“Those Burdened by Evil” (excerpt) by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
English Publication History: Red Star Tales (Russian Life Books, 2015)
Original: Russian (Отягощённые злом, или Сорок лет спустя), 1988
Translated by Kevin Reese, 2015
Synopsis: The dark, towering figure casts a deceptive appearance amid the otherwise vacant apartment building that overlooks the dreary scene of a town and its society, both on a downward spiral. He questions their ethics, he scorns their composure, but most importantly he hopes to help them in one way of another. Under his expansive parka rest the folded wings of his true nature, and at his figurative side sits the statuesque assistant who tells him of this earth yet walks a tenuous line of disobedience.
Pre-analysis: Leaders tend to come in two forms: agents of maintenance or agents of change. There are times when maintenance is greatly needed in order to find a base understanding, standardize whatever’s needed, and get it on track. Any element of change can greatly skew its ability to assess itself, thus hindering its progress. In contrast, sometimes systems needs a kick in the ass; here, an agent of change would be beneficial as they—hopefully—have the also have the ability to analyze problems and find efficient methods of change… efficient, here, being the key.
Analysis: Anyone with a shred of knowledge about the later years of the Soviet Union will know that Gorbachev had been introducing many changes to the Soviet government (e.g. elections and the economy) since 1985. Some saw these changes as damaging to the communist vision while others saw the same changes as not being progressive enough to change what really needed to be changed—e.g. the head of power. Though Gorbachev was an agent of change in contrast to the lineage of premiers who strove to maintain Cold War tensions and backwardness on the global scale, but sometimes some change is not change enough.
The agent of change in “Those Burdened by Evil” is a winged angel of impressive stature whose origins are well known in general yet here veiled in the story (will avoid any spoilers read from fantlab.ru). If Gorbachev wasn’t an angel with power enough to scare its flock to alter its moral fabric, then was he just a saint with good intentions. So who was the archangel who wielded God’s word for democracy? I’d hardly compare Yeltsin to an archangel let alone a saint, prophet or priest, but as he was ushered into the seat of power after the USSR’s collapse, he must fit the role of angel.
As this is only an excerpt to a novel, there’s more room to postulate the allegories and parallelisms. Perhaps the Strugatsky brothers also felt that their society was crumbling from underneath them and that Gorbachev wasn’t the agent of change that they needed. Creating an angel as that agent would be one form of worry, but creating an even higher spiritual body as that agent would be complete desperation.
Review: Of all the stories included in Read Star Tales, the novel-length edition of “Those Burdened by Evil” is the one story that received the highest rating (8.41/10) and had the most reviews (54), according to the fantlab.ru website. The reviews heavily point out that the novel is deep and ripe for analysis with its religious allegories and social parallelisms. Most mention that they need to re-read and compare it to Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita (1967) for its themes of religion. Even though this is an excerpt, there’s still a tangible depth and enough setting to intrigue the reader. By itself, however, the general theme of religion is only superficial and doesn’t come into focus by the excerpt’s conclusion. To placate the reader, the conclusion does offer a certain motion: expectation of change. Pray that this novel is translated to English, one day.