The Industry of Souls by Martin Booth

010413_1256_TheIndustry1.jpgI’ve given away numerous copies of Martin Booth’s The Industry of Souls over the years and repurchased it for my bookshelf, just in case I wished to reread it.

But the truth is, I am not a rereader. I never go back, not even for this book which I’ve always named as my all-time favourite book. Until now. Could I continue to say this is my favourite book, when so many reading years have passed and it becomes nothing more than a nostalgic memory of being uplifted by something I can no longer quite define?

So on the first day of the New Year I decided to reread it to see. 010413_1256_TheIndustry2.jpgAnd felt all the discomfort of why that activity is not for me, glances at the bookshelf seeing all those titles I’ve neglected and not yet read, feeling the fear of this highly praised book no longer living up to my own expectations, the scepticism of being transported a second time when I knew what would pass, the memory of that paragraph about the soporific wasp, trapped in a spider’s web, snipped free by its wise eight-legged captor, a paragraph that I cut and paste and send to appreciative friends, long before the convenience of a blog, wondering if I would now view it with less than the perfection status I had granted it when first encountered.

CIMG3662It is true, there is nothing like gazing at a splendid view, arriving in a new city, country, or place, reading a book or meeting someone for the very first time and experiencing that element of the unknown. It’s the sense of adventure, the openness to being shocked, moved, delighted, surprised, uplifted, disappointed or merely comfortable with a familiar voice telling a new story. It reminds me of a quote (now those snippets I do reread) from one of my travel journals during a three month back-packing sojourn around India, Nepal, Vietnam and Thailand, daily living in the face of the unknown.

“In the face of the unknown, man is adventurous. It is a quality of the unknown to give us a sense of hope and happiness. Man feels robust, exhilarated. Even the apprehension that it arouses is very fulfilling. The new seers saw that man is at his best in the face of the unknown.”

An extract from The Fire From Within by Carlos Castaneda

Reading is unique in that it allows us to rest in the safety of our environment, yet allows us to visit such extraordinary places and/or observe the heights, the depths and the edge of humanity. Primo Levi does it in If This is a Man: The Truce, Vaddey Ratner In the Shadow of the Banyan and Jackie Kay in Red Dust Road to name just a few.

The Industry of Souls takes place on the 80th birthday of Alexander Bayliss, a British citizen arrested for spying in the Soviet Union in the early 1950’s, who after 20 years in a Soviet labour camp, the gulag, settles in the small Russian village of Myshkino, with no inclination to return to his roots.

It was all a part of the process of rehabilitation, of making us come to appreciate that Mother Communism, that buxom, grinning, snag-toothed wench dressed in a pair of dark blue overalls, with a scarf around her head and biceps like Popeye the Sailorman, would provide for us. She was our succour and our saviour as well as our slave-mistress and superintendent.

On this day as he makes his round of the village and his friends, he remembers both his time in the village over the years and significant events of that period in the gulag, including with his friend Kirill, to whose village he returned in fulfilment of a promise. And at the end of today he will receive another visitor, a connection from that past, he long ago left behind.

For now, there is much to offer in the reading present, but having reread this favourite, I have no regrets and I hope to have encouraged a few of you to seek it out, it is well worth sinking into its depths.

It is the industry of the soul, to love and to hate;

To seek after the beautiful and to recognise the ugly,

To honour friends and wreak vengeance upon enemies;

Yet, above all, it is the work of the soul to prove

It can be steadfast in these matters…

37 thoughts on “The Industry of Souls by Martin Booth

  1. I’m so stoked to pick this up. It is a book after my heart! As you know, I do re-read. Sometimes it is to evoke a lost friend, sometimes to study the angle at which the author wrote. I, too, have that ambitious stack of books looming in my future. Sometimes it just calms me, grounds me and makes me feel more myself to re-read a passage from Far from the Madding Crowd, or A Soldier of the Great War. Our favorites shaped us in some way because we let them, and we’re still moved, still making future decisions based on those past ones. Wonderful post!


  2. I’ll be reading it for sure, As for re-reading, you have no idea how many books I have re-read in my lifetime. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was close to 100. People think I’m nuts but I don’t care. Each time I read them, I get something else out of it. And even though I may know the ending, something always surprises me, thrills me, delights me. The characters in those books are my friends and I always enjoy hanging out with them again.


      • The Good Earth and Lost Horizon are two of them. And now that I’ve conjured them, with your help, I am going to read them again. For the umpteenth time :). My love affair with these two books goes back to my school days.


        • Thanks for the recommendations Fransi, my avid literature reading mature French student, on whose recommendation I am now reading Le Testament Français, recently was rereading and recommended that I read ‘Mere’ by Pearl S. Buck, I’ve never read her work at all and so now I have 2 of her works on my list. Love being introduced to new old works. Brilliant. And Lost Horizon looks like a spiritual classic, thanks so much for sharing, and enjoy!


  3. This is one of my favorite novels as well, and one I would love to read again. Re-reading is a delight. There is a freedom in not worrying or wondering about the plot, and in enjoying the narrative, the characters and the layers of word craft for their own sake. All day I will be thinking of that remarkable mammoth feast.


    • So wonderful to come across another who knows this journey and this book, thank you so much for commenting, I wanted to mention the feast, but also wish everyone to experience it for themselves 🙂 I may even reread this one again in another xx years!


  4. Not a book I have heard of – but you have made it sound like something I might want to try. Well done on trying some re-reading : ) I like re-reading, but I know it’s not for everyone for all the reasons you have given.


    • This is the book I voted for in the UK for World Book Night, one of the UK’s little known yet magnificent writers and sadly he only wrote one other book after this one, before his death. I have hope that his work will re-emerge once again and be more widely read.


  5. When I choose to reread a book I love, it’s for the simple reason that I want to know what it was that made such an impression on me. Also, there’s that added perspective of reading like a writer. Yes, there’s little question that the initial thrill of a book is in the freshness, the discovery, the not knowing what’s coming, One could also argue that rereading is little like coming home. I have not read ‘Industry of Souls’ but it seems that now I’ll have to. Happy New Year, my reading/writing friend.


    • When I choose to reread a book I love, it’s for the simple reason that I want to know what it was that made such an impression on me

      That’s exactly what sent me back there Deborah. And yes, reading like a writer, I often dip into books to see how something was done in that sense, on more of an analytical level than for the pleasure of it.


  6. I’m glad you enjoyed reliving the experience of the first read. From a pure escapist entertainment, my favourite novel is Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth, and I did go back and read it twice. On balance though, it isn’t a usual practise. I really should sink my teeth into The Red Tent Again.


  7. Oh Claire, as a writer I felt quite sad that you don’t re-read. My favourite books I read regularly, not so much for the story as to savour the writing and the insights, and discover more each time I re-read the book..
    I suppose it became a habit when I was a child during the war, when there weren’t many books around for a book-worm, and having exhausted the parent’s book shelves, I’d start all over again. But I also felt that it meant that good writing entered my bones!
    And yes, some books hurt too much to re-read, and I found Martin Booth’s magnificent book to be one of those,… though many of the incidents and the story have stayed with me…..


    • I guess I have been fortunate, not that I’ve always owned books, but that I have had access to a library all my life and have always and still do make good use of it.

      As a lover of words and language, I am always seeking an enriching reading experience, so yes, I do go back to analyse something in a book I have already read, but for the pure pleasure of reading a story I always look to something unread, still carrying in my mind so many recommendations over the years, believing they will add to my own repertoire of words.

      It’s my own perception, and not necessarily true, and I almost hate to say it, because I know rereading is also a nostalgic thing, (and I did enjoy rereading this book) but observing my own reactions honestly, it feels as if I am standing still or looking back, when I should be pushing on and moving forward, improving. I’ve marked the passages to return to, I’ve noted any effects I may later wish to understand more thoroughly, but I’ve not yet cultivated a real desire to reread.


  8. I really loved this post! I’ve been thinking recently about the benefits of re-reading and I liked your thoughts on it. I wilk definitely be reading your favourite book, it sounds amazing 🙂


  9. I am not much of a re-reader, either. I’m not fond of the sense of deja vu. I would much rather be surprised and amazed by a brand new story.


  10. I re-read a lot, I’ll occasionally come to the end of a book loving it so much that I’m working out how long it’ll take me to forget a bit of it so I can have the joy of reading it again. Re-reading good books for the book group is a particular pleasure and foretelling the story doesn’t seem to matter. When I first read Any Human Heart I had to keep on putting it down when I got to the part where Logan Mountstewart was imprisoned in Switzerland and his return to England because it was so painful to read about, I thought I’d be prepared for it the second time around – not a bit of it, it packed, if anything, even more of an emotional punch.
    I don’t think I could read Industry of Souls again, I remember it as a terrific book but goodness was it intense.


    • The unexpected surprise in this post are all the fabulous recommendations I’m receiving, any Human Heart sounds like a thrilling read and I’ve just checked online and they even have it in our library!

      I think it was almost easier to read The Industry of Souls this time round for me, not so much because I’d read it before, but because I had managed to get through Primo Levi’s If this a Man: The Truce, because that being non-fiction was so much more intense and difficult to deal with, yet necessary to read. Thank goodness for happy endings though.


  11. Pingback: Five Favourite Fiction Reads | Word by Word

  12. Pingback: Top Reads 2013 | Word by Word

  13. Pingback: No más? « Deborah Batterman

  14. Pingback: The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain | Word by Word

  15. Pingback: Zuleikha by Guzel Yakhina (Russia) tr. Lisa Hayden – Word by Word

  16. Pingback: Zuleikha by Guzel Yakhina (Russia) tr. Lisa Hayden – Word by Word

  17. I read The Industry of Souls May years ago and it has remained a favourite book and I am an avid reader .I have given it as a bday gift or Xmas present many times over the years and everyone has loved it .Don’t really know why it left such an impression but have just bought it again for my son in law for his birthday


    • Thank you so much Nikki for sharing that, it’s so great to hear I’m not the only one who has been pressing this book on people, it is truly a unique reading experience and a worthy story. I think it is its humanity that is somehow articulated in a moving and lyrical way. I hope your son-in-law enjoys it as much as you.


  18. Pingback: Seven Steeples by Sara Baume – Word by Word

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s