Tuesday, April 22, 2014

the last book I ever read (Anthony Marra's A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, excerpt four)

from A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra:

As a child and an adult, Akhmed had been captivated by stories of Khassan’s sixteen-year odyssey. To a man who had never even been to Grozny, Khassan’s travels rose to the realm of legend. In 1941, the Red Army gave him five bullets and an order to find a gun among the dead. With a rifle pried from frozen fingers in Stalingrad, he shot a path through Ukraine, Poland, and Germany. He pulled two bullets from his left thigh, lost three friends to hypothermia, killed twenty-seven Nazis by bullet, four by knife, three by hand, fought under five generals, liberated two concentration camps, heard the voices of innumerable angels in the ringing of an exploded mortar, and took a sh*t in one Reichstag commode, a moment that would forever commemorate the war’s victorious conclusion. After his years of service he returned to a Chechnya without Chechens. While he had fought and killed and sh*t for the U.S.S.R., the entire Chechen population had been deported to Kazakhstan and Siberia under Stalin’s accusations of ethnic collaboration with the fascist enemy. His commanding officer, a man whose life Khassan had twice saved, was to spend the next thirty-eight years working as a train porter in Liski, where the sight of train rails skewering the sun to the horizon served as a daily reminder of the disgraceful morning he shipped Khassan, the single greatest soldier he’d ever had the pleasure of spitting orders at, to Kazakhstan on a train packed with Russian physicians, German POWs, Polish Home Army soldiers, and Jews. Khassan’s parents hadn’t survived the resettlement, and in 1956, when—after the death of Stalin three years earlier—Khruschev allowed Chechen repatriation, Khassan disinterred their remains and carried them home in their brown suitcase.

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