain revolutionaries who deliberately turn their backs upon the farce of national independence. Revolution! Revolution! Revolution! Always revolution. Our hard-earned independence – a farce! Whoever this stupid ideologue is will not be allowed into Sanko. As for you, you can turn your back on our independence but one thing you will never do: turn back the hand of the clock. And let me tell you, everyone in Sanko pays homage to our flag morning, afternoon, evening and you will not extract yourself from that national duty. Shechem could still remember the man shutting the book resolutely, then pressing his finger under Wretched, keeping the stubby thing there for long minutes, then moving it with emphatic slowness the length of the entire word, and finally fixing the bringer of the malicious work for explanations which, not coming, had earned him the full weight of the book as it pressed against his chest with an injunction never to reintroduce such offensive material into Sanko Prison again. On the other hand, Grace Notes, Bernard Maclaverty’s 1997 novel, the last thing he’d been reading before the whirlwind, had been allowed in with close to no objection. The book had been brought by Bertha. She knew his love for reading and so the first day she visited she made sure she brought the last reading along. Grace Notes was admitted into Sanko Prison by that same guard who’d sealed the doom of The Wretched of the Earth. He’d found in the title of the one a musical appeal that provided a relieving contrast to the open hostility of the other and had waved Notes into Sanko Prison 17 with the knowing ease of a well-read mind. But the musical ring of Grace Notes notwithstanding, its author had touched the story with the acrid language of indictment that bites all the more for being unadorned. There was one segment of the book that Shechem liked particularly - the one that talked about Jewish extermination. The area of the book that carried the episode had been holed by persistent thumbing, done in search of the clue to the deep trouble it inflicted on his conscience. Whenever he got to those pages his reading slowed into a ponderous beat that sent each word leaping at him with all its charge of blood and wrong… “You knew Shostakovich?” “Yes. Dmitri Dmitriyevich came here to Kiev with his wife number three, Irina Supinskaya. To discuss his Babi Yar symphony. It was very brave music to write at the time.” “Why?” “You know Babi Yar?” “No, not…” “Maybe you are too young. Babi Yar is a place of death. In 1941 the Nazis made all the Jews of Kiev come together and they took them to Babi Yar – thirty-five thousand – men, women, children – and they shot them and put them down in a ravine to be buried. Evtushenko wrote a poem and Shostakovich put it in a symphony. But the antiSemites said not all the dead are Jews. There is Russians and other prisoners.” ‘Hearing the words Babi Yar and Shostakovich Anatoli became agitated. He spoke to Olga. “He says they were all Jews who were killed. Dmitri Dmitriyevich was right - we must all fight antiSemitism . The beginning of anti-Semitism is talk, is hatred – the end is Babi Yar. But, of course, in 1962 the State said there is no anti-Semitism in the USSR.” This conversation between Olga and Anatoli would remain in Shechem’s head long after he’d read past it, and would intrude into other pages and disrupt his...


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