The Industry of Souls Summary & Study Guide

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The Industry of Souls Summary & Study Guide Description

The Industry of Souls Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion on The Industry of Souls by Martin Booth.

Alexander "Shurik"Bayless is the main character in this story. He has lived for more than twenty years in the little village of Myshkino, in the Russian countryside. He is an Englishman, and a former prisoner of the Soviet gulag system who, decades earlier, was imprisoned for political crimes he did not commit. He spent twenty-six years in the labor camp, Sosnogorsklag 32, which is located in the Siberian hinterland. Upon his release, he does not return to England as might be expected. Instead, he searches in Russia for the relatives of a fellow prisoner and friend, Kirill. As Kirill lay dying in a mine accident, Shurik promises him that he will seek out his daughter, Frosya. When he is finally released, Shurik finds his way to Frosya's home, where she is living with Trofim, her husband, and their son. Together they welcome this stranger into their home when he tells them that he has "come from Kirill." Shurik never intends to make their home his permanent place of residence; but days turn into weeks, and weeks into years.There he has remained for more than twenty years. Finally, on the day of his eightieth birthday, an event is set to happen which may interrupt his idyllic existence after all this time. It is on this peaceful summer morning that the story essentially begins.

It is the morning of Shurik's eightieth birthday. He is expecting visitors from outside the village that evening - an unusual occurrence. Frosya and Trofim ask about these visitors. They are curious, knowing that Shurik, their beloved friend who has become a part of their family, must make an important decision about his life. He may, in fact, be leaving them. This distresses Frosya in particular. His decision about his future apparently hinges upon this upcoming visit by these two unknown outsiders. Shurik asks Frosya not to question him about this matter, as he must make up his own mind. He is not angry with her, but firm. He seems to be going through an internal crisis. He tells her again that he must keep his own counsel about the matter.

After breakfast, Shurik sets out to take his daily walk through the village. As he walks along on this mild summer day, he meets the people whom he has befriended over the years. Through his interaction with different people, portions of his life story are revealed. The twelve chapters of this story alternate between the present; as Shurik takes his walk, and the past; when he is a prisoner in Sosnogorsklag 32, the Soviet prison camp where he was imprisoned for twenty-six years. It is in this prison camp where Shurik first meets Kirill, Frosya's father. He is the leader of the seven-member work unit that Shurik is assigned to. As Shurik relates the story of his life in the camp, he becomes attached to these men in his work unit, and he eventually comes to regard them as brothers. They become his true family, in a sense. They tell stories together, laugh, cry, and suffer the pain of unlawful imprisonment while building camaraderie that helps them to survive the barren wasteland of Siberia. They spend most of their time toiling away underground in a coal mine, working under excruciating conditions. A change in scenery occurs at one point in the story, when they are driven out to the site of an archaeological dig where a Great Woolly Mammoth is being excavated. They come to the realization that there were people living here, in this frozen wasteland, thousands of years before. They pause to reflect upon their place in time and history. Shurik comes to the conclusion that they are all simply lost and adrift in the world, and that the brotherhood he shares with his prison mates is one of the few things that matters. It is also one of the few things worth the pain of survival. Death surrounds them in many different forms. On the dig they notice a man who had apparently committed suicide, choosing to freeze to death rather than to go on. It is Shurik's friend, Kirill, however, who is instrumental in teaching Shurik what it takes to survive and, in fact, why the pain of surviving is worth it after all.

In the chapters that take place in the present, Shurik's rich and fulfilling life is revealed, as he contentedly wanders the familiar terrain of his adopted village. He spends a little time with many of his friends on that afternoon, the day of his eightieth birthday. He has a sincere love for the people there, and they for him. As he walks along, he thinks of the potential disruption to his life that may come with the arrival of these visitors from England. One is an official from the British embassy in Moscow, and the other is his cousin, Michael Tibble, whom he has never met. They arrive on schedule that afternoon, pulling up in a fancy black limousine. They have finally found him after years of searching. Michael Tibble wants Shurik to return with him to England, and live with him and his family. Shurik also learns from Michael, the fate of his parents after all these years. He thanks his cousin and appreciates what he has sacrificed in trying to find him; but his heart is set upon remaining in Myshkino. The bond that he forged with Kirill and its importance to him are too strong. It is there, in Myshkino, that he seems to have found himself, as well as a reason for living. The relationship with Kirill has lived on, even after Kirill's death. He indicates that, in being there with Frosya and Trofim, he has brought Kirill's spirit with him; and thus Kirill lives on through him. This is a comfort to Frosya. He feels no obligation, however; it is a feeling that comes from his heart. With deep sincerity, he wishes to remain there with them. It has given true meaning to his life.

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