A young engineering student in Moscow in the 1930’s is given the mission of helping to modernise the impoverished Dzhan people of a remote desert area. He is of those people himself, but his mother had sent him away when he was only ten or eleven, knowing she could never provide for him.
The desert area is a Nowhere-Land close to the borders with Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Iran. The people there are a motley assemblage of “runaway slaves, criminals, people who didn’t know God”, — with no proud traditions, no sense of history, no awareness of itself as a people. They live in reed houses and live off the pounded roots of the same reeds. They have lost all sense of being alive.
It’s a powerful story – part fable, part realism, part epic tale, part nihilism. I have just too many thoughts to write down anything here.
I am reminded of the Russian philosopher Nikolai Fedorov, who couldn’t bear to think that so many human lives pass by with so little significance. He advocated a universal project for mankind of using scientific methods to resurrect all those who have ever lived.