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(Posted to FB by Tony McKenna)

As some of you know, I have been working on a novel (120 000 words and counting) about the life of Isaac Illyich Rubin, a great Marxist economist who was persecuted and disappeared by the Stalinist regime (120 000 words and counting). As happens with many of the characters I write he sometimes becomes more real to me than people I actually know. For a time Rubin was imprisoned in a small coffin like space called a ‘khartser’ in an effort to get him to inform on his mentor Riazanov. This is an extract from that time:

"The feeling of that space was worse than dying. The walls seemed to close in, closer and closer, until you couldn’t see anything but the shadow of the interminable stone. Everywhere, pressing in. The need for sleep was beyond anything he had ever known. Sometimes he passed out, but he flitted back into wakefulness once more because his forehead had rubbed against the hard rock, the skin rubbing away - and the burn of the graze, its throb, pulling him into consciousness once more. Sometimes it took all he had not to call out like a child, for he felt himself infinitesimally small. Sometimes he had no sense of being upright, or being horizontal; no sense of his body in proportion to the larger world. He only had the feeling of being entombed far beneath the earth, in a small sliver of space, which was covered on every side by a never ending expanse of rock; that his tiny failing organism - its weakened, whispered breaths - was so far away from any other form of life that it would eventually ossify and decay, becoming part of the rock itself, a dark desiccated stain spread across a stone which had pervaded the ages.

"Sometimes he would hear a voice and he would snap out of a brief, troubled slumber to realise that the voice was his own, that he had been muttering under his breath. In the darkness he would think about Bieta, and his students, and he would remind himself that yes, his life was small, but it still had purpose, it still meant something. He would resist the urge to cry out, he would not be reduced to a child, and though he knew that the confession they so desperately sought to exact from him would free him from this place, nevertheless, he was dimly aware, in the exhausted, fog addled regions of his tormented mind, that to confess, to implicate both himself and Riazanov – to end this here and now – would mean condemning himself to a form of loneliness, isolation and despair which would reach beyond physical depredation, which would sink its roots into his very soul. He chuckled to himself in the oblique darkness, Riazanov would have frowned at the use of the world ‘soul’, with all its religious, metaphysical connotations; he heard the voice of the old man chiding him gruffly but not without humour, as he slipped into the blackness again. Time passed, not like the calm smooth rotation of the hands on a wrist watch, not like a discrete companion whose movement is in tune with your own, but like a violator, a rapist, whose every motion shocked you out of yourself, a hallucinatory never ending nightmare of disjointed violent images inflicted on you from without, jerking you toward an awareness, a consciousness, you can no longer bear."
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