Ksenia Buksha’s novel The Freedom Factory won Russia’s National Bestseller award and has just been translated into English by Anne O. Fisher (Phoneme Media, $15, phonememedia.org). The novel tells the story of a real-life military factory through monologues collected from anonymized workers, managers, and engineers.
So N, our new director, comes here from the other factory he used to run and brings H with him as his new chief engineer. H turned out to be a real strange one. Looked nothing like a factory type, just a spindly intellectual. Young, but basically bald already. Only a few sparse remnants of hair sprouting around the sides of his head. Quiet voice. Big eyes, perfectly grey. And here’s the thing: over there at that other factory, he’d been in charge of the Experimental Design Bureau, not the actual factory itself. And then everybody goes oh, right, we get him now. Nobody’s arguing, it’s perfectly clear that he’s a super smart guy. A design engineer. That kind of thing. But see, a factory is another matter altogether. Managing a factory and managing an EDB are two very distinct differences. The chief engineer of a factory isn’t just responsible for all the technical drawings and suchlike, he also has to take care of it when one of the guys goes on a bender, or can’t get his bike to stay up, or whatever. And what we’ve got here, brother, is… that’s right, what we’ve got here is a factory. We’ve got us a real… but he’s all spindly, this H. And everybody concludes that H is probably not gonna make it in Freedom.
So then our certified finishing technicians, many of them with university degrees, they put their heads together and they decide, this is what we’re going to do. We’ve been working with this device here for many years, we know it inside and out. We’re going to give H a little off-schedule test, one there’s no way he can pass. That’s not very nice! intervened the most scrupulous among them. He still has to work here, but nobody’ll respect him after that. No, the first ones countered, we’re not going to haul off and, you know, let him have it right off the bat, we just want to see how the guy handles himself in a difficult situation. How he’ll get out of it. Where he goes for help, who he turns to, or whether he just acts like that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Basically we’re just feeling him out.
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